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Do Children Today Play?

Updated: Jul 24, 2020

As an occupational therapist, play is rooted in my DNA. Play is my go-to tool in therapy, my way of accessing a child’s world, building respect and a rapport with a child and a means of assisting a child participate in an activity for their development. However, one thing that I have learned in my practice is that today’s child does not know HOW to play- that pure, free, ever changing, fluid play.

So, what can we do as adults to help our children learn to play?

Firstly, let us understand what is play?

Parham, 2008, described the following features of play:

Intrinsic motivation – the child is motivated by the experience of playing itself. A child will participate in a play task because they enjoy it; they want to participate in it. There is no external force.

Process –This one is so important. Play is not bound, it is flexile, it can change, and it can be one activity and within seconds another. It is for fun, there is no end product and no desired outcome other than sheer enjoyment in play.

Free Choice –If play is not freely chosen, it simply cannot be called play- it is then work.

Enjoyment or pleasure- as stated, play is participated in for the sheer pleasure of the process.

Spontaneity –play is sporadic, it is evolving, and it can change multiple times throughout the play. The player controls it.

Active engagement – this is key when looking at Today’s child. Play requires active involvement. A child nowadays who is ‘playing on a computer’ is not physically involved in the game.

Non-literality –again back to freedom to suspend reality- play is not serious, it is about fantasy, it is about the transformation of reality.

Play has evolved over the generations. Our grandparents played freely in the street, whereas today’s child is confined to small backyards or glued to a screen. Do Today’s children actually play? Is what they are doing actually play? So, what does this mean for all our tech savvy children?

A child playing a computer game or on an IPad is relying on the game to provide them with the stimulation and ideas, they are merely a passive participant in the game. A TV program such as Paw Patrol and Barney the dinosaur, are sharing play ideas, play cues and inferences, however, our children are once again a passive participant. Often, we give children ‘toys’ for an educational purpose- this is great; however, children also need an opportunity to play without any reason. Do children today just play for pure pleasure of the play itself? The answer more often than not is -NO. They are quick to get “bored”; rely on external stimulation (toys; peers; parents; screens); get “stuck” in a play theme and don’t know how to more on…

So, as parents and teachers- what can we do?

The simple answer is – PLAY!


Dr. Stanley Greenspan developed a program called DIR Floortime where he recommends that parents should try reserve 30 minutes a day of uninterrupted play time- there must be no TV on, no kettle boiling, no supper in the oven. Your cell phone must be off. Choose a special play area, a place for one-on one-mom and Jonny time. This special time Jonny has mom/ dad all to himself. Play in the home is safe. It is a place to explore, take risks, feel vulnerable. Without playing at home children miss out on emotional outlet. It is through play that children can communicate their feelings, express them and share what’s going on in their day.

2. Use toys for cues- toys will help guide and cue your ideas in the play. But remember, everyday objects can also transform into things and playing with a cardboard box can also be fun. Without the use toys children can actually come up with their own ideas, be creative and imaginative.

3. Try decrease the time children spend on extra mural activities and increase their free play. Children gain so much knowledge, skills and values through playing.

4. One easy way to assist our children to play with others is to facilitate play with their peers. Play dates allow our children to learn play skills away from the anxiety of the busy playground, in the comfort of their own homes. They can then follow up with that peer at school and transfer those skills to the playground.

By Dani-Lee Eve


Bundy, A. C. (1997a). Play and playfulness: What to look for. In L. D. Parham & L. S. Fazio (Eds.), Play in occupational therapy for children (pp. 52–66). St. Louis: Mosby.

Bundy, A. C. (1997b). Test of Playfulness (ToP) Manual, Version 3.4. Ft. Collins, CO: Colorado State University.

Hoyler, Julie. (2018). DIR/Floortime as Evidence Based Practice for Young Children with Autism.

Parham, Linda. (2008). Play and Occupational Therapy. 10.1016/B978-032302954-4.10001-7.

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