What is play?

by | Jul 15, 2019 | Occupational Therapy

“Children learn as they play. Most importantly, in play, children learn how they learn.”  – O. Fred Donaldson

What is play? Play is engaging in an activity for enjoyment rather than a serious or practical purpose.

The play takes on many forms, such as being spontaneous during imaginative play while playing “house”, or more organized, such as doing an obstacle course with specific start and endpoints, but the purpose behind the activity is for the child to have FUN while learning.  Many skills, such as gross and fine motor skills, visual skills, problem solving, creativity, communication, socialization, self-care, and more are built based on the foundations of play in the early years and as the child grows.

Physical, active play that is child-directed provides a child with numerous experiences and opportunities to learn, make discoveries, and use their imaginations that cannot be gained from popular passive activities (e.g. iPad, video games, TV, etc.). Actively using large and small muscles, as well as different senses in play, children develop healthy, strong, and complete neurological connections in their brains for learning.

Physical play and movement allow the child to experience sensations as he or she moves through the environment helping him gain a better understanding of his or her body. These experiences help a child to recognize where his body is in relation to his surroundings, how it is positioned, and how to manipulate other objects, such as a pencil, scissors, spoons, and other tools used in daily activities. For example, when a child climbs a ladder, the push and pull on his joints gives him information about the position of his arms and legs. Climbing helps to strengthen hands, coordination, eye-hand coordination, all which impacts future skills such as handwriting, feeding with utensils, and dressing activities like buttoning and zipping clothes. 

Through exploring and testing their ideas, children begin to understand how things in their environment work; they learn size, shape, different textures, cause and effect, logic, and how to problem-solve, to name a few. When a child has the opportunity to initiate play and seek out their own interests, this promotes learning, creativity, flexibility, and imagination. As a child develops and masters new skills, the sense of accomplishment leads to improved confidence, a trait necessary for a child to continue to explore, try new things, and overcome future challenges.

Below are some ideas for ways to play with your little ones from infancy:

Play is a child’s occupation and essential for development. If you have concerns about your child’s development, contact T.E.A.M. 4 Kids to schedule an evaluation with an occupational therapist at our Surprise location or at our Peoria location opening soon.

Hannah Jacobs, OTD, OTR/L