The Learn to Play Program

The Learn to Play Program, founded by Karen Stagnitti, aims to assist children develop the ability to self-initiate spontaneous pretend play. The program is suitable for any child whose play ability is developmentally delayed (such as children who have experienced trauma and neglect), and is used most often with children with an Autism Spectrum Disorder.

A child’s ability to engage in pretend play helps impacts their skills with language, social interaction, self-esteem and emotional integration of their experiences.

The Learn to Play Program focuses on pretend play (also known as imaginative play, symbolic play, make-believe play), being the most complex form of play.  Pretend play occurs when children inject their imagination into their play. For example, they might play with a puppet who is being mean to a friend and hitting them, or they might lay a blue blanket on the floor and pretend it is a river, or maybe they might dress up as a prince who rescues all the soft toy animals form a storm that is on its way.

Pretend play is linked to:

  • Language development
  • Abstract thought
  • Social competence with peers
  • Emotion regulation
  • Social and emotional well-being
  • Creativity

What is the Learn to Play Program?

The Learn to Play Program is a weekly, hourly program that will help your child develop the ability to initiate spontaneous pretend play. The sessions can continue until the child has improved enough and for as long as the therapist and carer feel the sessions are needed.

  • The therapist will initially meet with you to discuss your child’s current concerns and play ability.
  • Your child will be administered a developmental assessment so the therapist can gain an understanding of what age level your child is playing at.
  • In subsequent sessions, the therapist will organise play activities for the child, presenting them one at a time. The therapist will challenge the child to extend their play, or break up the repetition. The therapist will be responsive to the child’s ability, their reaction to the level of challenge presented, keeping a felt sense of safety and fun throughout sessions.

Who is the program for?

The children who most benefit from Learn to Play are those that play at a level different to what is expected for their chronological age. These children often have some of the following issues:

  • Have trouble socially
  • Struggle cognitively
  • Have language delays
  • Have very rigid or repetitive play
  • Have been diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorder
  • Are socially reclusive
  • Are socially aggressive