Embedding Play to Enrich Physical Therapy

Alyssa La Forme Fiss, Ragnhild Barclay Håkstad, Julia Looper, Silvana Alves Pereira, Barbara Sargent, Jessica Silveira, Sandra Willett, Stacey C. Dusing

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Play is an active process by which an individual is intrinsically motivated to explore the self, the environment, and/or interactions with another person. For infants and toddlers, engaging in play is essential to support development across multiple domains. Infants and toddlers with or at risk of motor delays may demonstrate differences in play or challenges with engaging in play activities compared to typically developing peers. Pediatric physical therapists often use play as a modality to engage children in therapeutic assessment and interventions. Careful consideration of the design and use of physical therapy that embeds play is needed. Following a 3-day consensus conference and review of the literature, we propose physical therapy that embeds play should consider three components; the child, the environment, and the family. First, engage the child by respecting the child’s behavioral state and following the child’s lead during play, respect the child’s autonomous play initiatives and engagements, use activities across developmental domains, and adapt to the individual child’s needs. Second, structure the environment including the toy selection to support using independent movements as a means to engage in play. Allow the child to initiate and sustain play activities. Third, engage families in play by respecting individual family cultures related to play, while also providing information on the value of play as a tool for learning. Partner with families to design an individualized physical therapy routine that scaffolds or advances play using newly emerging motor skills.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number440
JournalBehavioral Sciences
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2023


  • infants
  • physical therapy
  • play
  • toddlers

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Development
  • Genetics
  • General Psychology
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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