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"Child-centered play therapy allows children to become increasingly organized and coherent: sensations, impulses behaviors, feelings, thoughts"

Dan Siegel, FACES

What is Play Therapy?: Quote

What is play? What are children doing when we say they are “playing”?

Play is the way children learn about the world around them and make sense of their life experiences.

Play is a voluntary, intrinsically motivated, child-directed activity involving flexibility of choice in determining how an item is used. There is no specific, extrinsic goal. Usually children enjoy the process of playing, the end product is not as important. The child’s physical, mental and emotional self is fully present in creative expression. A child can play alone, or while interacting socially.

The development of children’s play progresses in three stages (E-P-R) and typically in this sequence (Sue Jennings, 1999):

(E) Embodiment Play – Also called Sensory Play. The child’s first experience of the world through looking, hearing, touching, smelling and feeling (ex. making mud pies). It is from these first experiences that we gain a sense of self and our place in the physical world. The child becomes aware of the body and the skin: “This is what my body can do. This is how things feel when I touch or hold them. This is where my body begins and ends.”
(P) Projective Play – Also called Symbolic Play. The child moves from purely sensory experiences into a world of pretend and imagination. Everyday objects can be transformed into other things from the real world (eg. cardboard box-> boat). Children discover the notion of acting “as if” – one object works as if it was another. They also begin to understand that objects can have meaning, a concept that is necessary to the development of language.

(R) Role Play – Also called Dramatic Play. Extending projective play, only this time, children can project meaning onto themselves and others instead of toys and objects. The player now takes on a role and plays “as if” they were someone else. this signifies the development of conscience and an understanding of the outcomes of their actions. It includes action play (eg. driving a car), stereotypical character (eg. fire fighter), and fictional character (exg. Superman).

Symbolic play - Milestones

Definition: The ability of children to use objects, actions or ideas to represent other objects, actions, or ideas as play. A child may push a block around the floor as a car or put it to his ear as a cell phone.

8 months: As their symbolic thinking develops, children become familiar with objects, actions, and ideas through observation and exploration. (ex. making noise with their baby toys by banging them or shaking them).

18 months: Children begin to engage in pretend play, and use one object to represent another (ex. drinking from an empty cup or pretending to feed a doll).

Toddlers (18 months to 3years): A toddler’s play is much more connected to imagination, with sticks becoming boats and brooms becoming horses (ex. mainly solitary play, assigning roles to inanimate objects like dolls and teddy bears).

Preschoolers (3 to 5 years): More capable of imagining roles behind their pretend play and play becomes more social. They assign roles to themselves and others involving several sequenced steps imitating real life (ex. pretending to be at the doctor’s office or having a tea party).

School aged children (5 to 11 years): Socio-dramatic play is the most advanced form of symbolic play and requires the use of imagination to carry out their roles. Children learn skills in following rules, negotiation, listening, sharing, taking turns, and respecting others’ feelings, thoughts, ideas, and physical space through socio-dramatic play (ex. pretending to be cops and robbers, jungle explorers, medieval times, or astronauts landing on the moon).

A large number of scientific evidence describes the potential that play has to enhance human capacity, developing self-esteem, insight, and tolerance for big emotions. Through healthy play interactions, we support children to build a range of adaptive, flexible responses to unexpected events. This shapes the child’s developing mind to find creative ways to respond to adversity and cope with the stresses of everyday life. Play therapy has been identified to support children presenting with a variety of issues including social and emotional delay, trauma, and neurodiversity. 

Child Centred Play Therapy shares an emphasis on viewing people as motivated toward self-actualization, the innate tendency to develop constructive and healthy capacities, the inner drive toward becoming a more positively functioning person, constantly moving and shaping the self toward improvement, independence, maturity, and growth as a whole person. In Child Centred Play Therapy, there is a fundamental belief that children are advancing with an innate potential to become healthy, creative, and effective beings, and at any one moment, their behaviours reflect their efforts toward this natural striving.

What is Play Therapy?: Our Mission

“Play stands at the centre of human development, especially in the formative years, but it’s importance has to be defended by each generation anew, often on different grounds. “

Sturrock, Else & Russell, 2004

What is Play Therapy?: Quote
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