Written by KTC Occupational Therapist, Derek Griggs.

Why Do We Use Play Based Therapy In Sessions?

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hen going through university, it was always mentioned to us that for those of us who are going to be working in paediatrics, a lot of people will question why in our sessions are so largely focussed on playing games and having fun and making fools of ourselves. The answer is play therapy.

Play therapy is one of the most important methods of therapy that we use when working with children. It is through play therapy that we can target such a wide range of areas at one time. Through play therapy, Occupational Therapists are able to assess and provide intervention for gross motor skills, fine motor skills, social skills, communication skills as well as developing imagination and storytelling skills.

When we plan for sessions with children, we need to ensure that they will enjoy the activities. It is through this enjoyment that children are much more receptive to intervention and much more comfortable to open up to therapists. This comfort allows us to build relationships and trust with you child and ensure that the therapy we are providing is as effective as it can be. 

Some examples of play in our therapy that you might see are:
• Playing Jenga, or Battleships: These are great games as it requires turn taking, fine motor skills, the ability to plan ahead, winning and losing skills, as well as improving focus and attention. Another benefit is if your child is sitting on a gym ball, or wobble cushion this is targeting their core muscles to improve their posture and strength which will assist with activities such as handwriting at school.
• Playing with dolls and toys: This allows us to be involved in children’s play, see how their imagination is, how tolerant they are of others being in their space or changing the rules away from what the child is abiding by, depending on the toys we can also be targeting fine and gross motor skills at the same time.
• Games where we can modify the rules to our advantage: When we play these games, we modify the games to meet the needs of the client, for example playing Snap, UNO, Tumbling Chimps, we can play these games with the intent on the OT winning every game. This teaches children the importance of winning and losing, sportsmanship skills, emotional regulation, and the importance of communication.

Next time you sit in on a session, try and see if you can guess what the different areas are that we are targeting through our fun and games. There will be many more than you think!

At home, strategies you can use when playing with your child can include:
• Using toys not for their intended purpose (for example using building blocks as cars, or people).
• Changing up the story from what the child is following (this is known as intrusive play and helps to build resilience as well as helping to develop their flexible thinking skills).
• Do not let your child win every time you play something with them, this encourages them to be less accepting of losing and increases the risk of them having heightened emotions when they do lose.
• Play with objects or items that they typically do not attract to (this will aid in developing their ability to be involved in activities they do not always find as enjoyable).
• Change the positions that you are playing in, this helps develop gross motor skills and improve posture (try laying on stomachs, on backs, rolling over, crawling positions or if sitting at a table try sitting on a gym ball or unstable pile of cushions).