Before You Play With Your Child

Dad and Child Playing
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Finding the time to play with your child can be tricky, when you're also under pressure to do therapy and strengthen learning skills and bolster development. Try one of these eight play opportunities that do double duty, helping you both have fun and do good.


Floortime is a therapeutic approach that involves getting down on the, well, floor with your child and following her lead as you play together.

The hidden agenda is to engage children and help them advance through developmental milestones, but to your youngster, it will just feel like play. Check the following resources for information on the how and why of this fun approach:

Brain Gym

Brain Gym is a system of exercises and activities that get the brain and body working together to improve learning, memory, and thinking skills. It's also fun to do, and as silly as you want to make it. Try a play session before homework time to wake up your brains. With the guides available from the Brain Gym site, you can learn how to do the exercises with your child and what they may help you accomplish:

Deep Pressure Play

If your child always seems to want to wrestle or push or pull or slam or drop, playing games that incorporate those activities with some deep pressure and massage may be a rewarding and calming experience.

Wrapping up in blankets, pushing the boundaries of Body Sox, crawling through tunnels of pillows, splashing in a ball pit, having a tug of war, bouncing off the soft sides of a blow-up trampoline -- all can be fun ways to play as well as good therapy for input-craving sensory systems. For inspiration and equipment, read:

Speech Play

Chances are you've played goofy word games with your child, or sang some silly songs. Did you know you were reinforcing speech and language skills along the way? Most word-related play involves rhyming, repetition, memory, word retrieval, tempo, volume, and fluency in ways so fun and distracting that kids don't even know they're working. For more ideas, read:

Number Play

Doing a big old page of math problems may not sound very playful to your kids, but try a board game or a dice game, or challenge them to figure out the age of a favorite actor or count the number of pennies in a jar, and suddenly numbers look far more friendly. Work math into your playtime routine and get a learning workout for your time, too. 

PT Play

Many of the things you might ordinarily do with your child -- catching and throwing, kicking a ball, shooting a hoop, riding a bike -- may involve the very same skills that the physical therapist works on at school.

Check with the PT to find out which activities would most reinforce what's going on in therapy, or read over your child's IEP to see what goals have been set. To learn more about physical therapy and what you can do to help, read:

Make a Mess

It may seem odd to be helping your child make a mess, but messy play can help children with sensory integration and occupational therapy goals, and the silliness of doing it with Mom or Dad only makes it more fun. Plunging hands into a bin full of rice with toys hidden inside, or sculpting with shaving cream, or drawing letters in pudding are all sloppy ways to strengthen skills. For some ideas on creative mess-making, read:

Use Your Imagination

In the end, you're the one who's likely to have the best ideas for productive play with your particular child. You know better than anyone else what your child needs, and the kind of activities he responds to. Give yourself permission to spend that time, whether it's a half-hour at the playground or a play-dough session at the kitchen table or a pillow-fight before bed. Having fun with you is important to your child, no matter what you do, and here's a little secret: It's important for you, too. For more parenting inspiration, read:

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