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Ahren Hoffman
BY Ahren Hoffman

9 Toys That Can Help Children who have Special Needs with Independent, Parallel and Cooperative Play

There are many types of play children encounter with age, environment and mood. As children grow they evolve in their play abilities starting with independent play and moving through parallel play, cooperative play, and even competitive play. The sequence of play is an important role in child development and sets the foundation for learning how to interact and socialize with others into adulthood. Cooperative play or understanding group skills is the culmination of play stages during childhood.

The Different Stages of Play

Independent Play

Independent play is important because it teaches the child how to entertain himself and helps him become self-sufficient. The focus on independent play occurs during the toddler stage as the child is learning about self-exploration and honing communications skills.  As the child plays independently, he becomes comfortable with play. Including peers in the play process provides a more complex play pattern for parallel play.

Parallel Play

Parallel play is another stage of development for independent play. Parallel play allows children to watch others covertly and explore new play ideas, words, sounds, ideas and actions. This naturally leads to interacting and engaging with others in cooperative play.

Cooperative Play

Cooperative play incorporates all stages of play allowing children to bounce from independent and parallel play to more involved group interactions through cooperative play. Cooperative play promotes turn-taking, sharing and social skills. It is the main focus of group skills needed to interact with others. Group skills are essential recreationally, educationally and in forming healthy social bonds from childhood through adulthood.

Toy ideas for independent, parallel and cooperative play

The following toys and play products are suggestions to help develop independent, parallel and cooperative play skills ultimately honing group skills which are critical for social development and emotional well-being.

Toys For Independent Play

Toys related to independent play may be utilized in other stages of play as children gain confidence and advance in their communication skills. These elements are critical to interacting with others, developing turn taking while learning to share space and toys.

Creativity Can1. Creativity Cans

The Creativity Can is available for FREE at select retailers. Creativity for Kids developed this arts and crafts project in a can to inspire young imaginations. The small container is filled with miscellaneous craft supplies encouraging freedom to create with no right or wrong way to inhibit expression.
Price: Free

2. Rubbablox Building Blox

RubbabloxBlocks inspire pretend play and cognitive skills like problem solving which is essential for future stages of play. The Rubbablox are a velvety material which provides further fun to explore their tactile appeal!
Price: $49.95

3. Melissa & Doug Number Train Floor Puzzle

Number Train PuzzleBig floor puzzles like the Number Train Puzzle provide kids with the freedom to spread out and play! The numbers on the trains provide order to the puzzle and assist kids with finding the next piece. When kids are ready to share space and puzzle pieces, the puzzle is big enough to work as a team to put together.
Price: $12.99

Toys For Parallel Play

Cranium Hullabaloo4. Cranium Hullabaloo

Hullabaloo keeps kids moving! The audio console calls out all the moves so kids use their listening ears and move their bodies as they follow along. Kids can interpret the instructions on their own or watch peers for more movement ideas!
Price: $22.99

5. Hasbro Play-Doh Plus

Play-Doh PlusPlay-Doh is a great way for kids to independently create while sharing space and maybe even sharing the Play-Doh! The “plus” side of Play-Doh Plus is that the compound is brightly-colored, smells sweet and has a different texture than regular play-doh providing stimulating visual, tactile and olfactory sensations during play.
Price: $4.99/8 pack

6. Yogarilla

YogarillaOTis is the fun gorilla that teaches yoga poses! The large 6×8 laminated cards demonstrate 50 individual moves kids can try out on their own. More advanced stages of yoga with OTis allow options for partner moves once the individual poses are mastered.
Price: $34.95

Toys Cooperative Play

7. Swing N Slide Play Sets

Play SetsSwing N Slide offers many selections of play sets. Play sets offer kids a variation of activities like swinging, sliding, and climbing that teaches kids how to negotiate space, take turns and communicate with each other. Play sets offer kids the opportunity to work cooperatively- learning about the “rules” of playing together.
Price: Prices vary.

8. Peaceable Kingdom Feed the Woozle

Feed The WoozleFeed the Woozle is a cooperative game allowing kids to work together while promoting sharing and mutual decision making. The game can be played in three levels leading up to full cooperative play!
Price: $19.99

9. Fortamajig

FortamajigThe Fortamajig teaches kids the art of working as a team involving creativity, communication and fun. Kids must use their knowledge of independent and parallel play practices to cooperatively work together to build the fort.
Price: $55.00

The Importance of Group Skills

Providing kids with opportunities for play at all ages gives them the tools they need to lead up to cooperative play, a major milestone in the developmental aspects of play experiences. The culmination of these play stages sets the foundation for group skills teaching kids how to interact, socialize and communicate with others starting from childhood and setting the standard for social success into adulthood.


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Ahren Hoffman

Written on June 13, 2013 by:

Ahren Hoffman IS the manager of Industry Relations and Partnerships for the National Lekotek Center. Lekotek, is a not-for-profit and leading authority on toys and play for children with disabilities. Lekotek is dedicated to providing children of all abilities access to the benefits of play experiences. Visit for a complete listing of toys. You can also find them onFacebook

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