If you work with younger-aged students, then planning play-based speech therapy sessions can help you save time with lesson plans and increase engagement with students!
You can adapt toys to cover multiple goals, so you can use the toy in many of your sessions. I love utilizing a toy or a pretend play theme for many of my mixed group sessions! Adapting materials sparks joy in this SLP.
Today, I wanted to share all about what play-based speech therapy is, how this benefits the child, the stages of play, and tips for how to be a rockstar SLP with play therapy! Ya ready for some practical therapy info? After this blog post, you will be confident with doing play therapy with your students!
What is play-based speech therapy?
Play-based speech therapy is when a speech pathologist (SLP) plans speech and/or language activities around a play toy or activity. The SLP will create opportunities for the child to practice the target skill while enjoying motivating toys and activities that are relevant to the child’s interests.
- Children are motivated to engage and communicate when playing with materials of interest.
- Play-based therapy helps increase attention and build better positive interactions.
- Children learn the social skills necessary for playing with toys and make progress on speech and/or language goals in a naturalistic setting.
- The child will make better connections with real-life events and will improve memory.
Types of Play That Can Be Targeted in Play-Based Speech Therapy
- Functional play – investigating how common objects work and are used
- Construction play – building things with objects
- Game play with rules – board games that have a clear set of rules for playing
- Outdoor and movement play – activities that involve physical movement
- Symbolic, dramatic, and pretend play – common activities are done in everyday life as play
The Five Stages of Play Children Use
- Stage I: Onlooker play – watching and observing (under 1 year of age)
- Stage II: Solitary play – playing by themselves (between 1-2 years of age)
- Stage III: Parallel play – playing near others but not engaging with others (between 2-3 years of age)
- Stage IV: Associative play – playing with others but sometimes playing by themselves (between 3-4 years of age)
- Stage V: Cooperative play – playing with others and will not continue to play without a partner (above 4 years of age)
Tips for Implementing Play-Based Speech Therapy
- Let the child take the lead during the play activity as much as you can without moving away from the target goals. When doing play-based therapy, it is important for it to feel natural and not clinician-directed.
- Avoid commands such as, “Say this” during the session. When we put too many demands on students, it takes away from the “play” aspect of therapy. Instead, give 5-10 second wait times after modeling a word or phrase to see if the child initiates a question or a comment.
- Find toys and materials that are relevant and interesting to the child. Participation will increase with the right toy.
- If the toy/material is motivating for the child, then use it more than one session. Lesson planning will take less time, and students will have more engagement with the skills.
- Provide two toys or play options in a session. Allow the child to help make decisions about what he/she wants to play with. Re-introduce toys/materials that were not interesting to the child in the past. They may have a new interest in the toy.
- Set a timer and have visual supports for students that need preparation before ending a play session. This will help decrease or eliminate unwanted behaviors during transition times.
- Model speech and/or language skills that you want the child to learn. You can show the child how to get a toy that he/she wants, show how to play with a toy, or use a new phrase the child can use while playing.
How to Use Toys in Speech Therapy
If you are needing ideas for toys to use in your speech sessions, I have a lot of blog posts that share how to adapt toys for many goals. Your play-based speech therapy sessions will be easier to plan when you have toys that can be adapted for many activities. Check out these posts:
Do You Struggle with Remembering All the Targets While Playing with Students?
Between managing attention and behavior, as well as working on IEP goals during play, it can be cognitively overwhelming for you as a clinician. We want to maximize those play-based sessions, but it can feel like a workout coming up with relevant targets off the top of our heads. That’s why I created Toy Companion Cheat Sheet Guides for 18 popular toys. It comes with wh- questions to ask, verbs to target (over 36 for each toy), Tier II vocabulary, articulation words to use, carrier phrases, basic concepts, adjectives, and 10 therapy ideas to implement with each toy. Whew! That’s a lot of skills. You will be ready for your therapy in minutes and can even use these to train parents and teachers with how to use toys in a functional way! Need this in your life like yesterday? Head to my store and grab it HERE.
What Are Your Tips for Play-Based Speech Therapy?
Do you have any tips for implementing play-based speech therapy with your students? Have you found some success with using toys to help your students with complex speech and language needs? I would love to hear your tips!
And, I would love to know your favorite toys or pretend play themes you enjoy using for therapy. Share in the comments or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with your ideas.