Someone once shared a quote with me, “Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children, play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood” (Fred Rogers). I love this quote. Maybe we should start with how it isn’t 'just play', but a necessity!
One reason you see your occupational therapist playing with your child is because it is actually one of their 'jobs'! By definition, “Occupational Therapy helps people across the lifespan participate in things they want and need to do through the therapeutic use of everyday activities, also known as occupations” (AOTA). Children have jobs or occupations that include: growing, learning, playing, and socializing (AOTA). Play is such an important role in a child’s life! Play targets socio-emotional skills and physical skills every child needs. Playing addresses social skills, problem solving, strategizing, imagination/ creation, sharing, fine and gross motor development… just to name a few specifics.
Another reason you will see your occupational therapist playing with your child is because it is just plain fun! Who doesn’t love to play?!Children learn BEST when they are actively engaging in and playing within their environment. So many skills can be addressed and developed through playing independently, with peers, and family. Play is so motivating for children, especially when geared and catered to their interests/ needs.
But how, you might ask? Sometimes actual play skills are the goal for a child. However, other times play is just the way we facilitate and target other skills. For example, occupational therapists spend a lot of time learning the skill of task analysis (it is one skill that helps set us apart from other health professionals). Task analysis looks at the demands of the activity and the skills required to complete the activity. Let’s think of an example…how about shoe tying? Tying shoes can be very difficult; there are so many tricky steps! Many people take for granted how challenging it really is, especially for children. When looking at the skill breakdown for tying your shoes, some skills that are required include: sequencing, bilateral hand coordination, fine motor skills, hand-eye coordination, visual perception, and gross motor coordination. That’s a lot for anyone! Occupational therapists will use a variety of play tasks and work tasks to target these various skills for further development and refinement to facilitate success. We also like play that has a “just right” challenge. This means, it is challenging enough for the child, but they are also able to have fun and be successful while learning new things!
If you are ever unsure of how your therapist is using a certain play task or toy, just ask! We love sharing ideas/modifications for you to try at home! We can also provide recommendations for appropriate play toys specific to age and certain needs. Now, don’t forget to go play and have some fun!
For more information on occupational therapy and play, please visit this website.