Last week I discussed the correlation between language development and levels of play in children but now you may be wondering, how do I INCREASE levels of play during speech therapy?
Play is an integral part of a child’s development as it affects all areas of growth including, but not limited to: social skills, communication development, cognition, problem solving and reasoning skills and imaginative thinking. One goal of speech and language therapy with young children is always to improve their level of play. We can work on moving from one level to the next and select toys to support this. This is always the goal.
Toys that work best for this are ones that are multifunctional and are open-ended for pretend play, as well as engaging the child. Toys with buttons and electronics are not the best selection when trying to work on increasing a child’s level of play. These items cannot necessarily be used by more than one child at the same time and don’t typically encourage pretend play or role play.
Let’s discuss different ideas and items to use to help encourage children to move from one level of play to the next and some things that you can be doing in speech therapy sessions.
(All links below are affiliate links from Amazon)
Moving from Onlooker to Parallel Play
When moving a child from being an onlooker to engaging in parallel play, the goal is to get children to move closer together and engage in the same activity during play. They may not interact yet, but proximity to each other is closer.
Try these steps:
Move the defined play areas closer together.
Sit with the student as he/she watches the play that’s happening. Position your bodies toward the other children and engage in the materials yourself. Slowly encourage the student to engage as well. Try using something such as these toy cars. That way children can each have their own yet drive them next to each other.
Remove excess furniture and toys from the play area to encourage the children to play in the same space.
- Small Groups
Keep the groups small. Too many children can overstimulate a child and also become intimidating.
Moving from Parallel to Associative Play
When moving from parallel play to associative play, the goal is to get children to move closer together and engage in the same activity during play. They will be close to each other and maybe play with the same toys and trade materials, etc.
Try these steps:
Set up the environment: Facilitate associative play by making room for multiple children around a toy or activity such as these Potato Heads or this Build a Garden set. Provide a limited number of materials so they must share. For instance-put 1 or 2 Potato heads for 3 children so they must all work on putting the body parts on him.
Model and help your child introduce themselves to a peer when they all sit down.
- Draw Attention
Draw attention to the nonverbal cues and body language as kids manage sharing materials. “Oh Jenna, look at Regan’s face. She looks sad that you took Mr. Potato head’s nose out of her hand.”
Encourage the kids to swap toys, even if they are still playing by themselves.
Moving from Associative to Cooperative Play
In this stage, you want to grow from talking about their play to taking on roles, making a plan and using imaginative words.
Try these steps:
- Role Play
Try role playing the following: greetings, invitations to play, sharing toys, how to leave a group, how to get peers to join your game play. Provide the child with the language of play in scripts.
Use nondescript toys/ objects to encourage imaginative play such as these simple blocks from Amazon.
Narrate the situation: Guide your student to the area of another student. “I see Gracie playing house and Regan playing blocks. Where would you like to play?”
- Draw Connections
Comment on play and draw connections. “Wow, Jenna is building a building and Gracie is building a road. Maybe we can put them together and make a city.”
Increasing a child’s level of play is always the end goal when working on this skill during therapy sessions. Do you work on increasing your student’s levels of play? What tips do you have?
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