As an occupational therapist (OT), I like to say that play is the primary occupation of children! In the world of OT, we describe “occupations” as any activity that a person wants or needs to do. These are things that “occupy” a person’s day/time. For children, so much learning occurs in these activities! Let’s be honest: we like to push a lot of academic learning skills on our littles. Overall, I think it is so important to remember that play-based tasks are one of THE BEST ways to engage students in activities that also build skills!
Thankfully, Simply Special Ed has a great Play Center Visual Support resource! It can support students in unstructured time and increase student independence, language, and social skills. Additionally, other developmental skills that are important during the pre-k age range are also targeted [and discussed below]! See the below list of all the developmental skills addressed in the Play Center Visual Support:
Fine Motor Strength
I can use play dough, make a snake or make a cookie.
Interested in more fine motor strength ideas? Check out my pre-writing blog series to get a bunch of activity suggestions in addition to what is included in this resource!
I can build a potato toy, a happy face or a silly face.
Students in preschool are still learning their body parts [labeled]. Beyond this, understanding our bodies, how they move in space, how they are feeling and then how all of that relates to others is a big task and area of growth for our preschoolers! This skill can be targeted in a variety of play-based tasks like those listed above! Equally, gross motor activities [like those discussed in the first pre-writing blog in my series] are also great ways to build body awareness in preschool students through play!
Visual Motor Skills
I can play with magnetic tiles, blocks, or plastic bricks.
There are many visual motor skills that develop in the preschool years, and we often think of those as being related to handwriting. However, there are many other age-appropriate tasks that build visual motor skills [many that can be addressed in building-related play-based activities]. For example, I love building with small Legos to simultaneously build fine motor and hand strength! Does anyone else love puzzles for preschoolers?!
Social Skills & Imaginative Play
I can play with… a doll house, farm toys, toy cars, toy trains, dolls, etc. I can play… a doctor, camping, grocery store, clean up etc.
Our littles in preschool are learning how to interact with others, and are expanding their imaginations and play schemas. Many of the visual support play activities fit within this area of skill development. Taylor has an amazing blog that asks the tough question: “Is the Term Appropriate Play, Appropriate?“. Check it out to engage in an important discussion regarding how to write IEP goals [especially] for neurodivergent students.
Fine Motor Development
I can play with sand or ice cream. I can color.
These are the skills that people typically think of when they consider occupational therapists’ role in preschool skill development. However, we can work on and address ALL of the above skills [check out my day in the life of a school based OT blog!]. Nevertheless, I do love to focus on fine motor development! Again, please check out my pre-writing blog series to get a bunch of other activity suggestions for ways to build fine motor strength in addition to the SSE resources!
Sensory Processing Skills
I can play with water, sensory bins, bubbles or with instruments.
On the Simply Special Ed Blog, we talk a lot about sensory bins because they can be used to work on so many skills! Preschoolers can develop skills by engaging a variety of their senses in these sensory-based activities in this resource! Check out Weather Themed Sensory Bins, Holiday Themed Sensory Bins & Spring Sensory Bins with Academic Skills blogs for more ideas!
In summary, play is an important part of childhood development, and in my opinion, should be one of the primary focuses in the preschool setting. While independently important, there are also lots of opportunities to develop skills through play with preschool students!