• Chantelle Vischer

OT Talk - Let's talk about play...

Hello again,

I realise that I'm bombarding you with guest bloggers left, right and centre but boy are we blessed that we get to hear these amazing professional's and parent's take on these very important topics. I'm grateful that they have stepped up and spoken out. Today's post was written by Lindsay Dawson. She is an Occupational Therapist working in the field of paediatrics (based at two practices – one in Wierdapark and one in Lynnwood Ridge). Currently doing her masters degree in Paediatrics at the University of Witwatersrand. Let's learn!

As an Occupational Therapist working within the field of paediatrics I engage with play on a daily basis. I assess play, I treat play and I treat using play. What better way to engage with a child than through the fun, enticing and motivating world of play?

Play is the occupation of a child. Play is the way children learn what no one can teach them. Through play, children learn about themselves, they explore the world around them and they try to find out how they fit into the world. Play looks different at the various ages. It starts with the baby and mother “cooing” then develops to pretend play, rough and tumble play, social play and many more.

We often see children in our practice who find it challenging to “just play”. In a society where there is pressure to perform, kids are often not exempted from the added pressures. Academic skills are being taught at younger ages, there might be limited resources to facilitate play, busy afternoons mean limited time for playing or there are safety concerns about playing outside. These are all factors that could impact on the development of how children play. As important as it is to enhance a child’s academic skills, it is just as important (and dare I say more important) for a child to have the freedom to play.

I'll let in on a secret… Play is the key to physical, cognitive and social development. This refers to “structured” and “unstructured” play. Have you ever bought your child a very impressive toy with gadgets, lights and sounds, and they find it amusing playing with the box to create their own spaceship? Or what greater joy than helping mom wash the dishes but half the water ending up on the floor because they decided to have a tea party?

So let's encourage play! If you feel a bit short on playfulness, here are some of my PLAY tips:

  • Play should be fun! By allowing your child to take the lead, they will pick games or ideas that they want to do. If a child is intrinsically motivated to play, it is the optimal opportunity for learning to occur.

  • Let everything else go. For 20 min a day, let the stress stay at work or the uncertainty of the current times just be forgotten for a while. Lose yourself in play with your child. Play is not only for children. There is nothing better than being a clown who can’t juggle or laughing at yourself because your princess days are long forgotten and here you are in a tiara and high heels. Let go and just be in the moment, time flies too quickly to let this moment go by.

  • Allow your child to be a little bored every now and again. This will help them to come up with new and wonderful ideas. By allowing them to come up with games or ideas, it will help them to develop planning abilities, problem-solving skills, how to handle their frustration if it doesn’t work out, as well as the many properties that one object could have. You are allowed to jump in and help if they are really finding it challenging to come up with a solution.

  • Play should be messY! Create a safe space where children can play with no judgement or strict rules. This will allow them to explore with different objects and scenarios. From a sensory development perspective, this means textures and movement, and from a social development point of view, it might mean learning conflict skills or learning how to work in a team.

Play is vital for children. It provides them with the opportunity to practice, repeat, learn and grow. Have you ever just sat and watched little ones play? Toddlers would touch and taste EVERYTHING! Older children would role-play or create a secrete imaginary world where they can escape to with crazy rules and special codes. They don’t care what anyone thinks, they are just having fun!

Especially in today’s uncertain times, times that are affecting our parents’ as well as our kids’ mental health - let’s put away the electronics and all the academic stress and the pressures for some old school playing!


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