Developing Play Skills at Home 

Children need to play more… How can we help? 

It’s widely acknowledged that play has a pivotal role in shaping the growth and understanding of children.

It serves as a gateway for them to explore and navigate their world, string together ideas, and master the art of problem-solving (Stagnitti & Unsworth, 2000). 

But that’s not all –

Play also serves as a catalyst for social interactions, fostering cooperation, negotiation skills, and also nurtures self-awareness, language, and emotional intelligence

(Wilkes et al., 2011).

Despite this, recent literature has identified that the way that children are currently playing differs to that of 10 years ago (Carson & Kuzik, 2021).

Want to watch Kiara discuss this topic?  Click HERE to watch the video!


Think about the way that you played when you were younger and compare it to how you see kids playing today.

Evidently, there are a range of different factors that impact upon kids’ abilities to engage in play, such as families leading busier lifestyles, different familial expectations and increased access to technology, to name a few (McQuade et al., 2019). 

So, we know that play is important and the way that kids are currently playing has changed. It’s natural to ponder:

How can we foster more meaningful play experiences for children? 

But..before we tackle ways to facilitate more play experiences within the home, we need to first make sure that we’re all on the same page about what play actually is. 

Is there a right way to play? 


There is no right way to play – But for play to be genuine, it needs to be child led and ultimately authentic.

Researchers like Bracegirdle (1992) and Stagnitti & Unsworth (2000) remind us that for play to truly be play, it must be orchestrated by the child themselves. 


Take a moment to think about it. Something that you consider to be play might not actually be considered play for your child. 


So what is play for children? The opportunities are endless – even mundane activities of life can be play


I know what you’re thinking – how can everyday activities like brushing your teeth or folding the laundry be play?


Well, while brushing their teeth, your child might only step on certain tiles leading up to the bathroom because the others are booby-trapped. Or when folding laundry your child might pretend to set themselves a challenge to fold all the ‘magical’ towels before the bad guys arrive. 

Ultimately, play needs to be meaningful for children (Stagnitti & Unsworth, 2000).

Play needs to support children to build upon their ability to see others perspectives, problem solve and generate novel and unique ideas. 


So, how can we support children to play in ways that support development of these skills? 

 Here are a few ways. 

  • Set a play alarm for 10 to 15 minutes to support children and adults to form meaningful connections with each other during play. During this time, put the technology away and focus on engaging with each other through play. 
  • Be a little silly by getting involved in play. Change up your voice, gestures and play actions by being dramatic when playing different characters (e.g. If you’re pretending to be a robot, move and talk like a robot. If you’re pretending to be an old lady, you can slow down your movements and your speech to match). 
  • Show interest by joining the child in play, especially if it’s an interest area (e.g. If your child wants to play with Barbies – encourage playing with Barbies by getting involved, ultimately supporting a sense of self). 
  • Dress up to be different characters in play (e.g. use an apron to be a chef, or a white button down shirt to be a scientist). 
  • Create problems to support kids to problem solve through play (e.g. pretend that the bad guys have escaped from jail or a magical fairy is trapped under the castle). 
  • Press pause by stopping play short to support children to be able to shift flexibly and to promote introduction of new ideas in the next play instance.
  • Encourage expansion of play sequences by sharing ideas, modelling ideas completed by the child and by asking what comes next. 


Have Fun Playing!!  If you would like to speak with one of our Occupational Therapists about developing play at home, you can book a one-off Client Journey Planning session to get advice, and hear more about play!

Or head to Helena’s blog HERE on stages of play development.  Have fun!


Written by Kiara Moodley

Occupational Therapist

Bracegirdle, H. (1992). The Use of Play in Occupational Therapy for Children: What is Play? British Journal of Occupational Therapy. 55 (3), 107-108. doi:10.1177/030802269205500309 
Carson, V. & Kuzik, N. (2021). The association between parent-child technology interference and cognitive and social-emotional development in preschool-aged children. Child: Care, Health and Development,47 (4). 477- 483. ​
Châtelain, S., Kindler, V., Ray-Kaeser, S. & Schneider, E. (2018). The Evaluation of play from occupational therapy and psychology perspectives.Evaluation of children’s play: Tools and Methods, 19-51. doi:10.1515/9783110610604-002 
McQuade, L., McLaughlin, M., Giles, M., & Cassidy, T. (2019). Play Across the Generations: Perceptions of Changed Play Patterns in Childhood.Journal of Social Sciences and Humanities, 5(2), 90-96
Stagnitti, K. & Unsworth, C. (2000). The Importance of Pretend Play in Child Development: An Occupational Therapy Perspective. British Journal of Occupational Therapy. 63 (3), 121-127. doi:10.1177/030802260006300306 
Wilkes, S., Cordier, R., Bundy, A., Docking, K., & Munro, N. (2011). A play-based intervention for children with ADHD: A pilot study. Australian Occupational Therapy Journal, 58, 231-240