Fort Myers speech therapists

Hardworking Speech Therapists Take Playtime Seriously

Pediatric speech and language therapy is hard work – best achieved through fun-and-games.

Adults tend to disregard play as a silly childhood indulgence. However, consensus among speech therapists AND child development researchers is playtime is pivotal in speech-language progress – and overall development. In fact, almost all learning in those first five years occurs in play-based exploration. Further, these skills take root much faster when adults actively participate in child-led play. 

FOCUS Fort Myers speech therapists have a treasure trove of toys, games, crafts and other fun things to encourage play, which directly spurs expressive and receptive language development. We’re also constantly on the lookout for new ideas. Sometimes we even make our own! Sometimes  playful interest is captured in the simplest forms, like mushing food, making a paper bag rattle or blowing bubbles.

How Play Promotes Speech and Language

Speech is the ability to express thoughts and/ or feelings via sound articulation. Language (specifically, receptive language) is the ability to understand when someone else is communicating with them. That’s not just understanding words but also pragmatics, which is the ability to read another person’s body language, tone of voice and facial expressions.

Many children with a wide range of special needs and delays struggle with both aspects to varying degrees. All children learn at different paces, but play is universal, no matter a child’s age, culture or ability. Our FOCUS speech therapists promote child-led play, meaning we let them call the shots. This way, they’re more engaged, interested and likely to soak in the lessons we’re teaching them.

When babies and children play, they are like little sponges, absorbing concepts and words through interaction with their environment and nearby objects. Example “blue, ball.” They retain spatial math concepts when playing with things like blocks or train tracks. Later, they’ll start engaging in more symbolic or pretend play (i.e., putting the puppy to sleep, feeding the doll, driving the trucks, etc.) and learn to grasp increasingly abstract concepts.

For play to be “successful,” though, at home, therapy and school, there must be more than sporadic or passive adult-child interaction.

Threats to Playtime Learning

Children may be intrinsically playful, but that can be lost if it’s not fostered. Too little attention from distracted parents and other caregivers is probably the most common, according to doctors, especially since smartphones have become such a ubiquitous in every day life. One study by the American Psychological Association revealed when mothers were teaching their toddlers a new word and their “lesson” was interrupted by a call, the children didn’t learn the word.

Technology is also problematic in that for many children, screen time has become a substitute for playtime that is more active.

Test-oriented curriculum at schools is another problem. Teachers have long noted “kindergarten is the new first grade,” with 5-year-olds preparing for tests, but given scant little time for free play, playground time, art and music.

Playtime Practice to Promote Speech

You don’t need expensive toys or a dedicated “playroom” to spark creative play conducive to learning and language development. It’s less about a certain activity than approaching discovery of the word in a way that’s both fun and fosters creativity.

So whatever activity you settle on, consider incorporating these skills, as outlined by The University of North Carolina, FPG Child Development Institute:

  • Be a commentator. Provide descriptions of activities, objects or events.
  • Labeling. Give children the names of all the actions or objects before you.
  • Tune in. Make sure your child is truly interested in the playtime activity or object.
  • Interactive reading. Choose books that encourage children to jump in.
  • Repetitive reading. Reading a book over and over can help children better grasp both the labels and concepts.
  • Props, Props, Props! Puppets are great. So are goofy masks or dress-up gear.
  • Make some music. Whether it’s with some type of instrument, banging on pots and pans or playing a dance song on your stereo, music can help the lessons stick.

If you have questions about games you can play at home to help propel your child’s progress, don’t hesitate to ask the speech therapists at FOCUS.

FOCUS offers pediatric speech therapy in Fort Myers and throughout Southwest Florida. Call (239) 313.5049 or Contact Us online.

Additional Resources:

Taking Playtime Seriously, Jan. 9, 2018, By Perri Klass, M.D., The New York Times

More Blog Entries:

Occupational Therapists: Why Kids Need More Time to Play Outside, July 30, 2018, Fort Myers Speech Therapists Blog

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