How to Encourage your Child to take part in Social Playtime

September 1, 2016 Published by


Social play is ideal for helping children to learn to make friends, communicate with others, share and negotiate.

Here are a few ideas for getting little ones to play together to help develop these skills.

Remember that children require a balance between different types of play, so a bit of time playing alone is just as important as getting some social interaction.

Toddlers & Pre-Schoolers

From about two years-old, little ones will play in ‘parallel’, which means they will be playing separate activities, side-by-side. Although there isn’t much interaction between them, this is an important transition step between playing on their own, and becoming interested in play with others.

As they reach the age of four, children will move on to ‘associative’ play where they begin to copy others around them. For example, they might play with similar toys, or both put on a dressing up outfit.

  Child playing with toy Airplane


Associative Play

Young children can be encouraged to take part in parallel or associative play by having the opportunity to play among other children of a similar age, at a play group, at the park, or by inviting friends to your home.


Role Play & Fancy Dress

Role play sets and fancy dress are great for encouraging children to start playing together, as they can copy each other’s games and act out familiar scenarios. For example, the Hape Noah’s Ark has lots of wooden animals to share between children; they can copy each other slotting the animals into the shape sorter ark, or take turns pulling the ark along.


Dancing & Playing Instruments

The lovely Rhythmic Set from Haba, are really fun for this age group and are very social activities too. Children can copy simple dance moves or rhythms as a group.


Joint Activity

At this age children often struggle with sharing, so toys or activity materials that don’t ‘belong’ to one child or the other – such as ingredients for baking or Play Doh – can help avoid this conflict while getting children to engage in a joint activity.



5 - 6 Year Olds

At about this age children will start to play cooperatively, working with each other on a group goal or theme. Children will be much more interested in interacting with one another and play is more organised.



At about this age children will start to play cooperatively, working with each other on a group goal or theme. Children will be much more interested in interacting with one another and play is more organised.


Imaginative Play

Free, imaginative play opportunities continue to be important for encouraging social play. Given the time and privacy, children will create their own joint worlds to play in together, where they can be anything they want. The Myweeteepee Teepee is an ideal secret hideout

Play Sets

Large play sets which have enough props or characters – like the Playmobil Children’s Petting Zoo - are good for getting two or three children to play together.

Puzzles & Construction Sets

Puzzles like Colour Code and even construction sets such as Ur-Tubes give children a problem to solve or a goal to work on together, encouraging them to share ideas and take turns having a go.

Card & Board Games

Age-appropriate card or board games can get children to play together and take turns. They can also play against each other in pairs or small groups to promote teamwork.

7 Years and Up


Girls troupe performing at a show 

Sports Games

From a simple game of Swingball to a full-on footy tournament – will get children playing as a team.



Older children have much more patience and perseverance, so could work on a longer term project as a group, such as a piece of art work, planning a dance routine, or creating a play.


Card & Board Games

Again, age-appropriate card or board games are brilliant for encouraging older children to play together.


There are plenty of ideas for social play in our Good Toy Guide, where toys are tested by real kids and reviewed by experts, as well as our play ideas section.





Photo Credits:

IMG_3563 by Nikki Gibson licensed under CC-BY-ND 2.0 

The airplane sound by Eduardo Merille licensed under CC-BY-SA 2.0



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This post was written by Anna Taylor

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