Psychology Dictionary of Arguments

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Upton I 80
Play/Parten/Upton: A number of theorists have advanced elaborate classifications of play. Perhaps the most well known is that of Parten (1932)(1). In this model, based on observations of play during the preschool years, Parten describes six different types of play:

Upton I 81
Unoccupied play/Parten: Child is relatively stationary and appears to be performing random movements with no apparent purpose. A relatively infrequent style of play.
1. Solitary play/Parten: Child is completely engrossed in playing and does not seem to notice other children.
2. Onlooker play/Parten: Child takes an interest in other children’s play but does not join in. May ask questions or just talk to other children, but the main activity is simply to watch.
3. Parallel play/Parten: Child mimics other children’s play but doesn’t actively engage with them. For example, child may use the same toy.
4. Associative play/Parten: Children now more interested in each other than the toys they are using. This is the first category that involves strong social interaction between the children while they play.
5. Cooperative play/Parten: Some organisation enters children’s play, for example the playing has some goal and children often adopt roles and act as a group

Upton I 80
VsParten: For many years it was accepted that these categories were developmental – children progressed from solo to more social play. Recent research suggests that this is far from the case. All of these types of play are seen in the preschooler: five year olds spend more time in solitary or parallel play
Upton I 81
than in cooperative or associative play; and parallel play is as common at five years as it is at three years of age (Rubin et al., 1998)(2).
Parallel play/VsParten: there is evidence that parallel play is not an immature form of play, but a sophisticated strategy for easing your way into an ongoing game; successful integration into cooperative play involves observation of others at play, followed by playing alongside before interacting with other players (Rubin et al., 1998)(2).
Cognition: It has also been argued that this model is limited by neglecting the cognitive aspects of play (Bergen, 1988)(3). >Play/Psychological theories.


1. Parten, M.B. (1932) Social participation among pre-school children.Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 27: 243–69.
2. Rubin, K.H., Bukowski, W. and Parker, J.G. (1998) Peer interactions, relationships, and groups, in Eisenberg, N (ed.) Handbook of Child Psychology, Vol. 3: Social, emotional, and personality development (6th edn). New York: Wiley.
3. Bergen, D. (1988) Stages of play development, in Bergen, D (ed.) Play as a Medium for Learning and Development. Portsmouth: Heinemann.


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Explanation of symbols: Roman numerals indicate the source, arabic numerals indicate the page number. The corresponding books are indicated on the right hand side. ((s)…): Comment by the sender of the contribution.
The note [Author1]Vs[Author2] or [Author]Vs[term] is an addition from the Dictionary of Arguments. If a German edition is specified, the page numbers refer to this edition.
Parten, Mildred B.
Upton I
Penney Upton
Developmental Psychology 2011


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