The Importance of Play

By Michelle L Wahlquist, M.S., CCC-SLP, The Center for Autism & Neurodevelopmental Disorders

If you’ve ever watched a speech therapy session, you probaimportance_of_playbly noticed a lot of play taking place. Well, there is a reason for that.

Play is the foundation to learning how to communicate and interact with others. From the moment an infant first discovers a rattle to when a child builds a fort and pretends to camp under the stars, they are developing their language, social and learning skills.

Through play, children learn new vocabulary and begin to understand new concepts. During play with adults, children learn to follow rules, negotiate, take turns, cooperate, solve problems and tell stories. Playing with toys allows children to develop their imaginations and to recognize and use symbols. Play is a powerful tool to support a child’s development.

What to play with kids

As a parent, sometimes the hardest part about playing with your child is figuring out what to play. Here are a few ideas to get started:

  • Observe – What are they playing with? How are they using toys? Knowing what your child enjoys is key.
  • Join– Sit down and follow their lead. Make comments about what you or your child is doing. For example, “My car is going to get gas” or “My dog is thirsty. He is drinking water.” Try not to ask too many questions like, “What are you doing?,” as it can interrupt the flow of the play.
  • Use books – Try recreating a story that you have read with your child. Take on the roles of characters or can use toys to become the characters.

Finding time for play

Parents have busy schedules and finding time to play can be challenging. Luckily, play can be done anywhere.

  • Play during routine activities – While folding laundry, have your child pretend the laundry basket is a delivery truck and send them on a mission. Give directions using words like first, after and then (e.g., “First deliver the towels, then deliver the pants.”). While cooking, have your child use the vegetable scraps to pretend they are “making soup.”  During bath time, place a rubber container in the bath and pretend it is an island. Have a toy fish dive under, jump on or swim around the island.
  • Car games – These are a fun way to develop a child’s language skills. Some games include 20 Questions, I Spy, riddles, rhyming games and sound games (e.g., “Tell me all the animals you can think of that start with the letter ‘S.’”).

Most importantly, remember that play should be an enjoyable experience for both children and parents. We learn best when we are relaxed and having fun!

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