Pretend Play: Keeping Track of Progress!

Data Collection is probably the most difficult thing to master when participating in pretend play with our clients/students/children.  How can we PROVE that progress has been made?

**Picture courtesy of**

Here are a few things we need to think about first:

1.  Baseline skills:  the most imporant thing to do prior to determining appropriate goals in a pretend play situation is to get a baseline of your child’s skills in this setting.  Remember: skills will vary based on setting, so if you have been working on drill type tasks, don’t be surprised if your child’s accuracy decreases once in a pretend play scenario.  Does this mean pretend play is not effective?  Of course not.  It simply means your child has not been able to generalize those skills to this type of communication situation.

So, how do we get a baseline?  Well for children working on articulation, voice, and fuency skills, I tend to take a running record  and use periodic data (so data from the first 2-3 mins of session, middle 2-3 mins of session and ending 2-3 mins of session).  This gives me insight on how well my students are using the skills I have previously taught them to produce their target sounds or use appopriate voice or fluency techniques.  Taking periodic data throughout the session, gives me an idea as to whether there is a time my students are using their skills with better accuracy than others and it allows me to participate in play with my students without continuously taking data.  Remember that baseline data means NO CUES from you!

For conversational language skills (this included language in play) I created a simple checklist.  I added all the skills I would typically expect to see in conversational language and during the ENTIRE session (no periodic data here as language opportunities fluctuate so quickly in play), I simply put a check next to the skills the child exhibits.  If something seems to be emerging, I’ll write a little note for myself.  After the session, I simply review the information and choose which skills I’d like to focus on during pretend play.  This checklist can be used at least 3xs, once as a baseline and two more times as reassessment periods.

Grab your copy of this checklist and informal data collection form (discussed below) here!


I also created a simple informal social skills checklist where you can assess social skills much the same way as above.  This can be used as a observational form in the classroom environment or as an comparison of use of functional social skills among the therapy room, classroom or other environments.

You can grab this checklist and the informal social skills data collection form (discussed below) here!


2. Choose the goals you want to focus on in pretend play:  after taking adequate baseline data you will quickly be able to see your child’s strengths and weaknesses and where your assistance is needed.  You’ll be able to create simple goals you can focus on in the following pretend play sessions.

3.  Data Collection:  Now we are ready to collect data.  But the question is how?  Here are few tips:

    • Keep it simple!  Focus on one or two goals during a play period.  This way you can participate in the play while keeping track of your child’s responses and progress. 
    • Know what you are looking for!  Be specific in the goal you want to accomplish! 
    • Use the simpliest form of tracking if you are keeping quantitative data.  If you are looking for a % of accuracy or correct resonses, use the most simplest form of data collection.  It could be as simple as a strip of paper that says “prepositions” and everytime your child uses a prepostion correctly he/she gets a +, if not at – (I personally prefer 1/0s but most people like +/-s).  At the bottom of the strip take notes of what you think is important.  E.g. Maybe you notice your child using “in, under” correctly but he/she is not always using “behing, between” correctly.  Then after this play period you know what specific prepositions you need to work on next.
    • If using qualitative data, use key words rather than full sentences/paragraphs:  When in play, your child wants your attention!  He/she does not want you to be writing the whole time.  I have found if I just write key words down on a piece of paper, I can spend more time playing then after the session I can put this information into a paragraph format. 
      • E.g.  You are working on your child using prepositions and he/she drops a toy and it rolls under the table.  Your child says “Oops it fell.  Under the table. I get it!” I would just write “Toy-‘under table'” to remind me, the toy fell, where it went and that the child used those words. 
      • If you are working on social skills.  Many times the same social opportunities are not repeated multiple times in a session/play period (you only introduce yourself once, you only ask to play with friends once) so qualitative data is the way to go.  But this also means that this is the exception to the rule to focus on a few goals.  Sometimes the social skill opportunities that present themselves are unplanned.  So you can target and teach several different skills in one play period.  Don’t worry.  You can still keep your data as simple as possible. 
      • E.g. Your key words:  “Intro(- model needed), Join(pick toys, no words, imitated), Request (+ “have it?” hand out)”.  From these key words my data narrative might be something like this:  

        • “Johnny entered the room with two other children and an adult silently.  He did not introduce himself but rather went to toys in the middle of the room immediately.  Johnny required a model to introduce himself to his friends.  When wanting to join a group, Johnny was able to imitate the appropriate words to do so.  When another child had a toy he wanted, Johnny correctly demonstrated the ability to request by holding his hand out and asking “Have it?” independently, followed by correct imitation of “Can I play with the train?”.

Remember to track progress as close to immediately after a session/play period as possible:  This way all the information you just wrote shorthand on your data sheet is fresh in your mind.  This is not possible to do immediately after in an environment where you have several speech sessions after another but if you can write enough information down during the session and record it later that day, you have a better chance of recalling more details than if you wait longer periods of time.

Above I mention use of data collections forms.  You can grab them at the links above.

Do you use a different way to take data during pretend play sessions?  Please, share your ideas below!

Keep playing and happy talking!