From Westby’s Symbolic Play Scale Check List



9 Mo.

  • Awareness that objects exist when not seen: finds toys hidden under scarf.
  • Means-end behavior – crawls or walks to get what he wants: pulls string toys.
  • Does not mouth or bang all toys – some used appropriately.
9 Mo.

  • No true language: may have performative words (words associated with actions or the total situation)
  • Exhibits the following communicative functions:
    Request & Command
13 Mo.

  • Purposeful exploration of toys: discovers operation of toys through trial and error: uses variety if motoric schemas.
  • Hands toys to adult if unable to operate.
13 Mo.

  • Context dependent single words, for example, child may use the word “car” when riding in a car, but not when he sees a car: words tend to come and go in child’s vocabulary.
  • Exhibits the following communicative functions:
    Request, Command, Label, Personal, Protesting, Interactional, Greeting, Response
17 Mo.

  • Autosymbolic play, for example, child pretends to go to sleep or pretends to drink from cup or eat from spoon.
  • Uses most common objects and toys appropriately.
  • Tool-use (uses stick to reach toy).
  • Finds toys invisibly hidden (when placed in box and box emptied under scarf).
17 Mo.

  • Beginning of true verbal communication. Words have the following functional and semantic relations: Recurrence, Existence, Agent, Object, Denial Non-Existence, Rejection, Location, Action or State, Object or Person associated with object or location.
19 Mo.

  • Symbolic play extends beyond the child’s self:
  • Play with dolls: brushes doll’s hair, feeds doll a bottle, or covers doll with blanket.
  • Child performs pretend activities on more than one person or object: for example, feeds self, a doll, mother, and another child.
  • Combines two toys in pretend play, for example, puts spoon in pan or pours from pot into cup.
19 Mo.

  • Refers to objects and persons not present. Beginning of word combinations with the following semantic relations:
    Agent-Action, Action-Object, Agent-Object, Action-Location, Object-Location, Attributive, Dative, Possessive.
24 Mo.

  • Represents daily experiences: plays house – is the mommy, daddy, or baby: objects used are realistic and close to life size.
  • Events short and isolated; no true sequences: some self-limiting sequences – puts food in pan, stirs and eats.
  • Block play consists of stacking and knocking down.
  • Sand and water play consists of filling, pouring and dumping.
24 Mo.

  • Uses earlier pragmatic functions and semantic relations in phrases and short sentences.
  • The following morphological markers appear:
    Present progressive [ing] on verbs, Plurals, Possessives.
2.5 Yrs.

  • Represents events less frequently experienced or observed, particularly impressive or traumatic events.
  • Doctor-Nurse-Sick child
  • Events still short and isolated. Realistic props still required. Roles shift quickly.
2.5 Yrs.

  • Responds appropriately to the following WH questions in context:
    What, Who, Whose, Where, What.
  • Asks WH questions – generally puts WH at beginning of sentence.
  • Responses to why questions inappropriate except for well-known routines, such as, “Why is the doctor here?” … “Baby sick.”
  • Asks why, but often inappropriate and does not attend to answer.
3 Yrs.

  • Continues pretend activities of previous 2 stages, but now the play has sequence. Events are not isolated, for example, child mixes cake, bakes it, serves it, washes the dishes; or doctor checks patient, calls ambulance, takes patient to hospital and operates. Sequence evolves… not planned.
  • Compensatory toy… re-enactment of experienced events with new outcomes.
  • Associative play.
3 Yrs.

  • Uses past tense, such as “I ate the cake.” … “I walked.”
  • Uses future aspect [particularly “gonna”] forms, such as, “I’m gonna wash dishes.
3.5 Yrs.

  • Carries out play activities of previous stages with a doll house and Fisher-Price toys (barn, garage, airport, village)
  • Uses blocks and sandbox for imaginative play. Blocks used primarily as enclosures (fences, and houses, for animals and dolls).
  • Play not totally stimulus bound. Child uses one object to represent another.
  • Uses doll or puppet as participant in play.
3.5 Yrs.

  • Descriptive vocabulary expands as child becomes more aware of perceptual attributes. Uses terms for the following concepts [not always correctly]:
    Shapes, Sizes, Colors, Texture, Spatial relationships.
  • Gives dialogue to puppets and dolls.
  • Meta-linguistic language use, such as, “He said…”
  • Uses indirect requests, such as, “Mommy lets me have cookies for breakfast.”
  • Changes speech depending on listener.
4 Yrs.

  • Begins to problem-solve events not experienced. Plans ahead. Hypothesizes “what would happen if…”.
  • Uses dolls and puppets to act out scenes.
  • Builds 3-dimentional structures with blocks which are attempts at reproducing specific structures child has seen.
4 Yrs.Verbalizes intentions and possible future events:

  • Uses modals [can, may, might, will, would, could]
  • Uses conjugations [and, but, if, so, because]

Note: Full cometence for these modals and conjugations does not develop until 10-12 years of age.

Begins to respond appropriately to why and how questions that require reasoning about perception.


  • Plans a sequence of pretend events. Organizes what he needs – both objects and other children.
  • Coordinates more than one event at a time.
  • Highly imaginative. Sets the scene without realistic props.
  • Full co-operative play.
5 Yrs.

  • Uses relational terms [then, when, first, next, last, while, before, after].

Note: Full competence does not develop until 10-12 years of age.


From Westby’s Symbolic Play Scale Check List