Play is the universal language of childhood. It is the way that children learn about the world around them, and is spontaneous and pleasurable in nature. Play is an experience of joy that is fostered by engagement in meaningful, self-motivated and self-chosen interactions with the environment that promote development, health and wellbeing. In fact, from birth to eight years old, play is the main way a child learns about the world around them and their impact on it.
As an innately person-centred and holistic profession, Occupational Therapy leads the charge in enabling participants to build skills through the therapeutic use of meaningful occupations or activities. Play as a leisure occupation, can be considered essential for the physical, emotional, social and mental development of children. This unique lens of Occupational Therapy on the power of play, can unlock endless opportunities for skill development and learning.
Play-based approaches to therapy advocate for and support children’s participation in play activities. Occupational Therapists are trained to utilise play throughout the therapeutic process. Initially, play can foster a strong therapeutic relationship between the therapist and the child. This interactive and positive relationship is essential for client outcomes and goal achievement. Beyond the establishment of a therapeutic relationship, observation of a child’s play can reveal a lot about their development and be used to inform the future direction of goal-directed therapy.
Once the child and their family have created goals with the help of their Occupational Therapist, play can be used as a method to improve a variety of skills, including fine and gross motor skills, problem-solving, memory and attention, sensory integration, and self-care skills. Play stimulates creative thinking and can be utilised to explore a range of challenges or themes that may be difficult to discuss with the child, including emotional regulation, safety and hazard identification, and changes in routine.
Play-based therapy can look very different depending on the needs of the child. Occupational Therapists work to present the “just right challenge” between the play activity and the child’s ability. In conjunction with knowledge of the child’s interests, Occupational Therapists can make
playtime into a time of skill development, whilst still providing a motivating and interesting activity for the child.
Judd, R. (2020). Play-based therapy is a structured approach to therapy widely used by occupational therapists to engage children in improving functional growth and emotional well-being. https://www.genphysio.com.au/play-based-therapy-what-is-it-and-how-can-it-be-beneficial-for-my-child/
Lynch, & Moore, A. (2016). Play as an occupation in occupational therapy. The British Journal of Occupational Therapy, 79(9), 519–520. https://doi.org/10.1177/0308022616664540
Rodger, & Ziviani, J. (1999). Play-based Occupational Therapy. International Journal of Disability, Development, and Education, 46(3), 337–365. https://doi.org/10.1080/103491299100
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