Play to Development

Play is an important part of growing up. Through play children learn social engagements, language, behavioral expectations, and facts about their physical world. When observing your child playing look for how they play (how they use objects) as well as how they interact (what social engagements they use). These skills build upon each other starting with an infant mouthing a toy to a three year old playing ball with a friend. Play in the young child involves lots of physical activity. Play skills can be taught by engaging and playing with your child, modeling play behaviors, and encouraging your child to try new play activities.

How children use their environment:

  1. Sensory motor play – mouthing, banging, holding toys.
  2. Exploratory play – putting items in and out of containers, building, pushing/pulling levers, opening/closing to find what is inside.
  3. Representational play – using items like they would be used in real life; combing hair with brush, pushing vacuum over floor.
  4. Theme (pretend) play – using realistic looking play items to represent real life situations; kitchen play set, shopping basket. Putting dolls in car to go on a trip.
  5. Symbolic play – using items to represent something else; a bowl as a hat, a straw as a sword.

How children interact during play:

  1. Solitary play – child plays alone.
  2. Parallel play – playing beside but not with another child in a similar activity (digging in a sand box next to other children).
  3. On-looker play – Observing and copying another’s play.
  4. Associative play (common focus) – playing with another in a loosely structured, common focus activity (together filling a pail with sand).
  5. Cooperative play (common goal play) – each participant has a “job” and they coordinate to achieve goal (building sand castle).

Compiled by Sara Torten MS, OTR/L