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Play-Based Approach: 5 Reasons It's Not "Just Playtime"

Updated: Dec 25, 2023

Ever wondered why I’m so passionate about a play-based approach? It's not just about having fun (though that's a big part of it!). It's like a secret code to helping children develop their speech and language skills. Let's dive into the magic - Here’s 5 reasons why it works!

Reason #1 -

Regulation and Empowerment

Play-based activities function as a regulatory tool, integrating movement, sights, textures, and sounds to create a sensory haven for children. In my experience, regulation precedes engagement, facilitating communication, and empowering self-expression.

Here’s an example: Imagine a child squeezing brightly colored play dough in their hands. The soft, squishy texture offers tactile input and the resistance in squeezing provides proprioceptive input. The child also gains a sense of emotional regulation through their autonomy in the activity - making choices about color, size, tools, shapes, etc.

Now, let's imagine this child has a passion for animals. They decide to create a mini zoo with the play dough. Naturally, this activity holds their interest in a way that feels like joyful exploration rather than a structured learning task.

Reason #2 -

Imitation and Modeling

Children often imitate language heard during play, without any explicit instruction to recite those specific words. Why's that? The adult's model is perceived as low-pressure, which mitigates anxiety and stress the child may associate with speech tasks. Play offers opportunities for modeling sounds, words, and phrases in a context that holds meaning and relevance.

Here’s an example: Imagine a child has set up a pretend tea party. Stuffed animals are seated in a circle, and the child is the gracious host, pouring invisible tea into tiny cups.

For the parent, caregiver, or therapist in this scenario, language serves as a model for the child. Expressions like "Can I get some more?" or "Too hot!!" are modeled with zero pressure. In this setting, the child absorbs the language models, free from the worry of getting things "right." The encouragement to participate freely makes the language used meaningful and relevant for the child.

Reason #3 -

Vocabulary Building

Through play, children are exposed to a variety of objects, actions, and concepts. Naming objects in the context of play becomes a meaningful cognitive process, allowing children to establish connections between words and tangible real-world items. In contrast, traditional adult-directed structured tasks, where items are named in pictures, may lack relevance for the child, often leading to mere rote memorization without meaningful understanding.

Here’s an example: Imagine a child engaged in a pretend kitchen scenario. Amidst the pots, pans, and plastic fruits, they're exposed to a variety of objects and actions. As they play, these concepts become meaningful. For instance, the child points to a banana and says, “nana" - the adult expands with “yes, that’s a banana. A yellow banana. I like to eat bananas”. The child goes on to ‘feed’ the adult the pretend banana. This connection reinforces their dynamic understanding in a real-world context.

Now, compare this to rote-memorization of an object naming task during an adult-led/structured activity, such as vocabulary flashcards. During play, the child not only learns vocabulary but also connects words to real objects, actions, and concepts, for a meaningful learning experience.

Reason #4 -

Social Skills

Play often involves interaction with peers, caregivers, and characters within play scenarios which provides natural opportunities for teaching conversational skills (e.g., initiating, sharing interests/opinions, asking/answering questions, turn-taking). Beyond conversational aspects, play also encourages essential pragmatic skills such as self-advocacy, narrative language, problem-solving, and perspective-taking.

Here’s an example: Imagine a child and caregiver/peer playing pretend doctor's office. As they take turns being the patient and the doctor, they naturally interact with each other. Conversational skills come to the forefront—initiating discussions about symptoms, sharing thoughts on treatments, and taking turns in their roles.

Beyond conversation, the child, acting as the patient, practices self-advocacy by expressing discomfort. Or, in the role of the doctor, the child narrates a story about how the patient feels better after treatment, enhancing narrative language skills.

Reason #5 -

Cognitive Flexibility

Play encourages creativity and imaginative thinking, fostering the ability to adapt to various scenarios. This provides opportunities for children to explore different roles, perspectives, and outcomes - growing their flexibility. Play allows for open-ended and unstructured activities, promoting problem-solving skills and the capacity to adapt to changing circumstances. This eases children into engaging in dynamic and ever-changing environments, fostering resilience and the ability to adjust to unexpected challenges. Additionally, play supports the development of social flexibility by encouraging cooperation, negotiation, and compromise during collaborative play.

Here’s an example: Imagine a child immersed in building a pretend train set, complete with tracks, colorful trains, people, animals, and miniature stations. As the train faces challenges such as a towering mountain or a broken bridge, and the child actively problem-solves. They might modify the track layout or devise alternative routes, cultivating the flexibility to adjust plans in response to obstacles.

A make-believe train expedition isn't predetermined; it unfolds according to the child's creativity. This ever-shifting play setting fosters resilience as the child adapts to unforeseen twists and turns in their imaginative journey. In collaborative play, where the child interacts with others, they acquire the skill of negotiating and compromising on the train's course. This social flexibility is vital as they navigate collective decisions with playmates.

Not Just Playtime

At Sunny Skies, it's not just playtime; It’s meaningful progress in action! It's about creating a space where communication flourishes. Ready to join the fun? Click the link below to book your free consultation now:

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