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  • Writer's pictureJamie Giannino

All Work and No Play?

Tips from a Speech Pathologist on using Play to Maximize Learning

With School back in full swing, many parents are worried about their kiddo’s academics, and eager to work them back into shape for school. Depending on the grade level, this can look a bit different for your little ones.

Parents come to speech therapists eager to work on letters and sight words; while this is an important and exciting skill for your littles- there is so much more to building communication skills than just numbers and letters! I understand how proud parents are that kiddos know all their letters. But can they use them? Do they understand letter-sound relationships? Or, are they just really good at memorizing letters?

Of course, parents are eager to get a jump start on academic skills that’ll prepare littles for kindergarten. But are these the right skills to teach children at this tender age?

The biggest question I get is: “why does speech therapy look like you’re just playing?” Shouldn’t the children be WORKING?!

I’ll talk about why all work and no play does not make a successful speech therapy session.

“Play is a Child’s Work” according to renowned psychologist Jean Piaget. Speech Therapists know play is the foundation of almost all learning in early childhood. Decades of research shows us that play is an essential part of a child’s development.

Speech Therapists like myself provide children with time for both structured and unstructured play. This is how many early skills such as: communication skills, fine & gross motor skills, social and emotional skills, and life skills develop from a young age.

The American Academy of Pediatrics backs up this claim, stating that play is fundamental for developing 21st-century skills such as problem-solving, collaboration, and creativity.

No Child in my 8 years of practice as a Speech Therapist has ever made progress without having fun. If you can make an activity fun, engaging, colorful, and collaborative, you have primed your child’s brain to maximize learning potential.

Some tips for incorporating fun into academics from a speech therapist herself:

  • Get Messy: Kids love making a mess. What is more fun to a kid than that? Set up taste-safe play opportunities: Take a cookie sheet and spread cool whip. Use a finger, graham cracker, pretzel rod, or berries to write out letters.

  • Get Active: Kids love to run around and use energy- Why not set up a scavenger hunt for letters in your backyard? Have the kids run from letter to letter, such as “hmm, im looking for the letter that makes the /b/ sound… first one to find it wins!” bonus- they’ll be ready for a nap afterwards!

  • Get Free: Speech Therapists at our practice use a child-led approach. Any play a child engages in can be narrated. In fact, children love role-playing games, collaborative play, and performative play. Does your child take a baby doll and pretend to be Mommy? Or assign you the role of Daddy? These play schemes are incredibly important to development. Play with them, and talk about what kids are doing in play.

Play is foundational to all learning. Kids cannot learn when they are angry, sad, upset, bored, hungry etc. Speech Therapists and parents work together to create the best scenario for learning. There is tons of research from experts on incorporating real world academic skills into play with great results.

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