By: Madelyn (Maddie) Girardi, OTD, OTR/L
Occupational Therapist, NESCA
The importance of play for child development
Play is considered an essential aspect of child development as it contributes to cognitive, physical, social and emotional well-being. As a pediatric occupational therapist, play is an integral part of my job. When children have opportunities to play, this allows them to build their creativity and imagination, resolve conflicts and learn self-advocacy skills. Through play, children develop new abilities that lead to enhanced confidence and resiliency, skills crucial for navigating day to day challenges. Play allows kids to practice decision-making skills, discover areas of interest and engage in passions. (Ginsburg, 2007).
What is sensory-based play?
Sensory play can be described as any play activity that stimulates an individual’s sensory system. The sensory system includes touch (tactile), smell (olfactory), taste (gustatory), sight (visual), hearing (auditory), balance (vestibular) and movement (proprioception). Common examples include sensory bin or sandbox play, play with shaving cream, finger paint and/or food, use of a balance beam, ball pit, and/or swings, sound tubes, and so much more!
Why is sensory play beneficial?
While we know that play is a critical part of child development, incorporating a multi-sensory approach into play activities can be particularly beneficial. When activities are fun and meaningful – our senses are engaged – we learn best!
- Promotes learning – children who engage multiple senses to accomplish a task are better able to remember and recall learned information.
- Facilitates exploration, creativity and curiosity in children who may be seeking, or avoiding, certain types of stimuli.
- Allows for strengthening of the brain pathways and connections that allow for efficient sensory integration.
- Promotes self-regulation by allowing for interaction with different mediums that may be calming for the child (Educational Playcare, 2016).
What kinds of OT skills can be targeted through sensory play?
- Sensory processing skills
- Fine motor skills
- Gross motor skills
- Feeding skills
- Body awareness
- Motor planning
- Visual perceptual skills
- Communication and play skills
- Self-regulation and coping skills
Educational Playcare. (2016, October 27). Why Sensory Play is Important for Development.
Ginsburg, K. R. (2007). The importance of play in promoting healthy child development and
maintaining strong parent-child bonds. Pediatrics, 119(1), 182-191.
To learn more about Maddie Girardi, watch this video interview between NESCA Occupational Therapists Sophie Bellenis, OTD, OTR/L, and Maddie Girardi, OTD, OTR/L.
About the Author
Madelyn (Maddie) Girardi is a Licensed Occupational Therapist in Massachusetts with experience in both school-based and outpatient pediatric settings. Maddie received her undergraduate degree in Exercise Science/Kinesiology at The College of Charleston in South Carolina and earned her Doctorate degree in Occupational Therapy from The MGH Institute of Health Professions in Boston.
Maddie is a passionate therapist with professional interest in working with young children with neurodevelopmental disorders, fine and gross motor delays and Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).
Neuropsychology & Education Services for Children & Adolescents (NESCA) is a pediatric neuropsychology practice and integrative treatment center with offices in Newton, Massachusetts, Plainville, Massachusetts, and Londonderry, New Hampshire, serving clients from preschool through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 617-658-9800.