Throughout the school day, it is an adult job to create natural environments and situations for students to learn. Teachers and other team members teach children by asking questions, lecturing, modeling, reading, playing, and so much more! When working on play skills and teaching our students how to problem solve and engage in social interactions, positive and negative, we need to remember to fade ourselves out. The use of dramatic play, card games, board games, block play, and so many more options for all different ages lend themselves to teaching all that our learners will need to be independent in social skills within their lives and the community. In this post, I will cover some ways to start fading the need for adults to intervene as well as many social/emotional skills that can be the focus of adult and peer interactions.
Starting with adults
The use of adults when teaching play is important for our learners who may have no experience around other children or who are learning skills on how to socialize. The paras, clinicians, teachers, related services, and other adults in and out of the classroom help teach play skills by:
- modeling the use of toys
- encouraging imitation with toys
- working on encouraging the learners to follow 2-3 steps with different toys and peers
- model narration that can help with language
- model exclamation
- encourage joint attention and reciprocal play.
Learning from experience, using the same toys and skills can get the adults stuck in their ways. I have always benefited from collaborating with everyone on the team to get new ideas on use of toys, especially with open ended toys! I like to use visuals for the adults that share quick ways to gain attention and engagement out of learners with specific toys. I also list prompts and sentence starters fro quick ideas.
When a learner is gaining new skills, the adult has a lot of jobs. They are in charge of observing the situation and getting to know all learner’s behaviors and preferences, they initiate play, keep the space organized, and eventually partake in play with partners. If a learner continues to struggle with play or is at a plateau of skills, consider looking at the environment, materials, amount of visual stimulation, noise, and peers that are engaging.
Is Child Directed Play Important?
Research shows that child directed play helps children develop cognitive, social, emotional, and motor skills. It also can help children to build a better relationship with the adult who they are engaging in the play with them. To support child-directed play, students need time and permission. Teachers and adults in all settings can help set this up by making sure they have downtime every day. Depending on the needs of each learner, this can start as structured down time with more access to leisure skills and work towards independent time with no adult-directed activities. Some children may need encouragement. It’s okay to take time to just play! When the adults are involved in or monitoring peer play, I occasionally see the adults jumping in when there is a problem. One proactive strategy is to teach and embed the size of problems, social stories, or what to do in social interactions. This way, we as the adults can observe when there is a problem in the classroom, as long as everyone is safe. Observe and watch the problem solving and teach our learners to work it out together.
Below are some favorites to include in curriculum:
- Digital Social Stories- Adapted Book Series- Behavior Edition
- Inference Boom Cards
- Kids Like To Play
Using visuals around the classroom is important in all types of classrooms, clinics, and environments. Looking specifically at play, the following are examples of visuals that help adults and children alike.
- How do you feel?
- Sentence starters for peer interactions
- Contriving the environment by limiting access to highly preferred toys, having toys in a large locked bin, or putting toys up high to encourage communication in all modalities
- Limiting the amount of students in the center
- Used timed rotations to keep and gain interest of each learner
- use center-based learning to teach eagerness to learn
- Structured play boxes
- Visuals within each game that are modified for each individual
Play can be structured, unstructured, academic, language based, adult facilitated, or child led but should always be fun and engaging. Play can include social/emotional learning, literacy, language, and so much more. The type of play and strategy being used can change from child to child, center to center, and even moment to moment. Take advantage of this time to rotate between who is controlling the play, what materials are being used, and what skill is being taught. As always, HAVE FUN!