If you're anything like me, I felt like I had no idea what I was doing as a Speech-Language Pathologist for a LONG TIME. Thirteen years later, I can tell you one thing - I should have given myself more credit and you should, too!
During my career, I have had some really good first sessions, and some really bad first sessions. (kids running away, toys with missing pieces, parents yelling - I've seen it all). These "stand out sessions" always left me self-reflecting about how I can improve.
Thinking about what made my good sessions good, and what made my bad session bad, made me realize that the GOOD sessions have FIVE things that the BAD sessions don't.
These are my FIVE MUST-DOs during the first session. Why these five? These five help my session run smoothly and help me get all of the information I need.
1) Have the parents complete a case history before the session: I guess technically this isn't something to do during your session, but it will help you have a smooth session (which is what we all want!). I ask parents to complete it before the session because it saves time in the session, allows me to get to know the child before I meet them, and it gives me time to prepare any questions I want to ask parents. Feeling prepared is half the battle!
2) Get down to the child's level as soon as you meet them: This helps the child feel more comfortable with you and really helps build rapport. This is probably the easiest tip to implement and is incredibly effective.
3) Set the room up as an invitation to play:
Have 5 of your favorite toys available for the child.
Simply lay them out around the room and see what happens. My favorites are open-ended toys: a doll with a blanket, blocks, a car, bubbles, and a ball. These provide lots of opportunities for language and interaction. Get down and play with the child or observe while talking to the parents - I usually do both! Make sure you have a pen and paper handy to get your language sample!
4) Be YOU!: This sounds so lame, but it's so true! Don't get so wrapped up in being an SLP that you forget to connect with the child and the parent. Listen to them, laugh with them, and empower them. I have learned that when you take yourself too seriously - others won't.
5) Use quick and easy forms: Having a great collection of easy to use and thorough forms for you and for families is a MUST. A good form will save you time, prevent fumbling (I know I'm not the only fumbler!), and help you get the information you need from your session. After years of writing the same thing over and over again, I knew something needed to change. I created an assortment of forms that have changed my life! I really think these are the reason I was able to give play-based therapy a chance - I had the time to try something new!
I have included links to some of my favorites here, so feel free to check them out.
Make sure to also grab this FREEBIE: Let's Talk about how your child PLAYS! I have made it available to subscribers and it might be my favorite resource I have ever made! This double-sided form will help you gain a deeper insight into your student's play skills during that first session. It will give you information about the child's attention span, how they play with toys, how they play with others, and what they enjoy. You can fill out with a parent, or have the parent complete it on their own. Sign up for the email list to get your access code!