Play is an essential component of development that teaches your child about motor skills, social development and emotional well-being, says the American Academy of Pediatrics. This is why making sure your child has ample time to play is an important part of a parent's duties. As children age, they go through distinct stages of playing that show how they are changing developmentally. The different ways that your child plays and the people your child plays with can give you insight on how he is growing.
For the first 2 years of your child's life, she'll show little interest in playing with other babies. She'll remain mostly solitary when it comes to playing with toys and games, despite your best efforts to arrange play dates and spend time with other children. The American Academy of Pediatrics notes on its HealthyChildren.org website that a child between the ages of 1 and 2 is simply too interested in the world around her and exploration to play socially. You'll notice a lot of banging, noise-making and imitation in play time.
From 2 years to about 2 1/2, you'll notice that your baby begins to watch other people around him. He'll suddenly notice what another child is doing, and will be content to watch without joining in. He shows interest in what is happening by pointing or squealing, but would prefer to do it from the safety of a caregiver's lap, instead of playing along with other children and adults.
Parallel play occurs between 2 1/2 and 3 years old. Your child may see another child playing, and may sit down to play next to her. The children, if they are the same age, may not even acknowledge each other but are happy to play separately alongside each other. The Disney company notes in its article, "What Is Toddler Parallel Play?" that your 3-year-old child lacks the skills to effectively play with another child, and doesn't comprehend cooperation as a way to play, so she's content to engage in parallel play with another child, instead.
Between the ages of 3 and 4 your preschooler will begin to see the merit in playing with another child. Interaction with another child through play may be initially short-lived, as your child tests his boundaries and explores playing with another. You may see two children play separately for a while, and then come together for a short time to play a game that takes cooperation, like tossing a ball back and forth. They may then separate and play on their own.
At 4 years old your child is ready to learn to play cooperatively with other children. The Encyclopedia of Children's Health notes that through cooperative play, there is one clear leader in the group and the play is structured, like playing school with friends. This can cause conflict to arise, which can be quickly resolved for less disruptive play. Children interact with each other through cooperative play, and work together toward a common goal.