• Christal Lau

Learn To Play Therapy


Christal Lau, Child Play Practitioner


What is Learn to Play Therapy?

Learn to Play Therapy is a framework developed by Dr. Karen Stagnitti, designed to measure children’s level of pretend play ability. It is suitable for children from 12 months to 10 years old who need help to be able to play with their peers. Participating children need to have a developmental age over 12-18 month level and have at least one meaningful word, gesture or focused attention on an activity that interests them.

Pretend play is the core foundation of Learn to Play Therapy, also known as symbolic play or imaginary play. It is an ability that many children do not develop naturally. According to Dr Stagnitti, “The aim of Learn to Play Therapy is to build a child’s ability to spontaneously and independently self-initiate their own pretend play to their maximum potential .”

A child’s pretend play ability is scientifically proven to be linked with their development in language, narrative understanding, creativity, social competence, emotional self-regulation and cognitive skills. Improving children’s pretend play skill can enhance their ability to understand others points of view, see beyond the literal use of objects, and impose meaning and stories within their play. Learn to Play Therapy involves a framework for assessment, framework for goal setting, and direction of how the intervention needs to be scaffolded for the children.



Why is Play So Important Play is a highly complex behavior, but all too often the importance of it is downgraded and undervalued. Out of all play skills, pretend play is considered the highest of the play ability levels. Children need an understanding of how an object can be used, then they can attribute meanings to it. For example, play is more than just rolling a toy car’s wheels or crashing it with other toys, it can become pretending to go for a ride, and meet other animals for a picnic. When a child pretends, they are adding meaning to what they are playing. According to Stagnitti, pretend play skill is linked with Social Interaction, Problem- Solving, Creativity, Metacognition and metacommunication, Self-Regulation, Theory of Mind, Representational thinking, Narrative and Emotional Management in Play. In some cases when teachers or therapists advise parents to hold back their children for preschool, it is commonly the case that the children cannot engage in play and take longer to understand social situations, often those children also have lower language ability. Learn to Play Therapy and the assessment can tell exactly why the children need to be held back for another year and know exactly what needs to be strengthened just to consolidate their play skills.

What to Expect (for Parents) A consent form will be needed to sign with your current clinic or institute. An in-take information might be taken by that time over the phone or in person with your therapist. The therapist will get to know about your child’s interest, special toys, and your child’s history and any concerns you might have for their development. As the parent or career, you are the most important person in your child’s life. Therefore, in the play sessions, you are welcome to join in as much as you would like. You can join the therapist and play together with your child, or sit and watch if that’s more comfortable. The 1st session with your child is a pretend play assessment. It will help the therapist to choose the play activities best suited and to support your child and support their joyful participation in play sessions. From the 2nd session, our play therapist will use a range of carefully selected toys to engage your child and support their participation in play. We can expect to see a children’s pretend play ability shift after the 6th to 8th session. For large changes in pretend play ability, research has shown that 22 to 24 sessions are needed for children with autism spectrum disorder.

How to Prepare your Child Your child should feel safe in Learn to Play Therapy sessions. Please assure your child that it is a safe place, we are just there to play for 45 minutes in any way he/she likes, that the therapist enjoys playing with your child. If it is beneficial for your child, an introduction video by therapist recorded the playroom setting can be sent to your child, to greet him/her from the playroom and help prepare for the 1st session. At times, the therapist will play with the toys alongside your child to model pretend play skills. Parents are welcome to join if comfortable. Please assure your child that it is a time for pure joy and fun activities with the therapist.



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