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Importance of Reaching with Play

Why is Play an Important Occupation?

Play is one of eight occupations occupational therapy focuses on, however for children play is oftentimes most used and most important for developing everyday skills such as coordination, strength, problem solving, communication, and social skills.

With play, reaching out for the ground or hanging toys typically emerges at 5-6 months of age. From here reaching becomes a vital part of development however at times may need to be encouraged by caregivers. By incorporating reaching in all directions with arms during play, children develop increased body awareness along with bilateral coordination and visual motor skills, leading to increased success with daily activities such as self-feeding, dressing, and bathing/grooming.

How Can I Encourage Reaching?

  • Rotating activities/games from side to side

  • Start with objects near and slowly move them away

  • Encourage different sitting positions such as side sitting

  • Offer various sized toys, some that fit into one hand and also objects requiring both hands

  • If favoring one side encourage one handed play (switching between right and left)

Types of Reaching

When it comes to reaching there are a few different types of reach we want to incorporate. The first type of reach is called ipsilateral reach, meaning reaching to the same side as the body part (i.e. right arm reaching to objects on the right side). Next is reaching to midline, meaning reaching to the middle of our bodies. This is especially important for many daily activities such as self-feeding, grooming, writing, and typing. Finally contralateral reach, meaning reaching across one’s body (i.e. reaching to the left with your right arm). The more we are able to encourage different types of reach into play, the easier motor planning for these daily activities will become.

Blog written by: Aaron Cicchese, MS, OTR/L


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