Mildred Bernice Parten Newhall (August 4, 1902 – May 26, 1970) was an American sociologist and researcher, who is credited for creating the “Stages of Play” theory in 1929. She was a researcher at the University of Minnesota's Institute of Child Development in Minnesota, and later, a research associate in psychology at the University of Rochester.
Newhall was a researcher at University of Minnesota's Institute of Child Development in Minnesota.
She was one of the first researchers to conduct extensive studies on children for the case of play. As part of her doctoral dissertation in 1929, at the university, she formulated the “Stages of Play” theory - a theory that classifies children’s participation in “free play”. The term “free play” is defined as anything that’s not related to survival, production, or profit.
For the study, she observed groups of preschool children from ages 2-5 for intense one-minute periods at “free play.” Observing, studying, and documenting the children’s behaviors, she created a sequence of six stages of play: Unoccupied, Solitary, Onlooker, Parallel, Associative, and Cooperative. The first four stages are independent, and in the stages five and six, the play becomes cooperative and involves significant amount of interaction between children.
Stages of play theory
She described the six stages of play as:
Unoccupied: Unoccupied play is when the child is not playing, just observing. The child may be standing still in one spot, just observing the surroundings and other children, learning about their world, but not engaging in any of it.
Onlooker: This stage is similar to Unoccupied play - the child is watching others playing, however they are keenly observing the play and starting to show interest in other children, just not engaging. They may talk about the game they are watching without engaging in it.
Solitary: In this stage, the child is alone and maintains focus on its activity. The child is learning about how things work and their ability to concentrate. They may construct building blocks together quietly and independently. This is more common in children aged 2-3 and less in elder ones. The child is focused on the task independently with little to no awareness of what others are doing.
Parallel: In this stage, the child gets closer to the larger group, while maintaining a distance. The child is still playing separately, but is physically and mentally closer to others. The child may mimic actions of others, adopt a behavior or a pattern from others, yet not become a part of the group. Parallel play is seen as a transitory stage from a socially immature, solitary and onlooker type of play, to a more socially aware, associative and cooperative type of play.
Associative: In Associative Play, the child gets closer to the group and actually begins interacting with other children. In this stage, the child learns interacting and engaging with others - although the activities are not organized and productive, and the communication or exchange is not synergistic. The child shows interest in others, but the focus of their actions is the activity, not the other children.
Cooperative: In the last stage, the child is actually interested in both the children around them and the activity they are engaged in. The Cooperative Play is the most social form of play where children are involved in a common activity and striving towards a common goal by interacting and cooperating with each other. To achieve their common goal, they may assign different roles to different members of the group.
She was married to Sidney Merritt Newhall, an author and researcher for Eastman Kodak in Rochester, New York.
Mildred died on May 26, 1970.