Interesting question. Although infants do play with parents and siblings, most do not initiate interactive play until around three years of age. Solitary play is what babies do. LINK
Parallel play is a form of play in which children play adjacent to
each other, but do not try to influence one another's behavior.
Children usually play alone during parallel play but are interested in
what other children are doing. This usually occurs after the first
Link to PBS Whole Child I like this page because it pretty much fits with my education and experience and it is easy to read and understand.
Play is an important part of the learning process at GEMS World Academy Chicago – Early Years Preschool. The role of play in the development of young children has been well documented; here’s a look at the “six stages of play” as outlined by noted sociologist Mildred Parten.
Parten studied play while at the Institute of Child Development in Minnesota. Her study suggested that when children engaged in active playtime, they learned how to interact with other children, cooperate, share and make friends.
Parten stated that children’s play changed as they developed, going through six distinct stages that generally, but not always, corresponded to children’s ages:
Unoccupied play – The child is seemingly not engaged or actively
playing with others at all. They may remain stationary and be engaged
in random movements with no objective. This stage of play is mostly
seen in newborns and infants, between the ages of 0 and 2. This is an
important setting stage for future play exploration and development.
Solitary play – During this stage of play, children will often play
alone, with toys different from those of others, and be uninterested
or unaware of what others around them are doing. This stage of play is
most commonly seen in young toddlers between the ages of 2 and 3, but
it is important for children of all age groups to participate in from
time to time. Solitary play is common at a young age because
cognitive, physical and social skills have yet to fully develop. This
type of play is important because it teaches children how to entertain
[from PBS Whole Child](
From the start, babies eagerly explore their world-and that includes themselves and other people.
birth to 3 months Babies spend a lot of time getting to know their
own bodies. They: Suck their own fingers Observe their own hands Look
at the place on the body that is being touched Begin to realize she is
a separate person from others and learn how body parts, like arms and
legs, are attached
Infants are interested in other people and learn to recognize primary
caregivers. Most infants: Can be comforted by a familiar adult Respond
positively to touch Interact best when in an alert state or in an
inactive and attentive state Benefit from short, frequent interactions
more than long, infrequent ones Smile and show pleasure in response to
3 months to 6 months Babies are more likely to initiate social
interaction. They begin to: Play peek-a-boo Pay attention to own name
Smile spontaneously Laugh aloud
6 months to 9 months Babies show a wider emotional range and
stronger preferences for familiar people. Most can: Express several
clearly differentiated emotions Distinguish friends from strangers
Respond actively to language and gestures Show displeasure at the loss
of a toy
9 months to 12 months As they near age one, imitation and
self-regulation gain importance. Most babies can: Feed themselves
finger foods Hold a cup with two hands and drink with assistance Hold
out arms and legs while being dressed Mimic simple actions Show
anxiety when separated from primary caregiver
Child Development Institute
There are three basic forms of play:
Babies usually like to spend much of their time playing on their own.
They are exploring all aspects of their environment from the sound of
their own voice and the feel of their own body parts to those of
others. They want to gaze upon, grab, suck and rattle any object that
comes their way.
Older children at times will also prefer to play on their own. They
may spend hours making up stories with their GI Joes or Barbie Dolls.
They like to build, draw, paint, invent and explore by themselves.
They hopefully will also like to read and even write on their own.
From the age of two to about three, children move to playing alongside
other children without much interaction with each other. They may be
engaged in similar activities or totally different activities but they
like being around others their own age. Even though it may appear that
they don’t care about the presence of the other children, just try
separating them and you will see this contact from a far is very
important to them.
By the age of three, children are ready for preschool. They are potty
trained, able to communicate and socialize with others. They are able
to share ideas and toys. Through interactive play they begin to learn
social skills such as sharing and taking turns. They also develop the
ability to collaborate on the “theme” of the play activity. The
children not adults should institute play themes and structure. Adults
should only intervene when children exhibit the need for coaching on
social and problem solving skills.
Finally, children also like to play with adults. This can be one to
one or in a group. It is important that parents spend time playing
with their children. It is fun. Let the kids set the pace and become a
part of their world. No need to teach or preach, just enjoy the
Note: It is OK for kids to frequently engage in solitary play.
However, the need to develop social and communication skills requires
a balance. If a child ONLY plays by himself, it may indicate a
problem. Don’t hesitate to talk to an expert such as your child’s
pediatrician or teacher if you have concerns.