The Importance of Play in School-Based Occupational Therapy

by Howard Gerber on July 13, 2017

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occupational therapy playSchool-based occupational therapists often use various toys, apps, and games during therapy sessions. Incorporating play into therapy sessions can be an effective way to assess students, work towards goals, and keep children engaged in therapy. If you’re stuck on where to start with play therapy, we’ve got you covered!

Benefits of Play

Play is an important part of development and can be an essential part of therapy. Playing and learning are intertwined. Through play, children learn about the world around them. When children play, it also promotes their emotional development, problem-solving skills, and imagination.

Children play from a very young age. Even babies play when they reach for a rattle or play peekaboo. Although play may seem simple, there is more going on than meets the eye. A child uses play to develop several areas including:

  • Attention span
  • Balance
  • Strength
  • Fine motor skills
  • Sensory integration
  • Gross motor skills
  • Self-confidence
  • Body awareness

While children are busy playing, therapy goals or functional activities are being addressed. School-based occupational therapists can use play to mask therapy techniques and exercises. Children have fun during therapy without it actually feeling like work.

Incorporating Play into Therapy Sessions

If you’re working as a school-based occupational therapist, there are several things to consider when incorporating play into therapy sessions.

Consider treatment goals: When choosing games and toys for children to play with, consider the goal or skill being addressed. If you are working on dexterity, use puzzles, playdough, and beads to encourage manipulative play. To help kids have fun while you work on gross motor skills, create an obstacle course with pillows, tunnels, and blocks for children to climb through and jump over. Kids will play while you work on body awareness, balance, and strength.

Vary games: Don’t rely on the same games and toys during therapy sessions. Use a wide variety of props for pretend play, such as puppets or dolls. Alternate toys for sensory play with toys that work on motor control or sequencing. Rotating toys and games keeps therapy fun and helps kids work on different skills.

Move outdoors: If possible, mix things up by moving therapy session outdoors. Going outdoors may allow you to use occupational therapy tools, such as swing seats and jumping and bouncing products. In some cases, therapists may utilize adaptive playground equipment.

Less is more:  When it comes to toys, sometimes less is more. A child’s imagination may be all that you need to have a fun and effective therapy session. Although children often learn through playing with games and toys, make-believe play is also considered necessary for healthy development. When children engage in make-believe play, they often role play and use objects they pretend are something else. Pretend play stimulates language development, sequential thought, and creativity.

Be aware of sensory stimulation: Depending on the child you are working with, you may need to consider what sensory stimulation a toy offers. Try to select toys that offer the level of tactile, visual, and auditory stimulation a child is comfortable with.

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