Being a parent of small children is exhausting and fulfilling all at the same time. Children need constant care and attention as they grow. Their ability to play starts with children interacting playfully with others, exploring objects and their environment. They do this from the moment they are born when they start to stare at faces, objects and the shape of the space they are in. When I brought my first child home from hospital, I went to feed her and she stared at the corners of the room, the ceiling and the door before she was interested in feeding. She was in a different place and she seemed to recognise this. As parents we can provide the love, the space, the social interaction, and the environment to enrich our children’s development. You, as a parent, are most important in your child’s life.

Being playful with your child are the times where you enjoy your child’s company and strengthen the bond between you and your child. True play is fun. As children grow, they learn to initiate their own play ideas and rely less on adults to show them what to do. These times are often times where you watch your child grow and listen to their stories. By the time children are 4 years old, their play ability takes a big leap and it is at this age that children begin to play out ideas over several days, prefer to have peers to play with, and start to negotiate and cooperate with friends (which also means the occasional fight and disagreement).

I work with children who, for whatever reason, find play very difficult. Play is a complex ability and not all children develop the ability to play. For these children, they can learn to play if they are shown what to do and how to use the play materials. I have found it useful to observe children and look for what they are playing when they use toys (eg, Can they push a truck? Can they feed a teddy? Can they push a truck with teddy in the truck? Do they use objects like boxes and cloth?). Then I note how long they are playing, what they are doing with the toys. For example, do they do the same thing all the time, or do they put lots of ideas together?

There are resources in this section which I hope you find useful. Children under 6 years benefit from physically interactive play where they can manipulate toys and objects and create ideas and stories. Some children experiment with objects to see how objects relate to each other. When you watch these children play they will be carefully working out how objects balance on each other, or if objects can be partially hidden, or if objects can be put together in such a way that they make sounds or water can flow and so on. Many children create stories in their play and when you watch these children play they will most likely be treating a toy as if it is alive. You will see them act out events they have experienced as well as play stories that they have made up. Through play children are understanding their world, they are understanding themselves, they are trying out ideas, and they are learning.

Interview ‘How to Play’ with Karen Stagnitti from the
ABC Statewide Queensland 612


The Neurodiversity Movement and Learn to Play Therapy

Please find our statement on the Neurodiversity Movement and Learn to Play Therapy here


What is pretend play - Full Download PDF - 159 kB
What is pretend play - Brief Download PDF - 196 kB
Parent Learn to Play program Parent handouts Download PDF - 500 kB
Autism and Play, by karen Stagnitti, ABC Radio Podcast, 30 minutes Download
The children are home! Here’s some ideas to keep busy minds and bodies busy. Play is learning. Remember that imaginative play or pretend play is thinking play. Download