It’s February and at The Children’s School in the month of February, we celebrate friendships. The Pigeon Plums and Mangroves will get together with the Spanish Limes and Coco Plums to honor friendship.
” We shall walk together on this path of life, for all things are part of the universe and are connected with each other to form one whole unity.” – Maria Montessori
I thought that with February being friendship month that it would be a great time to share how toddlers play and form “friendships.” Some of the most consistent questions that I get asked are who does my child play with, who are their friends, or why is my child not playing with other children?
Within the Montessori philosophy, there are five stages of play; solitary play, onlooker play, parallel play, associative play, and cooperative play. The youngest of toddlers mostly engage in solitary play, meaning that they are completely engaged in their own activities without showing interest in other children. The next stage is onlooker play where they begin to notice and observe others around them and may even modify their work after observing someone else. The third stage is parallel play, this is where two toddlers may work beside each other but not work with each other. The fourth stage is associative play where two children will engage in an activity together. This will be done in a loosely organized manner. The last stage is called cooperative play and is often times observed in the Primary classrooms. In cooperative play, children will work together to achieve a common goal. At ages four and five children start bonding with one another and often create friendships with ease.
“Play is the work of the child.” – Maria Montessori
How do solitary play, onlooker play, and parallel play benefit my toddler you ask? Until the age of three, children learn by what Dr. Maria Montessori referred to as an ‘unconscious mind.” They develop effortlessly and without conscious awareness. Each child is driven by an intense desire to “do it myself.” At first, children watch adults and other children do things, and they will then mimic or copy them. They will then use those observations during solitary play. Next come onlooker play and parallel play of which there are many benefits; language development, gross and fine motor skill development, freedom to express their desires and feelings, understanding social interactions and learning boundaries, and learning what is available to them.
As your child sits and minds their own work they will also be listening and learning words from adults and nearby children. They will add these words to their vocabulary and surprise you with it later. Play engages both the body and the mind. Whether a toddler repeats on activity many times or experiments with something new they observed from parallel play, it’s all a part of learning and growing. Keep in mind that what may look simple to you can be quite challenging to little hands. During parallel play, your toddler is using everything they can get their hands on to express feelings. They range from joy to fear to frustration or just plain silliness. By observing your child play you can get a glimpse into how their mind works and gain a better understanding of their budding personality. The parallel play does not mean that your child is isolated. Your child is exactly where they are meant to be, in their own world. This world is situated in the middle of the bigger world of which they have yet to figure out. Through observation, your child gets a glimpse into social interaction. Interactions can be both positive or negative and there is something to be learned from both. Parallel play does have some pitfalls. Don’t expect that your child will always sit quietly and play/work without ever eyeing another’s work. Toddlerhood is the age when your child’s mind takes some mighty big leaps in terms of development. Learning the word and concept of “mine” is a very important step in understanding boundaries.
So the next time you get a daily note stating that your child observed others working in the classroom be proud and look forward to seeing them exhibit what new skills that they have learned simply by observing others around them 🙂
Happy friendship month!
– Ms. Dori and Ms. Šárka