Pediatric Occupational Therapy

Play is an important skill or “occupation” that is often overlooked as a form of development for many children. Occupations can be categorized as activities of daily living (ADLs), and instrumental activities of daily living (IADLs).

ADLs include things such as

  • Dressing
  • Feeding
  • Toileting to bathing
  • Grooming.

IADLs can include

  • Health management
  • Rest and sleep
  • Education, work,
  • to play, leisure, and social participation

Play encourages engagement, developmentally appropriate social skills, as well as exploration and interaction with the environment.

There are various developmental stages and forms of play such as parallel play, pretend play, play with rules, and constructive play. Pretend play for example allows children to imitate and pretend to participate in IADLs they may have observed others doing (i.e. pretending to cook, pretending to work, etc.). Play with rules allows for children to learn and follow societal structural rules such as turn-taking, learning to wait, engagement, and conversations with peers. Children that engage in play often develop the performance skills that later facilitate engagement in leisure and work.

Play is also an important factor in many cognitive aspects of our development. It allows for the growth of our imagination, imitating peers, understanding objects and their relation to the environment, understanding emotions, turn-taking, sequencing, and much more. Engaging your child in any form of play will allow for improvements in their development in many aspects of their lives. It also will encourage a stronger relationship between caregiver and child allowing for emotional, cognitive, and physical progress to be made.

Play Examples

  • Making a pretend turkey with playdoh as thanksgiving approaches to encourage pretend IADL of cooking, sensory play with Play-Doh, and bilateral coordination with rolling playdoh between hands.
  • Monopoly to encourage money management, turn-taking, following the instructions on the cards.
  • Sensory play with the insides of pumpkins when pulling them out, for example using the insides to create a picture on the table or form the letters of the alphabet. 
  • Play with light-up toys, jack in the box, etc. for the understanding of cause and effect (i.e. if you push the button then the toy lights up)
  • Pretending to be a monster, princess, etc. with your child and acting silly for increased engagement, visual attention to you, and encouragement of the use of child’s imagination. (Get on the floor and don’t be afraid to be as silly as you can be)
  • Playing I spy to encourage visual scanning of environment or on game board, increase visual skills to pick out an image on a busy background. 


by Nooreen Khalid, OTR

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