Teaching Play Skills

I’ve talked before about how important it is for children to learn how to do pretend play.  There is a strong connection between being able to pretend that a toy is something real and being able to use a word to represent the real thing.  So how do you go about teaching play skills?  Well it all starts with teaching them how to imitate your play.  This is something that is very difficult for children with autism or severe developmental delays to do so I have broken it down into a process that will be easy for you and your child to follow.  For this one you will need at least one other person, so find a buddy!

Teaching Play: Do This

Teaching play through imitation is not as difficult as it sounds.  First, sit down with your child and one other adult.  It doesn’t matter what role each of you plays and you should probably switch places from time to time, but I will call the adults “Adult 1” and “Adult 2”.  Adult 1 sits in front of the child and Adult 2 sits behind him.  Adult 1 and the child have the same or a similar toy.  Adult 1 should also have some sort of reinforcement that the child really wants, such as candy, a preferred toy, a hug, or a tickle.  Adult 1 picks up the toy, says “do this”, and then does one simple pretend action with the toy.  That might be holding a phone up to his ear, making an animal walk into a barn, or giving a baby a bottle.  Then, Adult 2 reaches from behind the child and moves his hands/arms to do the same thing with the toy as Adult 1.  It should look like Adult 2 is helping the child imitate Adult 1’s action.  As soon as the action is completed, Adult 1 says “Good Job! You _____” (describe the action or say “did this”) and immediately gives the child the reinforcement.  Keep in mind that throughout all of this, Adult 2 remains silent.  No talking!  This makes it seem more like the child is doing it on his own.  Now, do the whole thing again.  After doing this a few times, Adult 2 should wait and see if the child will imitate the action on his own.  If so, he should get A LOT of the reinforcement.  If not, Adult 2 goes ahead and helps him like before and he is reinforced like before.  Do this for as long as your child’s attention span lasts and then let him go.  You don’t want this to become a battle.

Keep doing this with one single action until your child can imitate it on command.  Once he can do this, start teaching him another pretend play action.  You’ll do that in the same manner that you did the first one.  If you keep doing this, you will be teaching play skills in a manner that should help your child’s play skills improve because he will have a larger repertoire of actions he can perform during play.  Good luck!

If you enjoyed this article on teaching play and would like more great speech and language activities and resources, please head over to the speech therapy materials page.

Where to Find More Info:

This guide, along with 38 others, is included in Ms. Carrie’s E-Book: Speech and Language Therapy Guide: Step-By-Step Speech Therapy Activities to Teach Speech and Language Skills At Home or In Therapy.  This guide includes detailed information on teaching various speech and language skills, including this one, along with worksheets, handouts, sample IEP goals, data collection, and video demonstrations.  For more information, click the button below:

Speech and Language Therapy Guide

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