Building Communication Through Play

Who doesn’t love to play? It’s nature’s way of making learning fun! Kids with severe speech and motor issues need to play just as much as the next kid. In fact, since they may not be able to access play activities by themselves, it’s that much more important for us to provide opportunities for play.

Photo courtesy of drewnew at Flickr Creative Commons

Smart therapists have known the value of play for a long time. My daughter had the world’s absolute BEST physical therapist from the time she was three until just last year. Mr. Tom is magic. He could turn hamstring stretches into a delightful rowing trip across a mountain lake. The tilt board might be a bucking bronco or a spaceship dodging meteors. His fantastic games transformed work into play and physical therapy became a highlight in my little girl’s week.
We can follow Mr. Tom’s lead by creating play in our children’s days. An imaginary story line can turn dull routines into an adventure; it can distract a child’s mind from discomfort. It doesn’t hurt mom or dad to take a walk on this lighter side either. Take it from a mom who tends to be a wee bit too serious at times…
Play is the work of children. In play, they work out social patterns. They exercise their minds and their muscles. They discover scientific principles. They develop language.
It is language development we want to look at today. Those story lines Mr. Tom used exposed my daughter to rich language. Regardless of a child’s expressive ability, she needs to be filled up with wonderful words. I hang tight to the hope that one day my child will have a means of self-expression (just look at how rapidly technology is advancing to accept unconventional forms of input). When that day comes, she will already have in her possession a powerful vocabulary. We need to fill, fill, fill…through talk, through reading, through play.
We also need to give our kids an abundance of opportunities to express themselves. Play is a chance for them to try out vocabulary and language structure. There just isn’t a lot of opportunity for rich expression during some of the mundane tasks that fill our kids’ days. Taking medicine, changing a diaper, and brushing teeth just don’t pull in many colorful words. But play…wow! Think of all the rich words that come as cars and trucks race along a carpet roadway. The play kitchen is ripe with actions and descriptions of smells and temperatures. There are play sets for Little People on the farm, in a doll house, on a bus, in a school that lend themselves to tremendous vocabulary.

Photo courtesy of John-Morgan at Flickr Creative Commons
Children who lack the physical skills to act out the play themselves may learn to direct the play. They can tell you what to do, how to move the characters, what dolly needs. When my daughter was preschool age, she and I spent countless hours on the floor acting out play with Little People (we owned way too many sets, but they were purchases I could justify as being “therapeutic,” right?). She loved caring for her favorite dolls by telling me what to bring her for them or what songs to sing them at naptime. These were activities she would have done for herself if she had been physically able; instead, she developed a large vocabulary to let me know how I could help her act out the play. Because it kept her in charge and involved, she didn’t seem to mind me acting as her hands.
The only down side to this was the time it took me. Playtime was a commitment, as was the prep time for creating the vocabulary symbol cards. But I look at it as an investment in my child’s development. Is there any more important use of my time than spending it with my children? Besides, it gave me an excuse to act like a kid.
Those of you whose children might be interested in directing play with dolls will want to keep checking back. Over the next few days, I am posting a giveaway for a symbol notebook for doll play. Stay tuned…
Happy Thanksgiving to all of you living in the United States!
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Playtime Communication Book...and GIVEAWAY!

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