Play is our brain’s favourite way of learning. – Diane Ackerman
As speech pathologists who work with children, we have seen and heard some truly funny things in our therapy sessions.
One that springs to mind was when I was working with a young boy on procedures and sequencing. In this session, we were going to make fairy bread, and I was certainly surprised at his response when I asked him what we needed to do first. He responded with: “Well, first we’ll have to kill the fairy.” When he saw that I looked shocked, he continued: “Don’t worry, it would just be the tooth fairy!”
Moments like these are what make each session special. Every child has their own way of experiencing the world and our therapy sessions need to reflect that. These moments also remind us of the fun that needs to exist in these sessions to not only keep a child engaged, but to ensure the information imparted is remembered.
Now I bet that the young boy in this story remembers his first impression of fairy bread, just as much as I do.
But the idea of fun and play goes beyond the moments sparked by an innocent response to a question. Play and fun is an integral part of the children’s therapy we provide, and I will explain why within this article.
Play Based Therapy
Nobody likes doing something that they know they are not good at repeatedly. And children are no different. Therapy and the practice associated with developing language and communication skills can take time. It is because of this that speech pathologists need to be inventive with how they keep a child motivated and interested throughout the session. Play is one of the best ways to do this.
Introducing play scenarios or games that are associated with a child’s interest will appeal to their natural sense of curiosity, can help them develop a positive attitude towards learning, and motivate them to participate. Essentially, your child is practicing a speech sound, a new word, a sentence or working towards another goal; all while having fun playing their favourite game.
Furthermore, we know that play is tied to a child’s development not only linguistically, but socially, emotionally, physically, and cognitively as well. By introducing play in therapy, we can also cultivate a child’s ability to play in a broader context, help them understand turn-taking and increase the scope of their communication skills.
How We Put the Fun in Therapy
At A Growing Understanding, we implement a few key strategies to ensure the children we work with stay motivated and achieve their goals in a fun environment:
Interests are Interesting
Simply put, a child will be more interested in what you have to say and do if they can relate to it and understand it. By introducing books and games that align with their interests, anything from fire trucks, to fairies, animals to astronauts; we can capture your child’s attention and keep them motivated throughout the session.
Bite Sized Pieces
Breaking bigger and harder therapy tasks into bite sized pieces can be much more palatable for children. We find that doing lots of smaller activities, interjected with movement, play or reward breaks, is better than one long activity. Think little and often.
Excitement is Contagious
If you feel bored in a therapy session, chances are the child does too. That is why we ensure we are excited and engaged in everything we do. A child will not be able to do their best work if they are bored, so we ensure the tasks are enjoyable for both the therapist and the child.
Small Reward, Big Return
We all like to be rewarded for the good work we do, and children are no different. By offering small rewards throughout the therapy session, we are elevating a child’s confidence and encouraging them to keep trying. And that is what we need to see results.
Shake It Up
Incorporating movement and music in a therapy session can be a great way to lift the vibe of the space, move attention away from a task that is frustrating or challenging, alleviate stress, and shake it up. Doing something new and unexpected, particularly if it involves movement, can be just what is needed to enhance the outcomes of a session.
We learn through fun. It is the fun moments that we remember. Fun motivates us, helps us to engage and most of all, ensures we enjoy what we are doing. Fun is a big deal in a child’s world, as that is what it is all about.
Think of it like this – fun is the light. Without fun, the emphasis is placed on the challenge, the dark. When we introduce fun, the light shines in and can help your child grow.