Another question we get asked a lot is whether or not your child is playing "normally?" There has always been some worry over whether or not it's ok for your child to play on their own during a class when many of the other children seem to be participating. Rest assured that your child is probably behaving in a developmentally appropriate way.
I was watching an Open Gym, today, followed by a Level 6 class and I witnessed a lot of the behavior that I'm going to touch on here. Your children and their behavior are fascinating to me. No two children that come through are doors are exactly alike. It's a joy to watch their personalities develop during their time with us. But, there are some things that are generally the same at each level of our Play classes. Let's take a look at the different stages of Play and the ages that you can expect children to go through these stages.
From birth to roughly age 2, children engage mostly in Solitary Play. Their main job is growing, developing, and learning about how the world works. They do a lot of that by using taste and touch. This is part of why EVERYTHING goes in their mouths for such a long time. And also why so many of our Level 4 friends are obsessed with the door handles. They want to understand how to make them work. Children in this age group enjoy being on their own with some toys to choose from and in many cases will carry on doing so even if there are other children in the room. Children are very centered on themselves during this time. And that can actually last until school age (and beyond in some cases, you know THOSE people) when they start to really connect with their peers. So, when your 16 month old is playing in the ball pit while many of the other kids are going down the slide, that is a perfectly normal thing for them to do.
Around age 2, children begin to engage in Parallel Play. This starts earlier for some children. I promise you that we certainly see this behavior before Level 5 classes. Parallel play is just what it sounds like; children play in the same area, near eachother, but continue to be engaged in their own activities. Each child thinks of all of the toys as "theirs." How many times have we seen this in a class? The struggle to claim Gymbo is a great example of this behavior. Children at this stage will watch and listen to eachother, but rarely play together. They're storing up the information and will eventually start to do what they see and hear other children doing. This is a great time for language development, too!
Betweens ages 2 and 3, children begin to engage in Associative Play. This is where they start to do what they see other children doing. If Jimmy puts on a fire hat, Kelly might put on a fire hat, too. As we move into imaginative play in our Level 5 classes, this is the kind of behavior you can expect to see. Children who are engaging in make believe games at home - playing with their doll as if it is a baby or cooking in the kitchen, are moving into this stage of development. And that is a good marker that they're ready for Level 5. Children are starting to interact with eachother more at this stage. They may talk, take turns, and borrow toys, but each child is still acting alone.
From the ages of 3 to 5, children begin to engage in Cooperative Play. This becomes more evident the older the child gets. As they grow, children acquire the skills to interact with eachother for the purpose of play. As their speech develops they become better able to communicate with eachother, to share ideas, and to tell eachother what to do. Communication is critical to cooperative play. This is also the time when children's personalities begin to really present themselves. Children in this age group may be ready for classes on their own at Gymboree!
All children can also revert to Solitary Play at any stage of development and that can be dictated by how they might be feeling on any given day. Let your children enjoy ALL the stages of Play and know that your teachers are here to support you through every phase of their childhood. We love your kids and we're grateful to be a part of this amazing time in your lives.