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Paediatric Occupational Therapy – Play as an occupation

Occupational Therapy is a health profession that supports individuals to perform meaningful occupations.

Occupation is a term that is used to describe roles that we need to do, want to do, or are expected to do.

So what’s a meaningful occupation for children…. PLAY!!!

OT’s will engage your child in play – not only is it lots of fun but that’s not the only reason!

Play is a way that children occupy their time, discover the world, and develop skills and ability.

Play helps children to develop:

  • communication skills
  • social skills
  • thinking skills
  • motor skills
  • emotional skills

There are different stages of play that you may see your child perform. These include:

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  • unoccupied play – birth to 3 months
    • babies moving arms legs etc
    • learning and discovering how their body works
  • solidary play – 0- 2 years
    • Children are happy to play alone and don’t show any interest in playing with other
  • spectator/onlooker – 2 years
    • Children will watch and observe other children
    • They won’t play with them
  • parallel play -2 years +
    • children will play alongside or close to others but not with them
  • associate play – 3-4 years
    • children start to interact with others during play but doesn’t have to cooperate or share
  • cooperative play – 4 + years
    • children start to play the same games as others and has an interest in engaging with other children

As well as stages of play, there is also types of play that you may see your child engage in. These include:

  • sensorimotor play – 0-2 years
    • exploring sensations and movements
    • can include peekaboo, dropping or throwing objects, container in/out play, imitating others
  • pretend play – 12 months and beyond
    • acting out basic actions
    • can include pretending to drink from a cup or pretend feeding a doll
  • Symbolic play – 2 years +
    • Pretend play using unrealistic or invisible props
    • Can include pretending one object is something else and acting out actions or pretending to have a tea party with pretend cups and tea
  • Simple constructive play – 2 years +
    • Alongside symbolic play it supports children to use materials to construct figures that represent different objects
    • For example, stacking 10 blocks and pretending it is a rocket or a castle
  • Dramatic and complex constructive play – 4 + years
    • Increase in dramatically inclined play and increase in ability to construct more complex and realistic constructions
    • For example – stories that might be told during play are more dramatic and detailed and construction of play items such as blocks or lego closer represent the item they intend to build
  • Game play – 6 + years
    • Rule based play that is interactive with others
    • For example, playing chasing or ball games with very clear rules and expectations being explained

Paediatric OT’s use play to not just have a fun time! Play will show OT’s how your child thinks, acts, and responds to situations as well as demonstrate different skills they have such as using their hands to hold objects.

Paediatric OT’s will observe and engage your child in play to not only understand what they can do but to observe if there are any skills that may need to be supported with therapy.

OT’s will use play to support your child to develop skills that are important to achieve their goals. Play as a therapy tool allows the therapist to develop a relationship with your child and provide a motivating way to support new skill development.

Play is an important occupation for all children. OTs understand that play not only is important for a child’s development, but it is also a primary motivator for engaging children in activity.

Paediatric OT’s will use the occupation of play appropriate for your child skills and ability to support them to meet their overall goals. It might sometimes seem that the OT Is “just playing” but they will always be observing, challenging, modifying, and engaging for a variety of purposes to support your child’s development.

National 360 has a variety of OT’s that work in paediatrics that can support your child to meet their physical, emotional, and environmental goals. Our therapists are committed to supporting your child and family to maximise participation, inclusion, and independence through our therapy service. We work across a wide range of locations including your home, schools, day-care and other community settings.

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