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What is Associative Play and its Benefits

Apr 05,2024 | Ducks N Crafts Pte Ltd.

associative play in kids

Playtime is a moment for exploration for children, and for them to freely do anything they think is fun. But did you know that there are different stages of play, each with its own unique benefits? Today, we're diving into the world of associative play, a crucial step in a child's social development.


What is associative play?

Imagine a group of toddler friends playing in a sand box. One might be building a castle, one might be baking mud cookies, while the others just happily shovel sand. They might chat a little, exchange toys, and many sorts of interaction might happen, that is associative play.

Developed by researcher Mildred Parten in 1932, associative play is a stage where kids are transitioning from solo activities to social interaction. It typically starts around age 3 and continues until around 4 or 5. During this stage, children:

  • Begin to show interest in what other children are doing
  • Play alongside each other, sometimes using the same toys or materials
  • Engage in minimal communication, often focused on their own play


Benefits of associative play

While it might not look like much is happening on the surface, associative play is a critical building block for a child's social and emotional development. Here's why:

  • Learning social skills

Through the small talks and simple interactions, children can have chances to practice social skills such as sharing, exchanging toys, saying “thank you” and “excuse me”. These are important not only in building social skills but also character, behavior, and respect. 

  • Developing empathy

By observing and interacting with other children, your little ones can develop an understanding of others, even just a little, which is the start of having empathy and compassion for others. 

  • Boosting self esteem

Engaging with other children and receiving positive social interactions can boost a child's self-esteem and confidence.


How to encourage associative play?

Here are some tips on how you can encourage associative play:

  • Finding opportunities for social interaction

Look for ways on how your child could be exposed to other children. This can be through enrolling your child in playgrounds, daycares, or also visiting a park. You can also invite other kids over to play, such as your younger relatives or your friends’ children.


  • Play with them

Find ways to join them in their playtime and demonstrate proper behavior as you do so such as saying “thank you”, “please”, and “excuse me”, exchanging toys, and more.


  • Narrate your actions

Talk about what you are doing as you play with them. This helps them build their language skills to know the words to state what they are doing, and also demonstrates that playtime is social and fun.


  • Open-ended toys

Make open-ended toys easily accessible. Open ended toys include arts and crafts activities, building blocks, sands, and more that encourage creativity and imaginative play, and can also be used in multiple ways.


Arts and crafts activities to promote associative play

Making open-ended toys is one of the most effective ways to encourage associative play among kids. Let’s up it a bit by ensuring that it is educational. Here are some of our recommendations:


arts and crafts activities to promote associative play

  • Pour Art Painting Kit

Create multiple kinds of abstract painting by mixing different paints with this kit. Creatively pour and mix paints onto a flat medium to design a multi-color, abstract, marble-effect painting! A great arts kit to spark associative play for your kids.


  • Avenir Scratch Junior

Scratch and unveil beautiful colors! This kit includes multiple sheets for your kids to share with others as they design by scratching and drawing patterns together.


  • Buki France 75 Wash Off Tattoos Assortment

Let your kids style themselves with temporary tattoos! This kit encourages your child to not only design creatively and fashionably but also observe other children’s sense of style.


  • Avenir Scratch Art Joint Puppet

Create puppets from scratch arts that kids can use as they engage on an imaginative play. This kit includes all materials to make scratch art and turn them into puppets.


  • Avenir Scratch N Catch

Scratch and color different kinds of animals and desserts and fish them with a rod. A perfect arts and crafts kit, good for multiple players.


Associative play is a beautiful stage in a child's development. It's a time of exploration, discovery, and the first steps towards building meaningful friendships. So next time you see your child playing alongside another, remember the magic that's unfolding!