As an early intervention therapist, I mostly play during my workday. When I’m visiting a child with a Down’s syndrome diagnosis, we play. At every appointment with a child who is language delayed, we play. In the homes of children who are deaf or blind, we play.
For children ages birth to three (and beyond!), play is the only prescription they need to improve developmental delays. Convincing kids of this is easy; convincing their parents is a little trickier.
Winning over the skeptics
- Hurdle #1: Convincing parents that therapy is not a “10-day dosage and all symptoms will clear” prescription.
- Hurdle #2: Selling play as the best medicine.
All good things take time
We live in a world of immediate gratification. Free next day shipping, instant communication via text messaging, and medication that provides immediate relief spoils us into expecting fast results for everything. Parents often approach therapy for their delayed/disordered child with the same line of thought: expecting quick, easy results. As therapists, we know that is not typically the case.
Benefits of play
When families seem skeptical of my approach (i.e. play prescription), I share with them that play improves skills in each of the 5 developmental domains:
- Speech & Language – Children increase their vocabulary and styles of communicative intent (question, request, demand, plead, etc.). They build effective communication skills by fine-tuning their pragmatic skills, understanding social rules, and interpreting nonverbal language.
- Social & Emotional – Children can imitate and practice what they see adults doing. They learn to work in groups, share, negotiate, and resolve conflicts.
- Cognitive – Kids can practice decision-making, be creative, and “flex” their imaginative muscle.
- Fine Motor – Children build strength and dexterity in their hands, which prepares them for handwriting.
- Gross Motor – Kids have the chance to regulate their sensory system, improving their physical strength and coordination.
Play not only affords our children opportunities to learn, but also serves as a stress reducer and an outlet to express their feelings and emotions.
Play builds brain… literally!
I once worked with a little girl who was born with a brain that looked like this:
After only one year, this was what her scan looked like as a result of early intervention services delivered through the medium of play!
If that’s not strong enough proof that play matters, I’m not sure what is!
The proof is in the evidence
With the evidence above, it should be easy to convince families that we are not “just playing” with their child. Instead we are helping the child grow and develop. We are facilitating closer bonds between children and their caregivers and having entirely too much fun doing so!
In a world full of media, misleading advertising, and incredibly creative marketing that preys on anxious parents looking for a quick fix, it’s so incredibly important to educate parents on what’s best for their child. No flashcard, television show, or phone app could ever teach their child as effectively as simply playing. Keep these points in your back pocket so you can help the new families understand that a prescription for play is all their child needs!