Play is vital to a child’s development and a foundation through which they learn many skills. Through play, a child learns about their own physical abilities, how objects work and how to get along with others. Pretend play, also known as imaginative play, is especially important. It is strongly linked to language and literacy development, problem solving, flexible thinking, the development of an understanding of social situations and forming of friendships with peers. Through play with peers, a child learns about getting along with others, how to take turns, to share and to negotiate. It prepares them for more advanced skills that are required for success at school, such as attending to others, engagement, and following instructions.
If play skills are not coming naturally to a child, you may notice that they have difficulty coming up with ideas for play. They may be always asking a parent to play with them to help with this. Some children may only do a couple of play actions with a toy, such as drive the car along and crash it, or get stuck repeating the same actions with an object. If a child is having difficulty knowing how to play, they may act in a disruptive way when trying to play with other children their age, as they are not really sure of what to do. This can impact their success with developing friendships and being included in play.
Pretend play skills develop in a sequence. As part of a Comprehensive Assessment, our Occupational Therapists can assess how a child is progressing in their development of play skills along this sequence. The Occupational Therapist can provide individual and/or group based play therapy, pitched at the just right level, for the child to develop and expand their play skills. An essential part of therapy is teaching parents active ways to help their children increase their pretend play skills so practice can occur at home and other places.
When a child is able to play well, they have access to a key tool for learning about the world around them and the way they can influence it. They can become less reliant on their parents or technology for entertainment. Most wonderfully, by being able to play well, a child can join in play with their peers and experience the fun that comes from participating in the games the children around them are playing as well as creating their own for others to join!