How Families and Occupational Therapists Can Support Learning Through Play

Play is a critical part of a child’s development; a means to which children explore and understand the world around them. Through play, children are able to discover new environments, learn social skills, navigate interpersonal relationships, and develop their physical coordination. In fact, occupational therapists would say a child’s job is to play!

Occupational therapists (OTs) who work with children are highly trained to evaluate a child’s ability to participate in their job via their physical and emotional development, and to work with them to achieve optimal participation. While a child with disabilities may have more trouble fully participating in their job, occupational therapists help to optimize this participation through specific goals and therapeutic strategies.

Read below to learn more about what parents and therapists can do to support a child’s participation in play.

Sensory Rich Play
Parents: Encourage play with items that stimulate the different senses, such as sand, water, balls, finger paints, and swings. This type of play helps children strengthen their senses by incorporating them into play activities.
Occupational Therapists: Help to modify the environment or adapt toys in order to maximize the sensory input without overwhelming the child.

Manipulative Play
Parents: Toys and games such as beads, Play-doh, and Legos require children to use their fine motor skills, dexterity, and hand-eye coordination. These skills are important to translate later into activities such as handwriting.
Occupational Therapists: Since activities requiring these dexterity skills have the potential to become frustrating, an occupational therapist can optimize these activities to best benefit the child.

Pretend Play
Parents: Social skills can be targeted during pretend play through the use of role-playing with dolls or stuffed animals, as well as through imaginative scenarios like tea parties and playing house.
Occupational Therapists: Works with the family to develop and suggest play scenarios that can mirror the family routines and allow the optimal learning to take place.

Choosing Toys
Parents: Choose toys that are appropriate for the child’s age and maturity level. This doesn’t necessarily mean spending a lot of money on fancy or complex toys; often the simpler and less expensive items promote the most imaginative play!
Occupational Therapists: Help to identify what toys might be optimal for an individual child’s learning and development. They can also suggest ways to include more family members in the play process to make therapy a fun and bonding experience!