Pretend play is crucial for a child’s cognitive, communication and social development. But how can we as SLPs and parents use this activity to target specific language goals?
There are a few rules to follow when using pretend play to target specific goals:
1. Choose interesting materials: If your child is not interested in the materials you are presenting for play than they will not want to participate in the play. So simple to understand, yet sometimes we get caught up in our own ideas and what we think would be fun for our kids, that we miss their signs of disinterest. So keep your child’s likes and dislikes in mind and choose specific materials, dress up clothing and toys that are of interest to your child. (My rule of thumb: If a child’s eyes don’t light up when I pull out my materials, I change it up! I give the child/children a few choices and they tell me what they want to play with).
2. Choose materials that lend itself to targeting your goals: For example, if your goal is to increase a child’s vocabulary or understanding of categories and you have noticed that he/she does not know the names of many pictured foods or the differences between fruits and vegetables, then playing with fake food would be a great way to target those skills.
- If your goal is to improve social skills by taking turns, joining in play, sharing, etc. than you want to make sure you DON’T have enough materials for everyone. This way you create an artificial environment where a child will have to request objects, wait for his turn, take turns with others and learn how to share.
- If your goal is to improve articulation skills, and your child is working on specific sounds, try to pick several (if not all) toys and materials that have the child’s particular sounds in them. Its a GREAT way to model these sounds in play and possibly encourage generalization of speech production to play (if you child is at that stage).
- If your child has sensory issues, try to incorporate some of the materials he/she has trouble processing on a TOLERABLE level (low music-if noise is an issue, tactile issues-how about shaving cream, rice, flower, various homemade play doughs, etc. in the sensory table, play with REAL food-if textures are an issue).
- If your child is working on specific grammatical structures (complete sentences, understanding prepositions, etc.) make sure you create an environment where he/she has the opportunity to use those skills or if he/she cannot do that yet, provide several opportunities where you will model these skills. E.g. Your child is working on understanding concept of “where”. You bring out a few play materials and then after some time, misplace one, then “remember” where you misplaced it by giving your child simple directions to “get the (toy) under, in, behind, the…”. E.g. Your child uses only names of objects and you want him/her to create phrases and sentences. You can put down a few toys and have a clear box/bin out of reach but visual so your child can ask for the toys he/she wants in a sentence (I want the ___) or question (Can I have the ___?) format.
- If you want different types of sentences using self-talk and parallel talk (see this blog for more details on these skills) is a GREAT way to give your child stimulation and modeling of these skills.
Just keep your child’s strengths and weaknesses in mind and you’ll be able to provide just the right about of assistance to make play fun while he/she learns.
3. Keep track of progress: This is the MOST difficult thing sometimes for parents and therapists to do. How do you keep track of all the things a child is saying and doing while playing? We are going to learn that in the next blog. Stay tuned!!!
In the meantime…keep playing…and happy talking!!!!