As we learned last week, play is the work of children. But if incorporating therapy into pretend play is a little outside of your comfort zone, there are other, more balanced ways to play and achieve therapy goals. These three examples of game modification may only be the tip of the iceberg, but it could give you some great ideas for other activities.
Convert Schoolyard Games into Language Exercises
Especially for large groups, turning an active game into a therapeutic exercise kills two birds with one stone. It gets students up and moving, as well as working on speech goals.
Modifying traditional games like “Mother May I” or “Red Light, Green Light” is pretty simple. In the case of “Mother May I,” modification could be as simple as changing the phrase to something that works on specific clusters, like “Ms. Spider,” instead of “Mother.”
One way to modify “Red Light, Green Light” is to give one child stop and go signs attached to popsicle sticks and position him far from the other players. Explain that the other students are on a school bus trying to get to school. The student holding the signs gives verbal stop and go commands while raising the appropriate sign. If he incorrectly pronounces “stop,” the bus keeps moving forward until he gets it right or the bus reaches the school.
Add Exercises to Mobile Games
If you’re a fan of a rewards-based system and technology, you’re probably no stranger to handing over a tablet to let students play learning games (or just games). But it doesn’t have to stop at applications developed with speech and hearing therapy in mind, says Barbara Fernandes (founder and CEO of Smarty Ears Apps).
This requires homework on your part—that is, playing the game—but it could be applied to a whole slew of casual games, like Angry Birds™ or Cut the Rope™. You can approach games (or levels) in a couple of different ways:
Play through the game yourself. Pick out vocabulary by level or the game as a whole. For example, for Angry Birds, you might choose: bull, release, drag, shoot, tap, bird, pig, yellow, red, black, strategy, bounce, or explode.
Before you begin each level or scene, ask the student to describe how they’re going to complete the task. When they clearly explain what they’re going to do, you let them complete the level.
Giving, Restating, and Following Directions
That’s about it. You give students the steps to complete the level, which they must repeat aloud and follow. Fernandes suggested throwing a little fun in there by relaying unintuitive or wrong directions every now and then, just to check if they’re listening.
For groups, it works somewhat like an assembly line. You give a single or two-step direction to the child, who completes the task. The child then gives the next student a single or two-step direction, and the game continues from there, fostering not only communication, but collaboration.
Chronological Order Challenges
This approach allows students to develop their own strategy and work on describing the order of events. After they complete a level, the children discuss the order of events, trials and errors, and how they felt during the level.
Incorporate Turns With Accomplishments
While this strays a little more towards “work,” rewarding turns acts as a motivator to achieve play. The process is simple. You drill the student on a word, sound, or other spoken goal. Every time the child successfully completes a task, they receive an turn for a game at the end.
For example, reward each good response to an exercise with a penny. After the child has collected, say, five to ten pennies, take a break and let the child toss pennies into an egg carton or ice cube tray. You can compete with the child, or this can work as a group activity. Once the pennies are tossed, tally the score, and go back to exercises.
This method can work with just about anything—be it puzzle pieces, shots with a basketball, or shots with a catapult. You’re giving the student direct motivation to complete their exercises correctly.
As stated in the previous post, play and therapy need to be balanced; if you get too distracted by the “play,” you miss out on the therapy. But the benefits of growing both language and social skills certainly could warrant an unplanned distraction or two.