As a Play-Based Speech Therapist, I get asked this question all the time - "How can I use play in group sessions?"
I really believe that once you have mastered using play-based speech therapy in 1:1 sessions, you can transfer those skills into a group setting. It is completely possible to use play-based therapy in a group!
Before I get started, I want to define what Play-Based Therapy is and what it isn't. Play-Based Therapy does not mean doing whatever the child wants. Play-Based Therapy means using activities that are enjoyable for the child that offer plenty of opportunities to practice their speech and language goals naturally throughout the activity.
Here are a few tips to help you use play-based therapy in a group therapy setting:
1) Start with Play-Based Therapy in 1:1 sessions: Set yourself up for success. Before you jump into using play-based therapy in group sessions, make sure you are very comfortable using play-based therapy in 1:1 sessions. This will make adjusting activities with 2+ kids in the room much easier!
2) Choose activities and materials that you are familiar with: Do not choose new toys, books, or games that you haven't used a lot in the past - you don't want to be fumbling to read directions or figure out a game with a group of students watching! By choosing an activity that you have used many times, you will be able to adapt it, as needed, for your students. This will help you head into your session confidently! I recommend choosing one of your all-time favorite activities to get started.
3) Choose activities that can be used to target a wide variety of goals: Chances are that your students are working on different goals. Don't choose an activity specifically designed to target one goal. Choose open-ended activities, or activities that are easily modified, to bring into your group sessions.
4) Have enough materials for everyone: Let each student have their own set of toys/objects. Some affordable toy ideas are dinky cars, figurines, balls, and toy animals.
5) Work together to accomplish a goal: Work collectively to complete a task. For example, make a pretend soup together or help all of the animals. Each student can use their individaul items to help complete the task. Make sure give each student a role that requires them to practice their speech/language goal. For example, the student working on s-blends can say 'stir' when you stir the soup and the student working on past tense -ed can tell everyone what just happened (e.g. she stirred). Other ideas themed therapy ideas include:
Farm: Everyone is a farmer collecting food and feeding animals
Vet: Everyone is a Vet and all the animals need to be helped as soon as possible
Winter: Everyone needs to help the stuffed animal get dressed before he goes outside
Monster: Everyone has to find food to feed the monster before the timer runs out
6) Use a variety of activities: Keep your students engaged by using different types of activities. Use a combination of books, toys, gross motor activites, and games to keep your students learning and engaged.
7) Take turns: This sounds simple enough, but it is really important to keep the chaos out of your therapy room. By setting up activities that require everyone to take a turn, your session will run so smoothly. To encourage your students to take turns you can read social stories, use a waiting hands visual (hands drawn on the table for students to place their hands on), or use a my turn/your turn visual (There is one available in my Huge Language and Behavior Visuals Bundle).
8) Use a visual schedule: A visual schedule can really help all of your students anticipate the activities that will be taking place in the session! Feel free to check out my blog about how to use visual schedules in therapy!
I hope these tips and tricks will help you bring play into your group therapy sessions!
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