What it is: Play-based therapy is a technique SLPs use for younger clients. Clinicians can learn about how children communicate based on how they play. Children discover the world around them via play skills. The nonverbal communication they exhibit provides us with a wealth of information (Smathers & Tiranauer, 1959). Play therapy is a crucial part of a child’s development and can lead to growth in the areas of social skills, communication development, cognition, problem solving, reasoning and imaginative thinking (Del Duca, 2013). There are different types and stages of play and clinicians use this information to structure a meaningful session that encourages communication skills!
(Some) Types of Play:
(adapted from: 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.)
Functional play: This type of play begins before age 2 and is typically seen in infants and young toddlers. It involves sensory and motor play and includes toddlers exploring textured books and toys, putting things in the mouth and climbing. This type of play continues through the later stages of play.
Symbolic play: This type of play begins around 2-5 years of age. It includes using materials to make objects (constructive play), such as building with blocks. It can also include play scenarios, where a child creates pretend play scenarios (dramatic play), such as playing with dolls and farms as well as taking off a shoe and using it as a phone.
Game play: This type of play incorporates rules and logic that begins during the school-age years. This includes card games and board games.
Below are some toys commonly used in play therapy and reasons why they’re a great choice!
Play Doh: Play Doh can be used to teach colors and simple vocabulary such as roll, smash and push. Add in some cookie cutters to teach shapes. Using anticipatory strategies is a great way for a child to learn a routine and start to imitate language. Pairing the big reveal of the cookie cutter with counting (one…two…three…) can be a great way to facilitate anticipation.
Baby Doll: A baby doll can be used to teach appropriate vocal volume (don’t wake the baby!), body parts (where’s the baby’s eyes?) and early life skills like feeding, bathing and nap time. Baby can be paired with all kinds of toys (food is a great option!)
Farm Animals: Work on animal sounds and naming animals in a fun way! Add in a song like Old MacDonald to make it a favorite!
Play Food: This gives our clients a great opportunity to practice a routine, learn kitchen-related vocabulary and use play utensils such as a knife to cut the fruits and veggies.
Blocks: Blocks are great for teaching important vocabulary words like up, down, bottom and top. They give a great opportunity for following directions and requesting!
Don’t forget that the best match for kids playing with these great toys is their play partner! Here are some techniques you can use while playing:
Self-Talk: Narrate all the things you are doing.
Parallel Talk: Narrate all the things your child is doing.
Repetition/ Focused Stimulation: Repeat the same words over and over.
Sabotage: Create circumstances where your child will need your help.
Pause Time: Give your child time to respond.
Verbal Routines: Use the same words during routine activities.
Smathers, S., & Tirnauer, L. (1959). Speech-play therapy. The Journal of speech and hearing disorders, 24(1), 59-61.
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.