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Wednesday, July 10, 2019

What is Associative Play and Why It Matters

Photo by photobom (Flickr)

I thought we ought to take a deep dive into a stage of play.

When I first heard the term "associative play," I had no idea what it meant, but once I found out, I realized that I had seen my girls engaging in it many times. Once you learn more about this type of play and why it's important, I think that like me, you'll also want to encourage the kids in your care to do it more often.

What Is Associative Play?

Associative play is all about social interaction. It refers to any instance when children begin playing together as a group doing a similar or identical activity to one another. Associative play has no formal organization, goal, or direction. Children riding tricycles together, building sand castles together, or building their own separate Lego projects as a group are all participating in associative play.

How Associative Play Differs From Other Play

Associative play is similar to other stages of play, like parallel play. Parallel play occurs when children play together in the same space but separately. While children doing associative play might also be doing separate activities, they still have a level of involvement and curiosity in what others are doing. Children doing associative play are not quite ready to use skills like teamwork, cooperation, and leadership to play together with a goal in mind, or they're taking a break from that type of activity. Doing associative play helps them practice more organized activities that call on children to work as a team.

The stages of play theory suggests that the way children play transforms and becomes more sophisticated as they grow. Each stage builds on those that came before. Associative play is a stop on the way to developing the ability to work cooperatively and socialize in positive ways.

Benefits of Associative Play

There are many reasons why this stage of play is important:

  • It encourages cooperation among children.
  • It increases problem-solving abilities. Children often ask why, when, and how while doing associative play.
  • Socialization is improved through work with others.
  • Associative play can improve language as children chat together.

Encouraging Associative Play

The most obvious way to encourage more associative play for your kids is to set up more play dates with friends and family: Associative play can't happen when the child is alone. Of course, adults can join in, too! Take a break and play some games with your kids. You might find yourself having fun, too. Some great ideas for this type of play are to color pictures or do separate art projects together. You could also break out Legos or clay or search for something together, like sea shells. Since this stage of play is so social, it's also a great idea to ask questions. Take an interest in what the children are doing, and ask them what they're doing and why. Sharing is also an important part of associative play. Encourage sharing as much as possible, and make sure there are many items around that can be shared among the group.

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

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