Why see an Occupational Therapist?

pic blowing bubbles

Playdough, connect four, bingo, crawling through tunnels…why is my child “just playing” when they see an occupational therapist (speech therapist or physiotherapist)? Why do therapists use play when working with kids?

Play is a “childhood occupation” (Bundy and Lane, 2012 and Alesandrini, 1949).  Play is what kids “do”.  They learn through play experiences, interacting with objects, their environment and people.  Children explore, imagine and discover as they experiment with space, size, their own bodies, force, strength, time, colour, shape, distance and more.  They develop a range of skills through play.   A lot of childhood learning is incidental, as kids do not realise they are learning whilst they are playing.

Play is fun – it is intrinsically motivating…that is why children keep playing (Parham, 2008).  Have you ever heard the expression “time flies when you are having fun!”? When a child is engaged with an activity that is fun, it can motivate them to repeat the activity or experiment with variations of the activity. The internal drive of a child through play can help them to connect and engage in the world (Cornelli Sanderson, 2010).



How Therapists Use Play in Therapy!

After a comprehensive assessment  the therapist in collaboration with others (parents, teachers, other therapists) will set goals for individual children. Based on these goals, therapy sessions are planned to meet these in a number of different ways.

We are always looking for the just right challenge for your child to extend them in learning skills without overwhelming them in the process.  We may be working on ways to compensate for difficulties they are having, provide additional support or modify activities if appropriate.

We use “play” as a medium to achieve goals, although sometimes the “play” may be the goal itself!

Play as a medium to achieve goals.
Therapists are great at task analysis.  We “analyse” tasks and activities and play … to figure out what skills are needed to perform these tasks.  Therapists also work out what skills may develop as a certain task in performed or how it may be adapted to work on certain skills.

Read about how these games have therapeutic benefits.

Whilst we may use a variety of activities in  therapy sessions, we are always working towards specific goals! If you are not sure the benefits of the activities your therapist is using, just ask them!

Play as a goal itself.
As described earlier, play is a childhood occupation and as OTs we are concerned about how children play.  How are they holding, grasping, releasing objects?  How are they moving their arms and legs … intentionally, individually, together? How are children interacting with objects… exploring, manipulating, imagining? How are children interacting with other children… social skills, parallel, collaboratively?  How does the environment facilitate play?

How can we help kids learn through play?
It is the role of an OT to find the “just right” challenge to match activities with your child’s goals.

At home, you can help your child learn through play too!

  • Set up “invitations to play” – This might include a few sticks and stones in a bucket to foster imaginative play in the backyard (read more here) or some selected items to play with kinetic sand (read more here).
  • Rotate toys – Children find novelty with toys that they haven’t played with for a while.  Put some away in a box and then swap them with toys they have been playing with recently.
  • Try new things – Encourage your children to have a go with play they may not naturally choose.  Every child has toys that they naturally gravitate too, so use these to encourage different play.  Mr 5 has always enjoyed blocks, cars and trains. Using trains we (over different play sessions) added some imaginary play like “snow” with packaging foam, cutting up strips of green paper to make trees, drew on paper plates to make stations and telling stories with the trains.


2636 South Milford Road
United States