USOPAC pronounced “you so pack” is how we, the cool kids of Team MC, refer to Dr. Parten’s 6 stages of Play: Unoccupied, Solitary, Onlooker, Parallel, Associative & Cooperative. The field of applied behavior analysis, just loves those acronyms, so why not add another to your repertoire.

Learn it, live it, love it- we sure have! We know play is critical to the development of a multitude of other language, social and academic targets. We need a means of assessing play and monitoring progress to determine whether our interventions aimed at increasing social play engagement, are effective.

Taking USOPAC data is one of our simplest & most straightforward ways of collecting data on play engagement. We get a lot of valuable information through a data collection method that is quick & efficient. Bonus, bonus, bonus, we are able to accurately and consistently collect this data on multiple learners simultaneously.

What I am describing is Momentary Time Sampling. Our group facilitators have timers set to go off at specified intervals. The pre-determined interval length is dependent upon the developmental level of the learner. If you have an early learner who is quick to bop around, pick things up, put them down on move onto the next best thing, you are going to want a shorter interval to capture anything of value. For short, think around 30 seconds. For learners with more established play repertoires who are engaging in more functional or multi step play, we typically set an interval of 2-3 minutes.

When collecting data across days & weeks, be sure you have established a set observational period. Your data will be skewed and therefore not accurate, if you collect data for a 5 minute observational period one day and a 20 minute observational period another. Keep it consistent.

When the timer goes off, look & listen.

Look: see what the child is doing in that exact moment.

Are they wandering around, are they stimming on an item, are they pushing cars down a ramp, are they baking a cake with a bestie? Look for the actions they are engaged in – is the action part of what we would call functional play, or non functional (repetitive/stereotyped).

Look: Who is the child with (if anyone)

If another child is present, does that child just happen to be in the same vicinity, or is there acknowledgement and interaction? If there is acknowledgement & interaction, what does that look like? Is is an “I know you’re here, but I’m doing my thing and you’re doing yours” or it is more of a “teamwork makes the dreamwork” type of engagement working together to achieve a common goal.

Looking is not enough!

While you can take data on a group of children at the same time, you CANNOT collect that data accurately if you’re attempting to do so by sitting in a corner out of earshot of everyone.

We can not always accurately discern play levels without also hearing what is being said. There are differences between parallel, associative & cooperative levels which can be very challenging to visuallly discriminate between.

Listen in!

What do you hear? Is the child narrating their own play, are they directing their comments to a clear conversational partner, are they making and responding to requests to share, are they identifying a job or role such as “I’ll be the shopper!” All of this matters and can be the defining feature separating one play level from another.

Collect your data:

Simply drop a tally mark in the corresponding column to indicate the child’s engagement at the exact moment your timer went off.

Unoccupied: wandering around, engaging in repetitive, restricted, self stimulatory actions

Solitary: playing alone, manipulating toys as designed (functional)

Onlooker: Observing others in play, not yet joining in

Parallel: Playing in close proximity to others with similar play materials without acknowledging or interacting

Associative: awareness of others in close proximity, engagement and interaction via any of the following: commenting to others about their own play or peers’ play, making requests to share items or responding to requests for turn taking, initiating and responding to bids for attention, etc.

Cooperative: Acknowledgement, Interaction & engagement with other players in more structured ways through the identification of a common goal (building a castle, assembling a marble run, playing veterinarian). These players are working together with explicitly identified or inferred roles/jobs and are engaging in play aligned with those roles.

Graph it, baby!

Let’s see a visual representation of that beautiful data. Convert those tallys to percentages.

How many total intervals (tallys) and how many intervals were spent engaging at each level

5/10 solitary = 50% of the intervals, Sammy was observed to be engaging in play at the solitary level

3/10 parallel= 30% of the intervals, Marcus was observed to be engaging in parallel play

We are partial to a stacked column chart for this one which may be somewhat atypical for our field, but it gives us a nice clear view of changes in levels and parents report being able to quickly interpret it.

USOPAC Data Collection Sheet for Momentary Time Sampling: Group Version

Are you excited to board the USOPAC train? We’d love to have you! You can grab your USOPAC data sheet download here: