The Role of Play in Occupational Therapy

Play is the main “occupation” of childhood. While play is fun for the child, it has a serious and important role. Play is the child's way of connecting with the world.  It is the way children experiment, learn about the world, and learn to communicate. It’s a fun way to develop and maintain motor skills, imagination, creativity, problem-solving abilities, and mental health.


Play is so important to optimal child development that it has been recognized by the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights as a right of every child. Play is the foundation of all human skills. There are three main functions of play: 

  • Play develops confidence and mastery of the world and surroundings
  • Play fosters close emotional bonds with family, caregivers, and friends
  • Play helps children recover from emotional distress


Pediatric occupational therapists often use play to help achieve therapy goals.  Play is highly motivating for children and assists with carryover of skills since the child will use the skill again while interacting with other children.  The therapy gym and sensory equipment are designed to foster playful activities for the child.  Although occupational therapy sessions can appear to be play, we as therapists are drawing upon our education and clinical knowledge to provide stimulating therapeutic activities to help the child develop improved abilities and skill levels. 

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