Play is often referred to as ‘The Work of Childhood’ as this is how young children make sense of the world, problem solve, take risks and develop those all important language and social skills. As dedicated Educators and parents, we love seeing our students immerse themselves in different play opportunities and the learning that follows.
But how do we support those students in early childhood who are struggling to develop play skills? One of the best evidence-based ways is through introducing visual supports into play.
Who Benefits from Visual Supports During Play?
The short answer to this is ALL CHILDREN benefit from visual supports to develop play skills! But specifically, visual supports can help children who are struggling with:
- Social skills, including Neurodivergent students (those with Autism, ADHD, ODD or other similar diagnoses)
- Language skills, including those with Developmental Language Disorders or Intellectual Disabilities
- Attention and Engagement Skills
- Selective Mutism or other Anxiety-based diagnoses that impact communication skills
So how do we implement visual supports to help our students develop their play skills? Great question! Let’s dive in:
5 Ways To Use Visual Supports to Develop Play Skills
1. Use Visual Supports to Encourage Social Interaction During Play
When we think of play skills, we think – ‘let’s be social!’ But for children with additional needs, approaching other children appropriately to play can be quite overwhelming. Your students may struggle with approaching the group, have difficulty with waiting for an appropriate time to interrupt or struggle with asking to join in the play.
Visual supports can help remove this barrier as the picture provides an additional cue to help remind your student what they need to do.
Try modelling to your students to take a ‘Let’s play’ visual over to their peer as a gentle way to start the group play process:
2. Use Visual Supports To Teach Turn Taking Skills During Play:
Children with additional needs can find it difficult to take the perspective of others and as a result, often struggle to understand that other people would like a turn of the game or activity.
A visual support such as a ‘My Turn’ Wheel can help prepare your students as they can see whose turn it is and when their next turn will come.
After each person’s turn, say, ‘Great waiting! It’s XXXX’s turn!’
3 Use Visual Supports to Expand Your Student’s Play Ideas
Many children with additional needs can have very restricted play skills, meaning that they interact with toys in very specific, limited or repetitive ways. Whilst it is important to give your students this time to engage with the toys the way they feel most comfortable, offering new play ideas can increase their play flexibility and open up the potential to teach new language!
Visuals such as these are wonderful for teaching new ideas in play – the visual prompts are permanent, meaning that your student can process the information in their own time and space, long after your verbal message of ‘let’s build a tower’ has gone. This is particularly helpful in busy classrooms where background noise can make it more difficult to process verbal information.
Try showing your students two or three visual supports for play ideas. Say ‘Should we KICK the ball or ROLL the ball?’. This also encourages lovely choice making skills AND teaches action words! All in one activity. Can anyone say ‘multitasking?’
4. Use Visual Supports to Build Sentence Structure:
Children are more likely to learn new language skills if they are engaged and motivated. And what better time to ‘catch’ students being motivated than during their favourite play activity!
Use this time to model appropriate sentence structure such as ‘I can….’, ‘I choose….’ or ‘I want…..’ simple sentences.
Are you ready to take your play centres to the next level?
You can secure ALL the visual supports you’ve seen in this article plus so many more in the ‘How to Play With Toys’ Visual Supports Pack. This comprehensive resource is your go-to visual supports pack to develop play skills in the areas of:
EXPLORATORY PLAY: Bubbles play, Balloons play
FUNCTIONAL PLAY: Toy cars, toy trains, dolls, ball games
CONSTRUCTIVE PLAY: Wooden blocks, kinetic sand, duplo, magnetic tiles
PRETEND PLAY: Playing ‘Doctors and Nurses’, playing ‘Camping’, playing ‘Grocery Shopping’, playing ‘Tea Parties’