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Overview of Play: Its Uses and Importance in Early Intervention/Early Childhood Special Education

Lifter, Karin PhD; Foster-Sanda, Suzanne MS; Arzamarski, Caley MS; Briesch, Jacquelyn MS; McClure, Ellen MS

doi: 10.1097/IYC.0b013e31821e995c
Original Study
ISEI Article

Play is a natural activity of early childhood, which has great relevance to the fields of early intervention, early childhood special education, and early childhood education. Within these fields, ongoing tensions persist in how play is described and used. These tensions compromise activities of assessment, intervention, and curriculum development and their connections to research and practice. This article presents a review about the importance of play in early intervention, early childhood special education and early childhood education and how play is regarded and used within these contexts. In an attempt to clarify the literature on play in early intervention and early childhood special education, particular emphasis is placed on distinguishing 2 divergent uses of play: (a) play as a developmental domain and (b) play as an activity base in the service of other goals. Recommendations, implications, and future directions are discussed with respect to practitioners, policymakers, and researchers.

Department of Counseling and Applied Educational Psychology, Northeastern University, Boston, Massachusetts.

Correspondence: Karin Lifter, PhD, Department of Counseling and Applied Educational Psychology, Northeastern University, 404 International Village, Boston, MA 02115. (

The authors express sincere appreciation to Alison Cobb, Rachel Horvitz, Bridget Ritter, and Sarah Lael Wertheim for their contributions to this article.

Portions of this article were presented at DEC 2009, Albuquerque, NM, October 17, 2009.

©2011Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.