Planning a Play-Based Therapy Session

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The big laminate-top kidney tables that many of us have in our school-based “speech rooms” are a great place to run through flashcards, worksheets, read and map stories, answer questions, and teach brand new skills. However, unlike infant–toddler SLPs, for whom playing on the floor is standard, school-based SLPs often overlook opportunities for such play-based therapy.

With play-based therapy, you can really capture a child’s attention and make memories that will extend beyond the therapy session. These memorable moments support learning and retention, and are essential when treatment sessions are infrequent.

Play is flexible, non-literal, episodic and process-oriented. During play, the child is actively engaged and intrinsically motivated. True play has no extrinsic goals, but we sacrifice some of that to ensure that target skills are practiced. When designing play-based lessons, the less you deviate from true play, the better. Here’s how:

Required targets

The first step of planning a play-based therapy session is to select targets to teach. Next, you’ll identify a way to require those targets during play. Start with the lesson, not with the toy or game! You may think in terms of how to give access to something the child wants following skill demonstration. This “something” can be toys, food, parts of a whole (for example, puzzle piece, song phrase, portion of a motor sequence), social interaction, or a funny or amusing consequence. You’ll also have suggested targets that are encouraged but not required. This is because requiring target demonstration at too high a frequency quickly turns the play session into drill-based “work” and begins to peel away the benefits of playful learning.

Example: “Sleepy Sue,” target = /s/-initial words. Let the student choose dolls for each of you. Make your doll’s name “Sue.” Explain that Sue has a pesky tendency to fall asleep (*insert snoring*). When she dozes off, the child’s job is to wake her up by saying, “Sue! …Sue!” You assist with correct articulation, then commence with doll play until Sue falls asleep again. In a short period of play, the word “Sue” will be required many times, but you may also model things Sue and her dolly friends like to do, like sew, sing, or sit—targets that will be suggested but not required.

Memorable episode

The more episodic and story-like your play-based session is, the better. This is because associated events scaffold memories. Later that day, if a child can’t tell mom “what I did in speech today,” you aren’t reaping the benefit of repeated recall. Consider the “Sleepy Sue” example above—the more related the activities that Sue and her doll friends do, the better. It’s too easy to *think* you’re using playful learning, when in reality you’ve set up a nonassociative work–reward–work–reward structure (as with many games).

Memorable targets

In addition to the play episode being memorable, it’s perhaps even more important that the targets be memorable. I’ve used “Sleepy Sue” with a five-year-old who called me out the next session because I accidentally called Sue, “Sam.”And that was great! But a lot of kids wouldn’t remember that target, just like they won’t likely remember many of the target words in a series of flashcards. So I’ve also had “Sleepy Sue” do a cooking episode.

Example: “Sue Makes Soup,”target = /s/-initial words. Sue loves to cook, and the student can help Sue by choosing the ingredients for her soup. The child can add salsa, sausage, seeds, soy sauce, syrup, sour cream, and such. Of these targets, some can be the real thing! And how much fun is it to put real salt or real seeds in the soup bowl? “Salt” and “seeds” can be your required targets, and you hold the shakers until the student needs them. The student may even take some of the “targets” home to show dad. The other words may be required or suggested targets, depending on the student.

Play-based learning can be done with children of any age. What would play-based learning look like for a fifth grader? Start by considering how fifth graders play with one another (for example, talking about their favorite TV show), and design from there. Play-based learning is also excellent for students with autism—check out this article and this one. Whatever the child’s age or skills, always ask yourself—“Could we be playing with this?”


Meredith Poore Harold, PhD, CCC-SLP,
is a speech–language pathologist and independent scholar in Kansas City, Missouri. She works primarily with infant-toddler and elementary-aged children, and provides resources for parents and clinicians at www.meredithharold.com.

My Baby Can Play: How Productive Play Promotes Literacy

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My Baby Can Read…Play: How Productive Play Promotes Literacy

If you pay attention to the current toys, television shows, and materials for children like Your Baby Can Read! you should notice a cultural shift to the promotion of literacy, especially early literacy skills.  From older shows such as Sesame Street and Between the Lions to newer shows such as WordGirl, WordWorld, and Super Why! we see the push for phonological awareness skills and reading skills, which encompass rhyming, letter/sound naming and identification, sound segmenting and blending, and so on.

The available research clearly shows the importance of promoting literacy skills early, and the overall consensus is that oral language provides the building blocks for literacy.  So if oral language is the foundation, and if we achieve language through quality language input, how is that input provided for infants and toddlers?  Through play!

Besides daily care-taking routines that parents and children engage in (feeding, grooming, sleeping), the next most important activity they engage in (where crucial language input is provided) is play.

So, if appropriate play skills predict appropriate language skills, and if strong language skills predict literacy skills, then I see a clear link between play and reading.

I’m not suggesting reading to infants and toddlers is not valid and necessary; I am suggesting that perhaps there should be a greater, or at least equal, push for promoting quality play.  My meaning of play, however, is where the play partner of the child is engaging the child and providing quality language input naturally but purposefully.

In a nutshell, let’s not bypass the building block of play because we’re so concerned that children be able to read.

As a personal example, both of my toddlers love books.  From the time my four-year-old daughter was one, she would quietly sit on the floor going through baskets I had set around the house full of little books, and she would flip through the pages “reading” one book after another.  I often find my two-year-old son sitting in a rocking chair in his room surrounded by books “reading.”  He spontaneously points out characters and talks about the pictures.  His big sister also helps him out, making up stories for him based on the pictures as though she is reading…and he believes every word!

As parents, my husband and I have read to them consistently, have made sure books are readily available and accessible to them, and have encouraged them to talk about the pictures and relate what they’re seeing to experiences they’ve had, but I firmly believe their enjoyment of books would not have been fostered without purposeful play in our home.

Purposeful play is crucial in order to develop what I call the 4 C’s: Concentration (attention), Curiosity, Creativity (imagination), and family Connection (through a shared activity).  These four components are extremely important for promoting reading ability.

So as professionals, educators, and parents, let’s evaluate where we’re investing our time and resources and make sure the push for early literacy doesn’t overshadow or do away with the need for consistent and quality play, not through the latest electronics or gadgets, but using good ol’ blocks, dolls, cars, toy farms, puzzles, toy kitchens, playdough…and the list goes on and on.

For purposeful play suggestions, check out free tip sheets (known as P.O.P. sheets) entitled Purposeful Ongoing Play: Enhancing Language Skills Through Play.

(This post originally appeared on The Speech Stop)

Ana Paula G. Mumy, MS, CCC-SLP, is a multilingual speech-language pathologist and the author of various continuing education courses, leveled storybooks, and instructional therapy materials for speech/language intervention.  She has provided school-based services, home health care, and private services for more than 12 years and thoroughly enjoys providing resources for SLPs, educators, and parents on her website The Speech Stop.

Welcome to Kid Confidential: Let’s Play!

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Welcome to the first installment of Kid Confidential, a monthly column where Maria Del Duca, M.S. CCC-SLP will be discussing all topics related to speech, language and child development. 

First off, let me say that I am not a researcher, I’m an observer.  I’m just a clinician like you using Evidence Based Practice (EBP) and trial and error to make my way in the world of language development.  I do not claim to be an expert, but I have had a hodge-podge of experiences and have worked with amazing clinicians and educators who have taught me along the way.

Through my years of experience and my constant need for information I have exhausted the minds of those with whom I have worked.  I have badgered them with a barrage of questions about why and how they were doing what they were doing.  Most of the time, I have found teachers and therapists willing to share their knowledge with me.  So today, I’m paying it forward.  Let’s talk play skills!

I don’t know about you, but upon completing graduate school I knew a whole lot about normal language acquisition, how to read, understand and review a research article, and how to administer and interpret numerous standardized tests, but I knew nothing about play skills.  Of course looking back at it now, this seems a bit ridiculous when we think of the number of children on our caseloads that are younger than five years of age.  But at the time, I didn’t know what I didn’t know.

Research shows us that play really is the work of a child.  We understand that play skills affect cognition, pragmatics and language development.  According to Pretend Play: The Magical Benefits of Role Play, by One Step Ahead:

Pretend play facilitates growth in more than just the areas mentioned above.  Encouraging a child to participate in pretend play positively affects:

  • Imaginative thinking and exploration
  • Abstract thinking
  • Problem Solving
  • Life skills
  • Leadership skills
  • Communication development
  • Social Skills development
  • Use of “Theory of Mind” (understanding/taking another’s perspective)
  • Understanding of safety
  • Self-confidence and a high self-esteem

We know we should assess play skills in young children.  But do we know what developmental play skills look like when we see them?  According to the Developmentally Appropriate Curriculum: Best Practices in Early Childhood Education, otherwise known as “the EC bible” in the world of early childhood educators, there are three distinct types and five social stages of play children typically exhibit between birth and age five (Kostelnik, Soderman, and Phipps Whiren).  Do you know what they are?  Read all about them in the tables below.

Slide1 Slide2You can download your copy of the above tables here.

I would be remiss if I did not share a word of caution when assessing play skills.  There are many cultures that do not value the child-centered, independent play of our western culture.  In order to differentially diagnose deficit versus difference we must keep in mind any cultural differences of the child’s family.  For more information on this topic, read Multicultural Considerations in Assessment of Play by Tatyana Elleseff MA CCC-SLP.

So now we know what typical play skills look like.  How do you assess play skills?  What are your favorite materials to use?  What topics do you want to see discussed here on Kid Confidential?

Don’t be afraid to share your ideas by commenting below.  And remember…“Knowledge is power” (Sir Francis Bacon)!

Reference

Kostelnik, Marjorie, Anne Soderman, and Alice Phipps Whiren. Developmentally Appropriate Curriculum: Best Practices in Early Childhood Education. 5. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson, 2011. Print

 

Maria Del Duca, M.S. CCC-SLP, is a pediatric speech-language pathologist in southern, Arizona.  She owns a private practice, Communication Station: Speech Therapy, PLLC, and has a speech and language blog under the same name.  Maria received her master’s degree from Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania.  She has been practicing as an ASHA certified member since 2003 and is an affiliate of Special Interest Group 16, School-Based Issues.  She has experience in various settings such as private practice, hospital and school environments and has practiced speech pathology in NJ, MD, KS and now AZ.  Maria has a passion for early childhood, autism spectrum disorders, rare syndromes, and childhood Apraxia of speech.  For more information, visit her blog or find her on Facebook