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.


Writing Play Skills Goals

Below you will find our Communication Community Goal Writing Formula that we use for writing all communication goals (e.g., receptive, expressive, pragmatic, etc.).

As seen above, speech goals should be written with 3* components in mind: the DO statement, the CONDITION statement, and the CRITERION statement.

*Also commonly included is consistency (we incorporate this!). Aka does the individual have to meet a specific criterion more than once? A common example of this may include across 3 consecutive sessions. This is usually something understood by the therapy organization/service provider and is sometimes/sometimes not included in the written goal itself. This is to ensure that the skill has been generalized and provides more reliable data that the skill has been properly mastered.

DO statement

What the client is actually going to DO and the specific skill they will be working towards.
Example: engage in pretend play

CONDITION statement

The specific setting and/or context your client will work on this skill.
Example: in a natural setting

CRITERION statement

How the client’s performance will be measured.
Example: in 9 out of 10 trials

DO + CONDITION + CRITERION

Example: [Client] will produce a grammatically correct simple sentence, during structured language activities, in 9 out of 10 trials.

There you have it! That is an example using our Goal Writing Formula containing the DO + CONDITION + CRITERION (don’t forget to think about consistency!) for an expressive language skill area.


Play Skills Goal Bank

Exploratory play goals

Example 1: Individual will independently pick up and hold preferred toy, in a familiar setting, in 8 out of 10 opportunities, across 3 sessions.

Example 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.

Example 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

Example 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)

Example 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.

Example 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

Example 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.

Example 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.

Example 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

Example 1: Individual will use one object as another (e.g. fork as a microphone), in a familiar setting, in 9 out of 10 opportunities.

Example 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.

Example 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.

Example 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
  4. How to Write Articulation Goals
  5. How to Write Expressive Language 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/