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Why Teach Through Play?

July 5, 2020

Beautiful toddler sitting on the floor playing with building blocks toys at kindergarten

Incorporating teaching opportunities while playing with your child can help transform your child’s day-to-day experiences and interactions.  First and foremost, teaching through play is fun!  Children typically want to continue activities that they enjoy doing.  By teaching through a preferred game and/or activity that your child enjoys, it will help create more learning opportunities for your child in the future.

Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) will learn more through play when there are many different materials and people, they are using the objects in different ways, or when there is reciprocal interaction with a play partner.  You can “mix things up” and try creative new ways to use their toys and other items in the home (boxes, sticks, sand, kitchen utensils, etc.) to expand on learning opportunities.  Your child does not always have to have a bright and shiny new toy!

All children are unique, and each child has his or her own unique challenges, interests, and disinterests.  Most children with ASD have challenges paying attention, engaging in social play with peers, using gestures and language, taking turns, imitation, eye contact, and playing with toys in a function or purposeful way.  These can all be addressed through play by finding your child’s “spotlight”.  Your child’s “spotlight” includes your child’s interests and preferences (a highly preferred toy or a highly preferred activity) and can be used to create excitement around learning.

For example, let us say your child’s favorite activity is bubbles.  You are blowing the bubbles and your child is smiling, looking at you, looking at the bubbles, reaching for the bubbles, and anticipating the bubbles.  We can use the bubbles as motivation to develop and build upon your child’s current communication into clear gestures, words, picture exchange, or sentences that fit their ability level.  You can model and prompt the following concepts: Again, my turn, your turn, bubbles, happy, pop, etc. When your child is interacting and attending to you through a preferred toy and/or activity, they are also learning from YOU!

Play is an effective method to deliver instruction because children are acquiring skills through positive social interactions with a caring individual. These positive social interactions look and feel natural and are developmentally appropriate which allows these skills to be easily transferred to family members and same-age peers. This instructional model also creates a safe and fun treatment setting where children “run to” rather than “run away” from treatment and learning. Especially in the early rapport building stage of ABA services, we want the child to feel empowered and lead the session. This helps to create a trusting relationship between the child and instructor. Your child wants to continue engaging in activities that are fun rather than feel like work. Isn’t this true for everyone?