Playing games with others, sharing toys with siblings, and playing on the jungle gym with peers are all examples of play-based skills that your child develops at a young age. When a child is playing, they are learning and developing important skills that they are going to use throughout their life. Play allows them to use their creativity to help develop their imagination, work on problem solving, work on language and communication skills, and so much more. It can help children to learn about emotions, what interests them, and supports the formation of safe and stable relationships. Play is a skill we work on with children in our ABA therapy program because it is such a beneficial skill. Keep reading to see why play is beneficial for kids!
Benefits of Play
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), play has many benefits that include:
- improvements in a child’s executive functioning
- early math skills
- social development
- peer relations
- physical development
Executive functioning is a set of mental skills that includes working memory, flexible thinking, and self-control. Examples of executive functioning are a child’s ability to pay attention, organize and plan, and regulate emotions. During play children are also able to work on their relationship with their peers. This can teach them not only social skills, but also teaches them problem solving, negotiation skills, and cooperation.
A study done by AAP showed that children who actively play for 1 hour per day are better able to think creatively and multitask. This study also showed that children who play with traditional toys rather than video toys/games have an increased quality and quantity of language. Play can also lead to many health benefits for children when they are engaging in exercise and physical activity. It can decrease stress, fatigue, injury, and depression while increasing a child’s range of motion, agility, coordination, balance, and flexibility. After the recess break at school, children are able to pay more attention in class!
Fun fact: play is also beneficial for a child’s parents! It can help them to understand their child’s nonverbal behavior, build their parent-child relationship, help them to communicate and so much more!
Stages of Play
There are six stages of play that your child will learn during their early childhood. These stages show the different ways your child will grow as they explore and work on their creativity.
-Unoccupied Play (Birth to 3
Months): During this stage a baby is learning to make new movements with
their hands, feet, arms, etc. In this
stage the child is learning about their
body and how it can move!
-Solitary Play (Birth to 2 Years): This is when a child learns to play alone. Typically at this age they are not very interested in playing with others.
-Spectator/Onlooker Behavior (2 Years): Around 2-years-old a child starts to watch how other children play together but isn’t quite to the point where they will play with them.
-Parallel Play (2+ Years): This stage is when a child will play alongside a peer or sibling but isn’t actually playing with them.
-Associate Play (3-4 Years): Associate play is when children start to interact with each other during play but aren’t necessarily playing together. A good example of this is when there are multiple kids in a pretend kitchen playing but all playing with different parts of the kitchen.
-Cooperate Play (4+ Years): At this stage children are starting to play with others and are more interested in the activity and the other children.
It’s important to remember that these are just general guidelines and that all children develop these skills differently. If you have any questions/concerns you should reach out to your child’s pediatrician or therapist.
Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) & Play
In ABA therapy we like to incorporate different types of play into a child’s program because many children with autism, or other developmental delays, often do not have functional play skills. These can be incorporated in therapy or at home which makes them ideal for helping your child reach their goals.
-Cause and Effect Play: This allows your child to see how certain toys require some sort of action on their part for them to work. For example, a colored button on a toy will produce a sound when pressed.
-Constructive Play: During constructive play we are working towards something and have a goal in mind at the end. This could be doing a puzzle with our therapist or building something with blocks.
-Exploratory Play: In exploratory play children are encouraged to explore toys to learn more about their size, texture, and shape.
-Functional Play: Functional play is used to teach children how to play with a toy in the correct way. In ABA therapy, we will use a strategy called modeling to show them how to correctly use a toy. An example of this would be showing them how to push a toy car or roll a ball.
-Physical Play: Physical play can be either inside or outdoors but it is meant to help your child release energy, interact with others, and support their gross motor skills.
-Pretend Play: This is used to help your child increase their creativity and expand their imagination. It’s also a great way to help develop social skills and improve verbal and non-verbal communication skills.
-Social Play: Used a lot in ABA therapy, social play teaches children how to play with others. This can include playing games together appropriately or just sharing toys while playing together.
Therapy at PediaPlex
At PediaPlex, we use all of these types of play in our therapy methods because it is so effective and beneficial for children. Whether your child is at PediaPlex for ABA, speech, or occupational therapy we will incorporate play into their plan of care. Our pediatric therapy centers in Southlake, Fort Worth, and Frisco have themed rooms that help to keep your child engaged during therapy and motivated to work. Our newest clinic has rooms like a pizzeria, a farmers’ market, and even a pet hospital so that they can focus on their pretend play skills either alone or with their peers.
If you are interested in learning more about therapy services at PediaPlex, visit our website to see our collaborative approach to pediatric therapy.
-The PediaPlex Family