Youthrive Integrated Therapy Services

Youthrive Integrated Therapy Services

By Emma McKay, Occupational Therapist, Youthrive Springfield


What is play?

Play is an important way children learn about their environment, bodies, and place in the world around them. Play helps to assist a child’s brain with healthy development. Engaging in play provides your child with opportunities to develop in a number of essential skill areas such as planning and sequencing, executive functioning, problem solving, social skills and understanding others, expressive and receptive language and self-regulation.

There are a number of stages of play your child will move through when developing this skill. These included:

  • Exploratory play, 0-2 years: Just as it sounds. It’s a child exploring their environment through play. For example, banging blocks together and mouthing objects.
  • Solitary play, 2-3 years: Children will play alone with little interest or awareness of what others are doing around them.
  • Parallel play, 2 ½ – 3 ½: Children will play side by side each other without interactions.
  • Associative play, 3-4 years: This is when a child will start to interact with others during play, such as sharing toys or talking. However, they will continue to play separate from one another.

Cooperative play, 4+ years: This is when children will begin to play with one another and share ideas. The child shows interest in both the activity and the other children involved in play.

It’s important to remember when wanting to engage your child in play that you begin playing at the play stage they are at.


Independent play

Fostering independent play in children takes time, practice, and patience. Independent play is an important skill for children to learn as it helps to develop their interest areas, master skill development and gain a sense of confidence in their abilities. Young children learn how the world around them works by observing others, so it’s important that your child sees you playing too.

Teaching independent play can be done in the following ways:

  • Select a toy of your child’s interest and show them how to appropriately play with this e.g. placing a puzzle piece into the correct location
  • Continue repeating engagement with this toy until you feel your child has mastered this
  • Extend the play by adding on a new way to play with the item
  • Encourage your child to imitate you in the play. Make sure to provide them with lots of specific praise and encouragement when they do so
  • Start off with simple games then build to more complex ones that may require the use of more skill areas
  • When beginning, keep playtime short
  • Slowly increase the time your child is expected to play independently with a toy/game. Ensure this is done gradually and where appropriate use visual prompts or timers to assist
  • Create a busy box filled with 5-10 different toys of your child’s interest. It may be best to start with toys that have a clear end point such as a puzzle
  • To encourage your child to independently play with these items use a reinforcer that the child can access at the end of play time


Repetition of task and play

Repetition in learning is defined as any form of work that provides children with the opportunity to practice a skill or knowledge area. Engaging in repetition allows children to sustain involvement in an activity whilst working on other important fundamental skills. Using repetition in play can help to attach meaning to the activity rather than it appearing as a random occurrence. By engaging in repetition it teaches children to practice, master and retain skills or knowledge at the same time as providing them with feelings of success.

It is normal for children to want to continue repeating an activity of interest and enjoyment but it’s important that once the child has mastered a skill or knowledge area, new learning opportunities are introduced.

Activities to encourage repetition:

  • Reading a book
  • People games e.g. peekaboo, this little piggy, ring a ring a Rosie
  • Singing songs
  • Ball games e.g. throwing and catching, shooting hoops, ten pin bowling

Learning extensions:

  • Drawing- add new features to the drawing, use different colours, use different materials e.g. chalk, water paint, shaving foam
  • Reading a book- change your voice and expression, ask questions, have the child locate items on the page e.g. where is the cat?
  • Songs- create actions to go with the music, stop the music and ask the child what part comes next, make up dance moves to go with the song


Turn taking

Turn taking is an important skill that children require to help build relationships, learn to wait and communicate effectively with others. This skill helps children to become more aware of others around them and aids their social skill development. Turn taking can be a tricky skill for some to learn so it’s important that it’s not just demonstrated through play but also shown during everyday tasks.

When beginning a game that involves turn taking, it is important to develop rules and discuss how to play the game with all involved. Make sure that everyone understands how to play before starting.

Some other strategies to assist with turn taking include:

  • Use a timer or a countdown to indicate how long someone’s turn is or how long they have to wait until it’s their turn
  • Provide the child with an item/small fiddle toy to play with whilst waiting for their turn
  • Use visuals to demonstrate when it is someone’s turn
  • Reinforce turn taking with positive praise. Make sure that the praise is specific e.g. ‘That was wonderful how you waited for your turn to play with the cars’
  • Encourage the child to ask for a turn and identify when it is another child’s turn e.g. it’s my turn, it’s mums turn

Some ideas for turn taking games include:

  • Connect Four
  • Pop-Up Pirate
  • Tiggy/Tag
  • Board games
  • Card games


You may also like to read:

Intentional Learning through Play

Benefits in Messy Play

Play Ideas to Develop Friendships