Updated: Sep 13, 2020
Say a word. Take a turn.
See a card. Say a word.
Say 10 words. Have a break.
This is how I did therapy for my first few years as a Pediatric Speech-Language Pathologist because this is the way I was taught! It wasn't until I met a little guy, let's call him Mike, that I began using a play-based approach. When Mike began therapy, I was using a traditional "discrete" therapy. This means saying a word that is not related to the activity and then having a reward (break, play break, taking a turn in a game).
Let's talk a little about Mike.
Mike was about five years old and he had a speech sound delay.
Mike was difficult to engage.
Mike was a very active little guy.
Mike wasn't buying into therapy.
We were lucky if Mike practiced his target words ten times a session. After a couple of sessions, he looked me right in the eye and said, "this is BORING. I just want to PLAY!". I was shocked. "We ARE playing, aren't we?". To which he very bluntly replied "Not really."
Apparently adult-led activities with stipulations aren't considered "playing" to a five-year-old.
I left that session with my mind blown. All this time I thought we HAD been playing. I always brought games and stickers and toys. Wasn't that enough? Then I realized what was missing: play that doesn't have prerequisites.
When children are playing, they aren't expected to do X, Y, Z before they are allowed to play - they just play!! So, I knew it was time to mix it up.
I brought the same activities to our next session but my session looked completely different. I had target words jotted on a piece of paper and I worked them into the activities naturally. For example, rather than saying "spoon, spill, and spider", while playing Snakes and Ladders, we practiced "slide and snake". Rather than driving cars over articulation cards, we drove cars and practices the word "smash, speedy, spin, slam." We practiced words that were related to the activity! It made a world of difference.
Mike was a completely different kid in that session. He was engaged, motivated, and excited! I worked with him for a few months and then he was discharged. Although he was only in my life for a short period of time, I will never forget him. I have never gone back to my "old way" of therapy. He changed my entire therapy approach and made me a better speech therapist, all by calling me boring!
Stay tuned for future blog posts about how to implement play-based therapy. Follow me on Instagram and Facebook for play-based therapy ideas!