As an Occupational Therapist I often get asked by parents why does my child need to play? What is the importance of play? Or parents say to me I would like my child to learn to socialise with their peers and be able to connect with others. However often parents may not understand the importance of play in this process.

Play is an occupation of a child and this occupation supports their learning and ability to develop an understanding of the world around them. The wonderful world they get to explore….How? Through Play!

Play is defined as an activity of enjoyment. The concept of enjoyment is important for a child to engage in play. Children find something enjoyable when they are interested or motivated by the theme of play or focus of play.

For example a child who loves cars is more likely to learn through play with the use of cars in play scenarios. A car could be ‘climbing’ or ‘jumping’ with the child to support gross motor development, a car could slide, a car could swing to explore the sensory experience of movement through play, a car could run, jump, and crash to explore many concepts both in a language and communication sense, a play exploration sense, but also as a concept felt through greater body movements. A car can almost do anything to explore so many areas of development. This can be applied to any child’s interest area.

A child’s intrinsic motivation or interest can open up a whole new world of connection when adults in their world are open to entering into these interests and essentially into their child’s world. This allows children to connect with the adult through shared interests, which can then lead to shared attention, shared joy, and an invitation to join in with the child’s play and from there extension of ideas and further play development.

Children often learn to play and connect with others through the support from adults prior to being able to connect with their peers through play, as adults are more predictable in their play and can also name their movements and actions to highlight to the child what they and the child are doing in any given moment.

Children learn through play! Even though sometimes as adults it can be really hard to be playful as we may feel embarrassed or even uncertain of how to play I encourage you to sit and just watch your child, learn about their interests, and connect with them through their occupation – Play.