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Connecting Through Play

What is play?


Play is a form of activity that is enjoyable, spontaneous, and typically associated with children. Play can help children learn, grow, and develop a range of skills, such as physical, cognitive, social, and emotional skills. Play can also provide opportunities for children to express themselves creatively and interact with others.


There are several categories of play, including:

  • Physical play: This type of play involves the use of the body and physical movement, such as running, jumping, climbing, and throwing.

  • Social play: This type of play involves interaction with other children, such as playing games together, having conversations, and working on projects.

  • Imaginative play: This type of play involves the use of imagination and creativity, such as pretending to be a different person or creating make-believe scenarios.

  • Exploratory play: This type of play involves investigating and exploring the environment, such as touching, tasting, and manipulating objects.

  • Constructive play: This type of play involves building and creating things, such as with blocks, legos, or other construction toys.

  • Games with rules: This type of play involves following rules and structure, such as board games, card games, and sports.



Developmental Stages of Play


Children go through different stages of development as they grow and mature, and play is an important part of this process. Here are some of the stages of development for children and play:

  1. Infancy (birth to 1 year): In the earliest stage of development, infants engage in sensory play, such as looking at objects, touching and grasping them, and making sounds.

  2. Toddlerhood (1 to 3 years): As toddlers grow, they begin to engage in more complex forms of play, such as pretending, imitating others, and playing with other children. They also begin to develop their gross and fine motor skills through physical play.

  3. Preschool (3 to 5 years): In the preschool years, children continue to develop their play skills and become more imaginative and creative. They also begin to play with others in more organized ways, such as taking turns and following rules.

  4. School-age (6 to 12 years): As children enter school, they continue to develop their play skills and become more interested in games with rules and structure. They also begin to engage in more complex forms of imaginative play, such as role-playing and storytelling.


“Play is our brain's favourite way of learning" - Diane Ackerman


How does a new parent play with their newborn?


Infants often learn about the world and make sense of their surroundings through play. Playing with your newborn is also a great way to connect with them and help them feel safe and nurtured. Often, some of the most meaningful ways to interact and play with your baby are things that parents tend to do instinctively, regardless of prior experience. However, not all new mothers or fathers know how to play. Examples of "play" with a newborn include:


Talking to your baby: Around three months of age, infants can visually focus on objects and benefit from talking to them during daily occupations such as feeding and bathing.

Holding your baby: Infants can feel safe and comfortable when held, which helps develop a bond between you and your baby.

Dancing with your baby: Infants can respond to sound, and dancing with your baby is an excellent way to get in some tummy time.

Providing things for your baby to look at: Within the first year, babies develop the skills to coordinate eye movement. They often enjoy highly-contrasting colours and react positively to the sensory experience in a baby gym.

Learning from touch: Babies learn about their environment primarily through the sense of touch. Offer a variety of fabrics, toys, and other age-appropriate items for your infant to touch.



Tips for Better Play


Here are a few last-minute tips that parents could try for better play:


  1. Provide a safe and supportive environment for play. Make sure the space is free of any potential hazards, and provide appropriate toys and materials for the child to play with.

  2. Engage in play with your child. Play with your child and participate in their play to support their development and build a strong, loving relationship.

  3. Encourage your child to use their imagination and creativity during play, and support their exploration and experimentation.

  4. Offer your child a range of play experiences, such as physical play, imaginative play, and social play, to support their development in different areas.

  5. Respect your child's play and let them lead the way. Avoid imposing your own ideas or expectations on their play.

  6. Be patient and supportive of your child during play. Provide encouragement and support, and allow them to learn and grow at their own pace.

Generally, these tips can help you support your child's play and development in a positive and nurturing way.



What toys are appropriate for my child?


The types of toys a child plays with often vary with age. For infants (birth to 1 year), age-appropriate toys might include simple, sensory toys that stimulate the senses, such as soft dolls, rattles, and teething toys. For toddlers (1 to 3 years), age-appropriate toys might include toys that support their developing gross and fine motor skills, such as balls, blocks, and puzzles. For preschoolers (3 to 5 years), toys might include toys that support their growing imagination and creativity, such as dolls, dress-up clothes, and art supplies. For school-age children (6 to 12 years), toys such as board games, sports equipment, and science kits might support their growing interests and abilities. Generally speaking, it is vital to choose safe, age-appropriate, engaging toys that support a child's development at their particular stage of life.



“The creation of something new is not accomplished by the intellect but by the play instinct.” – Carl Jung.



Why do occupational therapists assess play?


Play is one of the most common occupations for children and is how many children form their first friendships. Occupational therapists are interested in assessing play because it can help identify aspects of play that a child may have difficulties with. Typically, occupational therapists who assess play look at five factors: the environment, skills, motivation, activities and approach. A variety of assessments are available to choose from, such as the Interest Checklist, School Functional Assessment, Peabody Developmental Motor Scale (PDMS) or the Sensory Integration and Praxis Tests (SIPT). Still, occupational therapists often choose the most relevant for a particular child. Let's take a brief look at a few of those assessments.


Interest Checklist


An Interest Checklist is a tool used to assess a child's interests and preferences. It typically consists of a list of activities, hobbies, or other interests, and the child is asked to indicate which ones they enjoy or are interested in. The interest checklist can be used for a variety of purposes, such as to help a person explore their interests and preferences, to match them with educational programs, or to help them plan leisure activities. The interest checklist can be useful for anyone, but it is often used with children and adolescents to help them develop a sense of identity and explore potential interests and careers.


The School Functional Assessment


The School Functional Assessment (SFA)is a tool used to assess a student's ability to function in the school environment. It typically involves a comprehensive evaluation of the student's academic, social, and behavioural skills, as well as their physical abilities and environmental factors. The SFA is designed to identify the student's strengths and needs and to develop strategies and interventions to support their success in school. The SFA can be used by teachers, school counsellors, and other education professionals to help students with various learning and developmental challenges. It can also be used to monitor a student's progress and evaluate interventions' effectiveness. The SFA is a valuable tool for understanding a student's abilities and needs in the school setting, and for supporting their success in school.



Peabody Developmental Motor Scales


The Peabody Developmental Motor Scales (PDMS) are a set of standardized assessments used to evaluate a child's gross and fine motor skills. The PDMS consists of a series of tasks that are designed to assess a child's ability to perform a range of motor skills, such as reaching, grasping, walking, and running. The tasks are age- and developmentally appropriate and are administered by a trained professional who observes the child's performance and records their scores. The PDMS can be used to identify a child's strengths and weaknesses in motor skills, and to develop interventions to support their development. It is often used by occupational therapists, physical therapists, and other professionals who work with children with motor skill delays or disabilities. Overall, the PDMS is a valuable tool for assessing a child's motor skills and supporting their development.


Sensory Integration and Praxis Tests


The Sensory Integration and Praxis Tests (SIPT) is a standardized assessment used to evaluate a child's sensory processing abilities. The SIPT consists of a series of tasks and activities that are designed to assess a child's ability to process and integrate sensory information from the environment, such as touch, movement, and sound. The tasks are administered by a trained professional who observes the child's performance and records their scores. The SIPT can be used to identify a child's strengths and weaknesses in sensory processing, and to develop interventions to support their development. It is often used by occupational therapists, physical therapists, and other professionals who work with children with sensory processing disorders or other developmental challenges.


Occupational therapists often use play as a therapeutic tool to help children develop the skills they need to participate in these activities. Through play, occupational therapists can help children develop their physical, cognitive, social, and emotional skills, as well as their ability to interact with others and express themselves. Occupational therapists can also use play to help children learn how to manage their emotions and cope with stress, and to support their overall development and well-being. The role of occupational therapy in play is to use play as a tool to help children develop the skills they need to participate in everyday activities.


Occupational therapy for infants uses play as the child's primary occupation, and occupational therapists working with pediatric populations are experts in play. If you have play concerns, ask your physician or other healthcare professionals how you can contact an occupational therapist.


"For a small child there is no division between playing and learning; between the things he or she does ‘just for fun’ and things that are ‘educational.’ The child learns while living and any part of living that is enjoyable is also play." - Penelope Leach, psychologist


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