We had the privilege of speaking with Carol Peachey-Hill, Occupational Therapist, about this topic.
AC: How would you describe the importance of play for child development?
CPH: When I was a child, the woods were my playground and my parents gave me and my sisters freedom to play outdoors for hours on end. The woods captured our imaginations and inspired our play, turning trees into airplanes, ships and castles.
Play is something we do throughout our lifetime but is especially important to children as it promotes their motor, social and cognitive development. Play enhances learning since enjoyment and motivation can lead to greater focus, independence, and achievement.
Occupational therapists discover and follow a child’s interests through play to create optimal motivational conditions for learning and to promote a child’s playfulness. Children are more connected and willing to engage with all of their senses when they do things that interests them (Hansom, 2016).
Proprioceptive or heavy work body breaks offers resistance to our muscles and joints and tells us about our body position and how to move our body. Proprioceptive input is usually calming and organizing for the child. Our vestibular system tells us about how our body moves through space as it changes position, direction, and speed, and where our head is in space. Vestibular input can be very powerful and has the potential to be both alerting and calming.
Engaging in a variety of movement and sensory-rich play helps to integrate our senses. Children are typically curious and desire to move, look and listen during play which helps them gather information about their three-dimensional play space. Furthermore, movement and active play develop gross and fine motor skills which is foundational for core occupations and activities, like handwriting.
"Play enhances learning since enjoyment and motivation can lead to greater focus, independence, and achievement."
I believe indoor and outdoor active free play is paramount for a child’s growth and development. Children spend hours engaging in play every day. They benefit from play equipment that is simple in design, modular and has moving parts to stimulate imagination and engagement through the creation of new play spaces. Natural materials like wood and neutral colours prevent visual overstimulation and helps to avoid overwhelming the child (Hansom, 2016). A child interacts with the world through movement, action and play. The purpose of play is for play’s sake.
A Few Resources and References
Kuhaneck, H. (2018). The Power of Play in Preschool Occupational Therapy. Medbridge. https://www.medbridgeeducation.com/blog/2018/10/the-power-of-play-in-preschool-occupational-therapy/
Kuhaneck, H, Miller, E., & Spitzer, S. (2009). Activity Analysis, Creativity and Playfulness in Pediatric Occupational Therapy: Making Play Just Right. Jones & Bartlett Learning.
Lifter, K., Foster-Sanda, S., Arzamarski, C., Briesch, J., & McClure, E. (2011). Overview of play: Its uses and importance in early intervention/early childhood special education. Infants and Young Children, 24, 225–245. doi:10.1097/IYC.0b013e31821e995c
Lloyd, R. J. (2012). Moving to learn and learning to move: A phenomenological exploration of children's climbing with an interdisciplinary movement consciousness. Humanistic Psychologist, 40, 23–37. doi:10.1080/08873267.2012.643683