Have you noticed your child removing themselves from group activities?
Do they have difficulty playing functionally with toys?
Does your child ALWAYS need to be in control of game rules?
If you answered yes to any of these then your child may benefit from occupational therapy!
It might surprise you to know that a child’s MAIN occupation is PLAY! Playing is how a child learns about their body and its capabilities and limitations, about others and how to interact effectively and about their environment. Through play, a child develops an understanding of who they are and how they fit into the world around them.
There are many types or stages of play such as:
Explorative play – where your child will explore their surroundings and toys through touching, placing things in their mouth, focussing on details such as spinning wheels or faces on dolls and investigating sensations such as splashing bath water.
At this stage, your child is learning about using their body, and about their environment through smell, taste, touch, sight and sound. They discover and begin to understand the world in shapes, colours and sizes.
Physical play – where you child uses their body in space. This includes running, jumping, climbing and ‘rough-and-tumble’ play.
This type of play develops gross motor strength and coordination, an understanding of where the body is in space and a sense of the need to protect the body and safety awareness. A child begins to understand what their body CAN do and their own limitations; such as how FAR they can jump, how FAST they can run, how HIGH they can climb. This type of play is also important to build resilience and emotion regulation skills when children discover there may be others that are faster/stronger than them.
Cause and Effect – where your child begins to understand that their actions can elicit a response. Toys used at this stage include toys with buttons to play a song, jack-in-a-box and pop-up pirate.
This type of play is a great opportunity to introduce and teach social skills such as turn taking and asking for help.
For example: taking turns putting pieces into pop up toy!
Constructive play – where your child builds or makes something. Toys such as lego, blocks and puzzles can be used for this type of play though this type of play is also a great way to reuse empty bottles and other recycling, craft supplies and pencils to create!
Your child, during this type of play, is developing their ability to express an image from their head in the real world, exploring different sensory aspects or objects (colour, texture etc) and improving their fine motor skills – all in one activity!
Functional play – where your child uses a toy for its intended purpose. E.g. driving a toy car on a road mat, flying a toy plane through the air or bringing a toy phone to their ear.
You can encourage your child to begin functional play by first copying what they are doing with the toy, followed by modelling functional use of the same toy.
For example: first line up your cars as they are, then model ‘driving’ the car or encourage them to ‘race’ a car against yours!
Pretend play – where your child uses their imagination to play out a scene or task. E.g. feeding a baby doll, having a tea party or an alien invasion on the moon.
Your child continues to develop their imagination and communication skills through this play. When completed with others, your child will build problem solving and conflict resolution skills as well as their ability to compromise and make decisions. Your child is learning that they don’t necessarily need toys to play and this in turn builds cognitive flexibility in what things can be used for. (E.g. using a hand as a plate, a hat as a baby or a chair as a rocket ship.)
When a child is not participating in one or more of these types of play, they may begin to develop deficits in those skill sets. As children age, they rely on the skills learnt in play to assist them to deal with new challenges such as starting school, building and maintaining friendships through different areas in their lives and communicating their ideas as well as being able to identify when they need assistance and ask for it appropriately.
Occupational therapists are specialists in assisting children to participate in play and may help through use of play in therapy, social stories, role plays and observations of your child in their different environments. Occupational therapists can also assist parents to learn HOW TO PLAY with their children.
If you are concerned about your child’s ability to play, want to learn how to play with your child or think your child might be lacking in skills learnt through play – please contact our office on 1300 856 617 and book in a FREE Meet and Greet with one of our friendly (and fun) Occupational Therapists’.