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Playtime for Children With Cognitive Delays

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Play Tips: Ages 1 to 3

Sensory play should continue from the first through the third birthday, advises Pratola. You can add imaginative role play, which combines pretend and imitation. "It's laying the groundwork for using play as a way to learn things.” Provide your child with items that she can pretend with, such as toy kitchen sets or baby dolls.

Also, when your child begins potty training, it may benefit you both to get a baby doll that your child can put on a miniature potty. This will make potty training fun, while giving your child a model for the lesson.

Let your child manipulate toys as much as possible at this stage, Cox states. Building blocks are ideal. Let your child build them up and knock them down, and repeat the activity as much as she likes. ''All kids really need that repetition and mastery over the toy.”

By ages 1 to 3, you can also start adding structure to your child’s playtime, Davitt says. “Kids with cognitive delays benefit from structure even more than other kids.”  So, for instance, you might tell your child that as soon as she wakes up in the morning, she will have breakfast and get to listen to a short story every morning.

Play Tips: Ages 3 to 6

At age 3 and above, a child’s imagination grows stronger, says Pratola. Therefore, she encourages parents to continue encouraging their children to participate in role-playing activities.

These years are the perfect time to add expressive activities to your child’s playtime, such as arts and crafts. You want your child with cognitive delays to enjoy the same kind of coloring and painting experiences as other children, Pratola emphasizes. But,you may need to adapt the materials to suit your child’s need, like swapping out crayons for finger paints.

During these years children are learning to play well with each other. So doing puzzles may be a good option, Cox says, making sure they are learning to take turns with you or their playmates.

Since children in this age range may be starting school or preschool programs, Davitt encourages parents to remember the fatigue factor. "If they’ve had to be 'on' all day at school the play when they get home might have to be more relaxed."

Be sure to support their school activities at home, asking both teachers and therapists for advice on the best ways to do so. If your child, for instance, needs help learning how to dress himself, you might offer him a doll and ask him to dress it – not in a graded or performance-focused way, but in a fun way.

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Reviewed on October 14, 2010

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