The potential of Play: How Occupation Therapy fosters childhood development

Senior Occupational Therapist for over 30 years Kim Cunningham shares here her insights on how Occupation Therapy fosters childhood development. Kim understands that children with developmental disabilities may struggle in their day-to-day lives without receiving the support they need. Occupational therapy can provide children with valuable tools to enhance their daily lives and improve their overall well-being. 

“Childhood is a critical period for growth and development, because it’s where the physical, emotional, cognitive, and social skills begin to take shape. These are the skills that kids will carry forward as they grow up and lead successful, fulfilling lives. Sometimes, kids need a little extra support in mastering these skills, and that’s where Occupational therapy (OT) can help. Particularly at a young age, early intervention plays a vital role in helping kids feel more comfortable, more autonomous, and more self-confident.

kids playing outdoor

In general, occupational therapy serves as a vital support system to empower your child’s development. It plays a pivotal role in refining fine and gross motor skills, and in shaping the foundation for their physical abilities. Through engaging in age-appropriate activities, OT can offer your children an opportunity to enhance essential skills like handwriting, utensil use, balance, and coordination.

But there’s more to occupational therapy than just movement. For example, through interactive games and creative exercises, OT can help your child become a better problem solver, enhance their memory skills, and improve their concentration-all while having fun!

Something I often see in kids who come to OT is that, for many of these children, managing emotions can sometimes be a challenge. So, by introducing a safe and accepting space for your child to express and understand their feelings, OT can help your child learn valuable emotional regulation skills, helping them navigate complex emotions and find balance.

Social skills are another vital aspect of your child’s growth, and occupational therapy provides a friendly environment to nurture them. These are typically enhanced through group activities, where children learn to communicate, collaborate, and empathise with peers, laying the groundwork for meaningful friendships and positive social interactions.

And last but not least, if your child struggles with sensitivities to things like loud noises or different textures, occupational therapy can offer specialised activities to gently increase their comfort levels and help them feel more at ease.

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, published studies have highlighted that mainstream learners have a need for and can benefit from complementary fine and gross motor exercises. So, after twenty five years as a licenced therapist and OT instructor, I founded Hands On Fun Occupational Therapy (HOFOT for short). At HOFOT, we work to promote healthy, age appropriate skill development in children using techniques backed by science! In particular, HOFOT offers supplementary programs to assist children at a preschool age meet their developmental milestones through tailored playtime activities that are comprehensive, adaptable, and-most importantly – centred around mission: healing through play.  

Play really is the language of children, and it’s through play that they explore the world, learn about themselves, and develop crucial skills. By using engaging and motivating play-based strategies, occupational therapy effectively captures children’s attention and maintains their active engagement throughout the therapeutic process. These playful activities not only serve as enjoyable experiences but also provide a natural context that closely resembles real-life situations, allowing children to practice and generalise crucial skills in a meaningful and practical manner.

This approach also helps foster a calm and stress-free environment, which is crucial to help kids overcome any therapy jitters they may feel. A relaxed setting enables children to express themselves more comfortably, which facilitates effective communication and enables therapists to address their needs more effectively. And last but not least, this play-oriented methodology extends its impact by working to seamlessly integrate the skills they acquire during therapy into their daily routines. In my experience, I’ve learnt that by encouraging parents and caregivers to play an active role in their child’s OT, they can not only promote consistency in their child’s new behaviours, but also expedite their progress, which really creates a holistic and effective path toward the child’s overall development and well-being.

Occupational therapy has evolved into an essential cornerstone of childhood development, that’s it’s crucial that we continue finding ways to help children overcome challenges and reach their full potential. Through our work, ‘Hands on Fun OT’ exemplifies this visionary approach to occupational therapy by combining evidence-based practices with the joy of play-based learning.”

Facebook Comments