“Play is a child’s way of learning and an outlet for his innate need of activity. It is his business or his career. In it he engages himself with the same attitude and energy that we engage ourselves in our regular work. For each child it is a serious undertaking not to be confused with diversion or idle use of time. Play is not folly. It is purposeful activity.”
Norma Alessandrini, American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 1949

“Play” is a child’s occupation. It is through play that they learn, develop and hone the abilities of their body, explore their social world and environment, and learn essential problem solving and life skills. In occupational therapy, play is both a means and a goal.

Epochs of Play

Sensorimotor or Exploratory Play, Age: 0-2

Play may include: peek-a-boo, picking up and releasing objects, hiding, chasing, use of containers, imitation
The child mostly engages in solitary play or play with caregiver
Child engages in play experiences where the child learns about their body. Sensory and motor skills are developing at this time as the child explores the property of new objects and simple problem solving skills.

Symbolic and Simple Constructive Play, Age: 2-4

Play may include: in make-believe and pretend play
There is a shift from solitary play to parallel play*
They begin to experiment, formulate, and refine ideas, feeling and combined actions. This form is play is also associated with language development. Climbing and running are increase and are honed at this age.

Dramatic, Complex Constructive, Creative Play, Age 4-7

Play may include: Reenacting experiences, social roles, storybook plot
There is a shift from parallel to associative play*
At this stage, the child begins to expand their social participation. They also participate games that require them to refine their sensory, motor, cognitive and social skills. They are able to create constructions (building blocks, puzzles, drawing) that are realistic. They may also begin to create rhymes and have verbal humor.

Games, Age 7-12

Play may include: Organized sports, formal groups (Boy/Girl Scouts), games with rules
Cooperative play*
A hallmark of this play epoch is games with rules. Competition and social interaction become a fascination. Friendship groups become important. There is a growing interest in how things work, nature and craft activities.

Recreational, Age 12-16
Play may include: Competitive sports, service clubs, construction projects
Cooperation, Cooperative Play*
There is a respect for rules and an interest in games that highly challenge their skills. Increased and highly refined manual skills lend to the creation of realistic, thoughtful construction projects.

*Terms **

Solitary - no peer interaction
Parallel - side by side with peer but has little or no interaction
Associative - participates in group play with peers on a shared activity
Cooperative - cooperates with peers, including problem solving, in a highly organized activity


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