Anyone who has a child or has spent time around a child can attest to this: children spend a lot of time playing! Most children love to play, get new toys, and play with others. As children grow up, how they play and what they play with changes. This is closely tied to their overall development. Because of this, we are going to talk about why writing goals for play is important.


When children play they are not just spending the time in leisure; play skills and development are related to language skills and development in children. In addition to language development, observing how a child plays can provide insights into their cognition, emotions, behaviors, and social skills.

It is important both as professionals and caregivers to understand the importance of play for development, as well as typical stages of play. Equally important to understand is that different cultures around the world may view play differently. This article examines how different cultures may interact and play with children. As with all assessments and interventions, it is critical to consider an individual’s culture and how that may impact what you observe.


What Are Play Skills?

Play skills look at what children play with, how they play with toys/objects, and who they may play with. The greatest development of a child’s play skills emerge as early as 2 months until about 5 years. Different sources may label types and stages of play in slightly different ways, but this age range seems to be the overall consensus of the typical age of development of certain play skills. In this case, we will look at 4 types of play: exploratory, relational, functional, and symbolic. Below are simple explanations of the categories with examples. For more information about play skills, this chart and this article provide greater details.

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Why Are Play Skills Important for Language Development?

Play skills are important because they are correlated with other skills, like language development. An individual who has not achieved the play skills milestones expected of them may also have impaired language skills. Language skills are important for younger children to develop as they pave the way for more advanced skills like reading and writing. Think about turn-taking within a conversation… some of the earliest signs that children engage in turn-taking (when they have limited expressive language) is through play!

Who May Have Play Skills Difficulties?

Individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) often have disorders or delays as it relates to play skills. This makes sense, as we know play skills are tied to behavior, emotion, and social skills development, and individuals with ASD often demonstrate disorders related to these areas as well. Other individuals, such as those with developmental language delays (DLDs) or ADHD, may have delayed play skills as well.


How to Write Play Skills Goals

As with all goals related to speech-language pathology, all goals should include the DO statement, CONDITION statement, and CRITERION statement.

Sometimes included is also CONSISTENCY, e.g. achieving the criterion more than once time, such as in 3 consecutive sessions. This is to ensure that the skill has been generalized and provides more reliable data that the skill has been properly mastered.

Below find information on how to determine what goals you will write, as well as definitions for the DO, the CONDITION, and the CRITERION.

When writing goals, consider the skills the child can do, and what is expected of them to be able to do. For example, if you are writing goals for a child who is able to engage in some pretend play, for one action, you may write a goal for them to engage in pretend play for multiple actions. If a child engages in play by themselves, but not with others, a goal may be to engage in play with others. Additionally, as you look at these goal examples, you may change your goal by taking parts from different ones. These should serve as a guide. However, it is important that your goals include DO, CONDITION, and CRITERION statements.


Exploratory play goals

  1. Individual will independently pick up and hold preferred toy, in a familiar setting, in 8 out of 10 opportunities, across 3 sessions.
  2. Individual will engage with a preferred toy once by shaking it, hitting it, squeezing it, or using it functionally in some way, in a familiar setting, in 8 out of 10 opportunities, across 3 sessions.
  3. Individual will use preferred toy in 3 or more different ways (e.g. hit, shake, and squeeze) in 8 out of 10 opportunities, across 3 sessions.

Relational play goals

  1. Individual will take items out of a toy/play structure (e.g. fish out of play aquarium), given a verbal or gestural prompt,* with 90% accuracy, in 2 out of 3 sessions. (*if including prompts in a goal, this is where you could include it)
  2. Individual will assemble/arrange toy (e.g. stack ring), given a verbal or gestural prompt, with 90% accuracy, in 2 out of 3 sessions.
  3. Individual will assemble/arrange multiple toys (e.g. stack rings, fish in aquarium, blocks in container), given a verbal or gestural prompt, with 90% accuracy, in 2 out of 3 sessions.

Functional play goals

  1. Individual will play with toy in functional way (e.g. put ball in basketball hoop), in a structured setting, in 4 out of 5 opportunities, in 2 consecutive sessions.
  2. Individual will use doll, action figure, or stuffed animal in pretend play (e.g. have doll ride in car), in a structured setting, in 4 out of 5 opportunities, in 2 consecutive sessions.
  3. Individual will engage in turn-taking while playing with familiar partner, in a structured setting, in 4 out of 5 opportunities, in 2 consecutive sessions.

Symbolic play goals

  1. Individual will use one object as another (e.g. fork as a microphone), in a familiar setting, in 9 out of 10 opportunities.
  2. Individual will engage in pretend play with stuffed animal/doll/action figure for 3 or more consecutive actions, in a familiar setting, in 4 out of 5 opportunities, in 3 out of 4 sessions.
  3. Individual will engage in pretend role play (e.g. act out doctor roles), given verbal or visual prompts from a familiar partner, with 90% accuracy.
  4. Individual will engage in pretend play with a familiar partner, in a familiar setting, in 4 out of 5 opportunities.

If you are looking for more goal-related posts (with goal banks), check out the others we have posted:

  1. How to Write Pragmatic Language Goals
  2. How to Write Receptive Language Goals
  3. How to Write AAC Goals

Citations/further references:

https://pubs.asha.org/doi/10.1044/2020_LSHSS-19-00084

https://leader.pubs.asha.org/do/10.1044/multicultural-considerations-in-assessment-of-play/full/

https://mshausa.org/media/1364/watson-addressing-social-communication-and-play-goals.pdf

https://www.luriechildrens.org/en/specialties-conditions/pediatric-occupational-therapy/developmental-milestones/play-developmental-milestones/