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Let's Play - The Value of Play Through the Eyes of a Speech Pathologist

TOPICS | Parenting | Education | Special Needs Posted Tuesday, March 4, 2014 (1,247 views)

Let’s Play!
Play with Me!
I Want to Play!

As parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins, or friends, how many times have you heard those words uttered? Being the adults in a child’s world, we always (or maybe I should say more realistically, sometimes) agree to play. After all, who can rightfully turn down a cute face smiling up at you looking for some attention?

But what is play? What does it actually mean when you sit down on the floor and gather up some toys and begin to play? Maybe it’s a farm or a dollhouse; or maybe it’s a board game, some blocks, or trains. Whatever the play entails, you do it. You move some pawns, role play, dress up in crazy costumes, or make sounds and silly noises. Everyone is happy- especially your partner in crime. You’ve played. Now what? Do you know what you’ve actually done?

As a Speech-Language Pathologist for over 18 years, I’ve played with hundreds of children- 2 of them are my own. I’ve played everything you can imagine. From farm to pirates, trains and kitchen, blocks, gears, and everything in between, chances are, if you can name it, I have probably owned it, played it, or made it up as I’ve gone along. There’s been no game that’s been out of my reach. If I haven’t owned it, I have figured out a way to recycle and reassemble assorted toys and games to make a child happy and meet my speech and language goals. I have also discovered that any toy, be it as big as a treehouse or small as a whistle, can be adapted to meet any speech, language, or educational goal if the right vocabulary is used and elicited.

This brings me back to my original question: what have you accomplished when you’ve sat down to play with a child? From a pragmatic standpoint (aka social skills), you have helped your child learn how to take turns, establish and maintain eye contact, learn the act of patience (well...maybe not if they’re really young!), reciprocity, role play, pretend play, establish joint attention and play (playing with someone else and not alone or along side someone). From a language perspective, play teaches a child new vocabulary- being able to speak it and understand or identify it, how to vocalize sounds, noises, words, or sentences, and increase their sentence length all from models they hear or are exposed to when playing.

Children also learn to answer questions asked of them, learn routines and when to use language associated with these routines. Most toddlers learn very quickly that throwing something on the floor should always be followed by “uh oh,” or that when Mommy or Daddy offers something undesirable, the correct response is a resounding “NO!” From a motor planning and articulation standpoint, play can be the most fun and engaging way to work on targeted sounds, words, phrases, and sentences without making a child feel that they are running through boot camp drills.

Last, but by no means, least, sitting down to play with a child face to face without your fingers and eyes on today’s technological devices, shows your child that they have your undivided attention. By playing real toys with a real live person, your child learns and experiences the world around them. They learn how to read body language, react to facial expressions, and use language as a means of communication for which they can obtain needs, comment on the world around them, and make jokes and laugh with another human being. There is no app in the world that can teach these priceless skills.

Throughout my career, play has, and continues to be, an integral part of my everyday world. It is the modality that children relate to, crave, and thrive from. Whether you sit down to play farm and make animal noises and sing songs, or you play with a simple jack-in-the-box, the skills you are instilling in your child are invaluable and will help them grow and develop abilities in more areas of language than you could have possibly imagined. The next time you hear the cry “I want to play,” know that you are helping to create, nurture, and encourage learning that your child will have for the rest of their lives.

Contributed by
Elise Duryea

Elise Duryea is a New York State Licensed Speech-Language Pathologist and Teacher of Speech and Hearing Handicap with a private practice on the Eastern End of Long Island. Since completing her Master of Arts at New York University 18 years ago, Elise has been providing a variety of speech and language services to children and adults. She works with children from birth through high school with Expressive and Receptive language disorders, Auditory Processing Disorders, Motor Speech and Articulation Disorders, Stuttering, and Oral Motor and Feeding issues. Elise is also a PROMPT certified clinician which enables her to utilize the therapeutic technique designed for individuals with motor speech disorders. In addition to her work with children, Elise provides parent training and consultation services on an individual basis to help parents learn what to expect with language and social development, how to enhance their child’s skills in their homes, and what to do when developmental issues arise. Elise holds a Certificate of Clinical Competence (CCC) from the American Speech- Language Hearing Association (ASHA), and is a recipient of ASHA’s ACE award for her commitment to continuing education. She resides in the Hamptons with her husband and two sons.


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