Play as a Therapeutic Tool in Pediatric Physical Therapy

Header image Photo: Mostphotos

In this study, we want to investigate physical therapists’ merging of sensory-motor play and therapy in their work with children up until three years. 

The ability to play is fundamental to human existence and provides children with valuable, empowering experiences to learn about themselves and their environment. The need to integrate sensory-motor play as part of physical therapy intervention is widely accepted. However, little is known about the ways physical therapists do this in clinical practice. In this study, we aim to identify how sensory-motor play becomes part of physical therapists’ therapeutic strategy and to gain insight into the their own knowledge and experiences with using play as a therapeutic tool. The overarching research question is: How do physical therapists understand, integrate and use sensory-motor play in their work with children aged 0-3 years and their caregivers?

By identifying the successful merging of sensory-motor play and therapy we will renew physical therapists’ toolbox of how to provide children with high dosages of variable, motivated sensory-motor play experiences that promote learning and development. Thus, the outcomes are relevant for children and families who receive early physical therapy intervention and for pediatric physical therapists in clinical practice.

Data will be collected through observation and video-recording of physical therapy sessions with children 0-3 years, and by conducting video-elicited in-depth interviews with physical therapists. The research study will be conducted in Norwegian municipalities and in two states in the USA. The study will be conducted in accordance with the Declaration of Helsinki, we will protect the study participants’ integrity and ensure their anonymity throughout the study.

The study design includes user involvement through all stages of the study and will be conducted by a collaborative research network:

  • Gay Lina Girolami PT, PhD, Clinical Professor and Director of Professional Education in the Department of Physical Therapy, University of Illinois at Chicago, USA. 
  • Stacey Dusing PT, PhD, FAPTA, Associate Professor in the Department of Biokinesiology and Physical Therapy at University of Southern California, USA. 
  • Hanne De Jaegher DPhil, philosopher of mind and of cognitive science, Ramón y Cajal research fellow at the University of the Basque Country, Spain. 
  • User representatives are Tor Ketil Hågland and Line Lyngedal (PTs), Grete S. Åsvang and Jill Hege Solstrand (parents).

Main publications and presentations related to the project: 

Enactive explorations of children's sensory-motor play and therapeutic handling in physical therapy

Lekens plass i barnefysioterapi

Let’s play! An observational study of primary care physical therapy with preterm infants aged 3–14 months

Start: March 01. 2018
End: February 28. 2026
Unit: Department of Health and Care Sciences


Norwegian Physiotherapist Association


Ragnhild Barclay Håkstad
Gunn Kristin Øberg


  1. Enactive explorations of children's sensory-motor play and therapeutic handling in physical therapy (Academic article)