Play Based Speech and Language Therapy

What is play based speech and language therapy and why should you do it? Play based speech and language therapy is when a speech language pathologist focuses on a child’s speech and language goals around play (e.g., toys, games, etc.). Not only does play based therapy increase the child’s attention and engagement, it also allows you to target their goals in a more functional and naturalistic aspect. First, let’s talk about the types of play…


Types of Play:


Unoccupied Play- a baby or child makes movements with their legs, hands, arms, feet, etc. to discover and learn about how their body moves


Solitary Play- a child plays by themselves


Spectator/Onlooker Play- a child begins to watch others play, but does not yet join in play with them


Parallel Play- a child plays alongside or near other children, but does not play directly with them


Associative Play- a child begins to play with others, but sometimes plays by themselves


Cooperative Play- a child plays with others and shows interest in both the activity and the other children that they are playing with


How Can You Incorporate Play Into Therapy?

  • Keep it feeling natural and not clinician-based by reducing the demands
    • Don’t engage in drills or ask them to repeat after you
    • Do model their specific targets (see below)
  • Follow the child’s lead
    • Don’t sit back and watch
    • Do get on their level and interact with them
  • Provide them with choices of 2-3 toys, games, or activities 
    • Don’t provide them with toys, games, or activities that are beyond their developmental age
      • Don’t offer a 1-year-old a board game
    • Do offer both something they do and don’t like
      • They may show interest in the toy that they didn’t like in the past
    • Giving 2-3 choices makes them feel like they are in control (and limits the mess you have to clean up at the end)
  • Model their speech and language targets throughout play naturally
    • Don’t model every target they are working on at once
    • Do focus on a few targets at a time and be repetitive
  • Do pause and wait to see if they imitate you after modeling 
    • Have a timer handy
    • Don’t turn the timer on without explaining it to them 
      • You need to let them know that they have X amount of time left and what the expectation is when the timer goes off
    • Do use the timer to ease transitions into cleaning up as playing is fun!
    • Do use the timer consistently

Some of my favorite play-based toys, activities, and games are:

  • Felt or plastic food
  • Cars
  • Trains
  • Play people
  • Treehouse sets
  • Plastic animals
  • Blocks 
  • Farm sets
  • Bubbles
  • Veterinarian sets
  • Doctor kits

Play based therapy involves targeting various speech and language goals in a more natural and functional way, which ultimately promotes carryover of skills. A few more perks of play based therapy is building a positive child-adult relationship, keeping the child engaged longer, and teaches them social skills necessary for play. We all know that planning for therapy sessions can be extremely time consuming, but play based therapy requires you to pull out a toy, game, or activity and incorporate their goals into it! How simple is that? I encourage you all to incorporate their speech and language goals throughout play and see what happens…you may be surprised by the outcome!


Author: Courtney Rockhill M.Ed., CCC-SLP

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Disclaimer: The information provided in this blog is for general informational purposes only and should not be considered as professional advice. The content is based on the author's personal experiences, research, and opinions. It is always recommended to consult with a qualified professional or expert before making any decisions or taking action based on the information provided in this blog.

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