What is Play-Based Therapy?

Play-based therapy is a treatment approach used by occupational therapists to engage children towards their goals by improving their functional abilities and emotional well-being. A child’s primary occupation is play, so it is invaluable to incorporate it into their therapy setting. Play “is the subjective experience of joy and fun, that comes from engaging in freely chosen, intrinsically motivated, self-directed meaningful occupations” (Lynch & Moore, 2016). It is important to allow the child to take the lead and have the parent or therapist frame the play to work towards a specific skill or goal you want them to achieve. Play based therapy “refers to the use of play to accomplish treatment goals (facilitating playful activities) and to develop skills and abilities required for performing daily living activities”(Mehraban et al., 2017).  

Why is play-based OT important?

Promotes social skills and language development
Encourages imagination and creativity
Relives feelings of stress and boredom
Develops problem solving skills

Improves behavior and self-regulation
Strengthens fine and gross motor skills
Refines visual integration and visual perceptual skills
Boosts executive functioning skills

How do we use play-based OT?

At SPROUT OT, we use play-based therapy to work with our clients in a fun and engaging way, to help increase motor skills, visual perception, self-esteem, social/emotional skills, school performance and executive functioning. We look at each child’s personal interests and needs to create individualized treatment plans. This allows us to establish a good relationship with the child and to reach successful outcomes. Our therapists use a holistic approach, focusing on the whole child. This allows us to provide specific adaptations, meeting each client at their developmental level, rather than providing interventions based on age or grade level.

Ways YOU can play with your child:

  • Take the child’s lead (with provided boundaries) even if it changes the plan.
  • Games! Games! Games! (board games, obstacle courses, scavenger hunts, Simon says, etc.) Games keep playtime fun and engaging.
  • Find out his/her interests and incorporate into play and craft activities
  • Get messy! Kids learn best when their senses are engaged.
  • Sit or lay next to your child, depending on the activity. Getting on their level promotes their ability to focus, listen, and participate.
  • Make eye-contact with your child. You have already made the effort to get on their level, now let them know you are engaged too!
  • Strike up a conversation by using open-ended questions
  • Allow your child enough time to process and express his/her wants and needs
  • Focus on developmentally appropriate activities to enhance learning and maintain attention.


Lynch, H., & Moore, A. (2016). Play as an occupation in occupational therapy. British Journal of Occupational Therapy, 79(9), 519–520. https://doi.org/10.1177/0308022616664540

Mehraban, A., Mohammadi, A., & Damavandi, S. (2017). Effect of play-based occupational therapy on symptoms of hospitalized children with cancer: A single-subject study. Asia-Pacific Journal of Oncology Nursing, 4(2), 168. https://doi.org/10.4103/apjon.apjon_13_17

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