How Do I Teach My Young Child to Play? (Part 1)

Play is crucial for the physical, social–communication and emotional development of a child.

Children on the Autism Spectrum are commonly limited in their play skills. We tend to notice a similar style of play such as spinning, or tapping across different toys. Parents and educators may also observe stereotypical and repetitive behaviours during playtime.

So how do we teach our child to play appropriately?

  1. Firstly, we need to assess if the child has the essential ‘Learning how to learn’ skills. ‘Learning how to learn’ skills are a group of fundamental skills that each child should be equipped with to ensure he becomes an effective learner. The ability to ‘pay attention for prolonged periods’, ‘to wait’ and ‘to learn from observation’, are some examples.
    The absence of these prerequisite skills makes ‘learning’ challenging for both the parent and the child.
  2. Secondly, the toys or play sets must be age-appropriate. Toys are manufactured to cater to the developmental needs of the specific age groups. Usually toys for newborns tend to be large, so that they can be easily grasped. The toys are also usually brightly coloured to help develop their visual senses. A child aged 3-4 years old should play with toys that encourage motor skills development, sustaining attention and, creativity. Examples include playing with Lego, pretend-play sets, playdoh, puzzles or doing arts and craft.
    By teaching your child to be occupied with these activities, playing with other children will be easier and reduce the possibility of being stigmatised.
  3. Thirdly, should your child appear to be disinterested in play, do introduce toys that he is more likely to engage in or show off his strengths. This will help to create interest. For example, if your child enjoys matching, a good game to introduce is Picture Lotto.
  4. Finally, for children who find it harder to play with toys that involve several steps, break down the steps to demonstrate how to play with the toy. An example could be when fixing a puzzle. Start with easier or fewer pieces and add on pieces to help the child be more successful.
By teaching your child to play appropriately, it may help reduce stereotypical and repetitive behaviours. Play is also important in equipping a child with the necessary skills that form a foundation for his lifelong development. In order to make play enjoyable, it has to be fun! Just like adults, children need a positive experience as an influence for the likelihood of playing a toy or engaging in a play activity again.

Stay tuned further for some practical examples of how you can teach your child to play!

Article written by Jean Lau (Senior Behaviour Therapist)
Autism Partnership Singapore
February 20, 2017

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