Monday, November 5, 2012

Pretend Play: Why it's Important!

 I was at the Dollar Tree in early September and look at what I found?!!  Some great Halloween/ dress up goodies for...well you guessed it, $1 a piece!
Look at the wonderful pretend play outfits I found for a total of $6 (plus tax)!  Pretend play is sometimes overlooked in the Speech Pathology world because we are trained to "make the most" out of every speech session, have the most possible trials, teach the skill, practice the skill, and ABOVE ALL take LOTS and LOTS of data!!!! 

So one can imagine how hard it is for SLPs to have evidenced-based therapy sessions with tons of data IF we do not have control over the context the entire time!  The truth is, I struggled with this for a long time and it wasn't until I worked with some amazing early childhood teachers that I realized how important pretend play is for language development, social skills, and cognitive development. 

According to the article titled. Pretend Play: The Magical Benefits of Role Play, by One Step Ahead  the benefits of pretend play are numerous as it faciliates:
  • Imaginative thinking and exploration
  • Abstract thinking
  • Problem Solving
  • Life skills
  • Leadership skills
  • Communication development
  • Social Skills development
  • Use of "Theory of Mind" (understanding/taking another's perspective)
  • Understanding of safety
  • Self-confidence and a high self-esteem
**There is a theory some researchers believe that pretend play actually creates synaptic connections!  This has yet to be proven but if so, participation in pretend play could positively impact IQ!**

There are SEVERAL different kinds of pretend play:
  • Dress Up:  probably the one most of us think of when we talk about pretend play.  Do you remember the box of mom and dad's old clothes and shoes you used to play dress up?  Dress up teaches children about jobs and roles within the community as well as creates social situations they can work on using language to successfully navigate. 
  • Imitation of Adults:  If you have a child, you will surely remember the phase where they wanted to help you with the housework and vaccuum, dust, dry the dishes, etc.  They wanted to imitate mom and dad.  What you might not have known was that they were learning while having fun.  Even if they don't "do it right" or "take too long", let your child participate in these activites!  You can always have a clean house AFTER they've grown! :)
  • Imitate Real-life:  this includes when your kids play "grocery store", "library", "doctor", "restaurant", etc.  They learn social skills and appropriate language for these situations simply by playing.
  • Acting out Stories:  children love to become their favorite characters, which is another reason reading to your child is so important.  When acting as a character, your child is learning "theory of mind" (how to take on that character's perspective), which is one of the most important social skills a child can learn!
  • Perform "On-Stage":  Your child or children will eventually begin to want to take center stage and perform for you (the audience).  In performances there are characters, with various feelings, a setting (various situations), sometimes a problem and resolution, the characters have "lines" (scripting), and there is a beginning, middle and end (a true narrative) to the story.  Your child will learn how to navigate these situations cooperatively with his/her peers to put on a successful performance!
  • Create pretend play space:  This occurs when your child turns a box into a rocket, or hands you a "cup of coffee" (which is really a piece of tupperware with blocks in it), or puts his shoe to his ear and talks into it as if on the telephone.  Your child is pretending that objects are actually other objects.  This is not the time to say "NO, you don't drink blocks!".  This is the time to encourage this type of imagination.  Maybe your child has NOTHING in his hands but he will swear that he "hit that monster with his frisbee".  No your child hasn't lost his mind, in fact, he/she is using his/her mind more than ever before!  So what you do say?  "Wow, thanks for getting that monster and keeping me safe!" 
As an SLP, we can rationally understand the benefits of pretend play but still struggle to incorporate it into our therapy sessions.  But here are a few lessons I have learned that will hopefully make you want to put on a mask and cape and play superheros with your students/clients:

1.  I learned that IT REALLY IS OK to let go and follow the child's lead, then use our wonderful evidence-based techniques (modeling, echoing, expanding, feigning confusion, etc., click here for a complete list) to achieve these goals. 
2.  And IT IS OK to use qualitative data for these things as well (the key is really knowing what qualitative data you are looking for; once you figure that out you'll be just fine).  
3.  IT IS OK to encourage a healthy self-esteem and cooperative play with a group of students/clients!  
4.  When a parent comes to you and ask why you just play in speech therapy, IT IS OK to educate parents on the positive effects pretend play has on cognitive development and future academic skills!  
5.  IT IS OK, ethical, and clinicially appropriate to provide age-appropriate therapy activties (and this does include pretend play)! 

So what does this mean for parents and SLPs out there?!! When working with the little guys...we need to play with our kids!  We need to follow their lead!  We need to present amazing, interesting materials (whether it be dress up clothes, a doll house, sensory table full of goodies, etc.) that will target the child's goals (vocabulary, expressive and receptive language skills, and yes...even articulation).  And then...we need to sit back, and be quiet for a bit (hard for us SLPs).  See what they do!  Watch how they problem solve, how they use and play with these new materials.  THEN...we give them the language for it!  You won't get a ton of pluses or minuses on your data sheets, but by the end of the session, you'll know if little Johnny was able to ask his friend for a toy he wanted using appropriate language, and you'll know if Susie was able to use socially appropriate language to "order" lunch from the "restaurant" in your room!

Later this week we will discuss specifics on how to choose appropriate materials, effectively target goals, and collect data during pretend play sessions!

Enjoy playing...and as always...Happy Talking!!!!

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