Identifying and observing children's unique patterns of changing complexity in play development.


Learn to Play provides a framework of understanding to support children to spontaneously self-initiate their own pretend play (Stagnitti, 2021). Being able to pretend in play is essential to children because through pretending children learn about themselves and their world. Pretend play is complex play and research has shown that children who develop more complex levels of pretend play increase in their abilities in social competence, narrative understanding and counterfactual reasoning, language, self-regulation, creativity, and problem solving (Creaghe & Kidd, 2022; Quinn & Kidd, 2019; Rakoczy, 2008a; Stagnitti, 2021; Whitebread et al., 2009; Whitebread & O’Sullivan , 2012).

Pretend play is thinking play and increasing complexities within pretend play support higher level thinking ability. Engaging in pretend play with others in a social context provides opportunities to develop skills that are inherent to functioning later in life. In a shared play context, children build capacities important for learning in school, such as creating and understanding story, thinking, and talking through problems and how to solve them, and monitoring emotions to continue to build learning relationships with others (Stagnitti, 2022). Through play, children also learn how to become flexible, adaptable, and how to cope better with stress (Casey, 2017). When children build the capacity for self-regulation through play, they can maintain friendships and play for longer (Casey, 2017).  

This session will aim to support teachers in their understanding of the changing levels of complexity of pretend play and how this is linked to capacity building and early childhood development. Teachers will be asked to reflect upon current observations of the children at play within their education setting and consider how those observations might be understood within the complexity of pretend play. 

 A case study will also be provided for teachers to practically explore the changing levels of complexity and how they might be observed in play within the education setting (Stagnitti & Paatsch, 2018).

    Target Audience: 
    Educators/ Practitioners



    Dr Casey Siobhan 

    Casey SiobhanDr. Siobhan Casey is a paediatric occupational therapist with over 15 years' experience in working with children, families and educators. She was awarded a Doctor of Philosophy with Deakin University in 2018. Dr. Casey’s doctorate explored the role of pretend play and self-regulation in supporting resilience within the early years. She is currently delivering training both nationally and internationally to a wide audience with Learn To Play, Melbourne, and engages as a casual academic with the Masters of Play Therapy, Deakin University. She has completed the full Masters of Play Therapy qualifications in 2023.

    Dr. Casey has co-authored publications and a new book with colleagues Prof. Lousie Paatsch, Emmeritus Prof. Karen Stagnitti, and educator and play therapist Amity Green. Due for publication in September, Learning Through Play, outlines why and how play should be implemented within the context of the Australian Curriculum.  She continues to work closely with schools and early educators in supporting a developing understanding of the complexity of play and the underlying processes, and principles in supporting joyful learning.

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