One of the most frequent questions I get asked as a pediatric occupational therapist is “Wait, you find jobs for kids?”

No I do not advance child labor. We do not teach five-year-olds Microsoft platforms or how to make a spreadsheet. However on a daily basis, I do promote the primary occupation of being a child—play!

Play is a primary occupation of children that impacts their physical, cognitive, and socioemotional development.

Play comes in all shapes and sizes, beginning with visual attention to a stimulating baby toy and progressing to imaginative adventures on the playground.

Play involving ball skills, climbing trees, running, or rhythmic movement can all improve gross motor coordination and strength. Coloring, beading, drawing maps, and making stick houses can address fine motor coordination. Science experiments, puzzles, fort building, and strategic games can influence cognitive and executive functioning skill development. Finally, playing together with friends and family can impact socioemotional development and social awareness.

Occupational therapists working with children have the important role of promoting play in a world that has forgotten what play can do. Play impacts a child’s development, shaping who they are and who they will become. Imaginative play as a doctor teaches compassion, and captaining a pirate ship teaches leadership. The child who doodles may become an architect and the boy obsessed with cars may become a mechanic working for NASCAR.

While occupational therapists do not specifically push children towards a career, we can help a child create a world of creativity, hard work, and confidence.

At the end of the day, people should be asking me why I am so lucky. I get to practice my ability to play every day! Playing in occupational therapy can be both a way to meet client goals and be the goal itself. When at home, allow your child to explore new ways to play and help facilitate a creative mind- you may just discover that you missed making blanket forts and dressing up stuffed animals! Playing with your child helps you not only shape their development but also participate on their journey through childhood.

Written By: Bethany Domoto, MS OTR/L, Occupational Therapist