How To Help Your Child With Special Needs Develop Play Skills

This shop has been compensated by Collective Bias, Inc. and its advertiser. All opinions are mine alone. #PlayWithPlaymobil #CollectiveBias

Did you know that play doesn’t come naturally for all children? Some children, especially those with developmental disabilities and specifically those on the Autism Spectrum, may find play challenging (especially pretend play). In fact, one of the early Autism signs that Lucas showed at the age of 2 was his lack of play skills. When he was younger, he typically just gathered toys in piles or lined them up. His skills have developed some but still his play time often consists of him acting out stories he has heard or seen other kids (or his favorite video creators) play. Not much of his playtime is filled with creative play ideas that he has thought of and developed himself but his ability to play using different play patterns has greatly improved over the years.

Lucas went through years of developmental therapy where he would sit with a trained therapist and play while he worked on his other skills like motor skills, language skills, and social-emotional skills. Even though he worked on play skills at therapy, I still feel like as a parent, a large part of my job in those early years was modeling play and showing Lucas how to play, both with toys and with other children. I wanted to share some tips from my experiences over the years for any other parents that might have children who need to be taught how to play.

 

(Hover over the image above to get more information about the PLAYMOBIL toys shown and to purchase at Walmart!)

First, providing skill level-appropriate toys is a must and just as important (if not more important) than making sure toys are age appropriate because many children on the Autism Spectrum have younger interests. I love toys that kids can practice a variety of play skills with, from functional play to imaginative play and cognitive play to emotional-social play. Toys like PLAYMOBIL that feature iconic, realistic characters children have seen before (like the sets that feature community helpers) are wonderful because they can “drive” the vehicles around, mimic things they’ve seen firefighters and school bus drivers do before, portray a character’s emotions while playing, and (hopefully eventually) make up all kinds of stories with the character toys and their props and playsets. My kids love their PLAYMOBIL Take Along Police Station, Rescue Ambulance, and Rescue Ladder Unit. These toys are made to last and I love all of the details that go into each set!

PLAYMOBIL toys are classics but they are new on Walmart’s shelves so I was happy to find a great assortment of sets there and you are sure to find something that will interest your child. We ended up purchasing three different sets but there are a lot more on our wish list. Personally, I thought the fantastical dinosaur ones were pretty cool while Jacob had his eye on the Police Cruiser and Lucas wants to add the school bus to their collection.

Second, show your child how to play with their toys in the most basic ways. If your child typically just gathers or lines toys up, they most likely do not know what to do with the toys. Pick up a play phone and pretend to talk on it or roll a play vehicle back and forth and make sounds the vehicle makes (or press buttons on toys like these to start siren noises).

Third, play with your child! I would often role play different situations with the toy characters and talk out loud about what I was doing as I “played” so not only was Lucas seeing the toys being played with in different ways but he also heard my train of thought while playing.

Fourth, try out different environments during playtime. I love taking toys outdoors on nice days (and I’ve been thankful for these last couple of 80 degree October days here in Chicago!). You can also head to a local park or playground or even play in your sandbox if your child doesn’t have an aversion to the mess. This will help them transfer their play skills to different environments easier so they can take skills from their home to the classroom or a friend’s house.

Fifth, schedule a short playdate with another child who they know and stay nearby to help your child navigate through difficulties that may arise. While children may not play with the other child, having another child there provides the opportunity for social play should your child choose to engage in it. Even just one or two social interactions at the playdate, like practice sharing or taking turns, is beneficial when learning cooperative play skills.

Lastly, don’t give up! Teaching our kids to play can be challenging sometimes because they may not show interest or it may be difficult to break their repetetive actions as you try to teach them something new but keep at it. I know it can seem like there is a list of skills a mile long you are working on and it can be overwhelming but learning play skills is an important part of childhood and something many children with developmental delays or who are on the Autism Spectrum can learn with practice.

I hope these ideas have helped! What other tips do you have for helping children with special needs learn how to play? I’d love for you to share them with me on social so I can pass them on to my readers! Find me on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. You can also find more fun play inspiration here!

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Helping Children Who Have Developmental Disabilities Learn How To Play

Thanks to Hasbro for sponsoring this post and creating this amazing resource for families.

The importance of play is something I feel passionately about, and something I’ve written about numerous times before here on the blog. Play helps children develop a number of skills such as learning to cope with their emotions, learning to share, and developing their communication skills. As important as play is though, and as simple as it might seem to some, play is not something that comes naturally to all children. Some children, especially those with developmental disabilities and specifically those on the Autism Spectrum, may find play challenging.

I remember when Lucas was younger his “play” time consisted of gathering toys or lining them up. There was no playing, and that was one of the red flags that the developmental pediatrician noticed when evaluating him before diagnosing him with Autism at the age of two and a half. Still to this day, even though his social skills have developed and he no longer spends his time lining things up, he doesn’t really “play”.  He still loves to gather toys and sometimes he participates in what looks like imaginative play but, in reality, the majority of his “play” is just acting out things he has seen other kids do or things he has seen on television or YouTube.

While some children may always have trouble with this skill, many just need a bit of help learning how to play. For children with developmental disabilities, play isn’t always accessible out of the box. More often, countless toys are relegated to the back of the closet or the donation bin. Even more importantly, the joy and benefits that play can bring — the connection to peers, siblings and other generations — may be lost. Hasbro saw this happening and wanted to help so they created ToyBox Tools in collaboration with The Autism Project, to help make play more accessible to children with developmental disabilities. ToyBox Tools is a collection of resources for parents, teachers, and caregivers to help them engage children in the joy of play using some beloved Hasbro brands, including My Little Pony, Transformers, Playskool, Baby Alive, and Hasbro Gaming.

Through the ToyBox Tools website, visitors can browse the tools online, and then download and print them for use at home or in the classroom. The tools help with three different levels of play, from basic play to expanding play to social play. The tools encourage positive behavior during (or through) playtime. Resources include:

  • Playbooks with step-by-step instructions on how to play with select Hasbro toys and games
  • Wait cards to teach children the skill of waiting while others are taking a turn
  • Countdown timers to help support the passage of time and number of turns
  • Playmats that serve as a fun and useful backdrops for play
  • First/then boards and sequencing cards that help children with multi-step tasks
  • Break cards children can use to indicate that they need a break during playtime

I really love this resource that Hasbro and The Autism Project have created and it’s one that I wish had existed when Lucas was younger. These supportive play tools provide a kind of structure that is critical to the way certain children manipulate concepts to understand play and the instructional videos, printable materials and play-mats are designed to help families, caregivers and teachers unlock the power of play, and to make play more fun and enjoyable at a child’s own pace.

Hasbro toys can be purchased at HasbroToyShop.com, but the ToyBox Tools resources found at Hasbro ToyBox Tools are free for parents to download and use.

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How We Can Make Sports Fun Again For Our Children

Thanks to The Genius of Play for encouraging this discussion and sponsoring this post.

My boys have been playing sports for years and I’ve written, in the past, about how important sports are to our family. There are many benefits to playing sports like learning the importance of teamwork, learning to be responsible, realizing the importance of practice, getting exercise, learning to lose graciously, and developing friendships. Recently though, I was asked if I considered sports as playtime for kids and I definitely think that sports can count as play, but not always.

When children kick around a soccer ball at recess, sports are play. When kids shoot baskets on the basketball hoop at the end of their driveway, sports are play. When a group of neighborhood kids head to the baseball diamond to play an unorganized game of ball, sports are play. When kids join a recreational sports league that stresses fun over winning, sports are play.

Play is fun so if a child is having fun while playing sports then yes, sports can count as playtime for kids. The problem comes though when sports stop being fun. There recently was a survey done by the National Alliance of Youth Sports that showed that 70 percent of kids in the United States stop playing organized sports by the age of 13 because “it’s just not fun anymore.” To be honest, I don’t think it’s that sports stopped being fun but the expectations that adults put on children and teens that turn sports from play to work. Though Jacob still enjoys playing numerous sports year-round, I sometimes feel like this competition and pressure to perform perfectly has started to show even at his level. Jacob just turned nine and has already been in situations where coaches got angry when they didn’t get a hit, didn’t make a goal or weren’t running fast enough on the field.

This breaks my heart. The pressure young kids are facing to compete, perform perfectly and specialize in one sport are, among other things, causing our children to stop playing sports at a time in their young lives when they really could benefit from the things that sports teach them. The good news is that we, as parents and coaches, can remind our older children of how much fun sports can be and make sports an enjoyable activity like it once was for them.

Here are some ideas we can all do (myself included):

  • We can encourage them to play sports they enjoy regardless of whether they are the best on the field or not.
  • We can encourage them to keep trying when they get frustrated.
  • We can remind them that it’s just a game and if they don’t win that is okay.
  • We can encourage them to get off their screens and go outside to play ball with their friends.
  • We can cheer them on with encouraging words even if they don’t get that hit or make that basket.
  • We can join them outside and play catch or kick around a ball with them.
  • We can enroll them in sports leagues that prioritize fun over winning.
  • We can remind them that the only competition there needs to be is the competition with their past self to try to be better than they were yesterday.
  • We can support the friendships they make through sports.
  • We can remind them that their sports performance does not determine their worth.
  • We can encourage them to develop other non-athletic talents alongside playing sports.
  • We can help children learn to accept their mistakes and help them discover what can be learned through the losses they experience.
  • We can ensure our children have time to play outside of sports.

I believe that if we make sports fun again for our kids, sports will once again become play. So what do you think? Do you consider sports play?

The Genius of Play, a not-for-profit organization that encourages play, recently asked this question (and others) as part of their new Genius of Play video campaign. Here are what some other parents think about the topic:

I’d love to hear what you think in the comments below and I hope you’ll join me in making sports fun again for our kids. Check out the Genius Of Play site for more play related ideas!

What Children Learn Through Play

Thanks to the Toy Association for sponsoring this post as part of their Genius of Play campaign.

Did you know that kids learn through play? Whether they are building with blocks, playing with dolls or running around the playground, play is an important teaching tool! Through play, kids learn how to interact with others and develop critical lifelong skills. Today I’m sharing 6 benefits of play and how they each play an important role in raising well-rounded children. I’m also sharing some fun activities for each in case you are looking for more ideas to keep the kids learning through play all spring and summer long!

PHYSICAL

Active play helps kids with coordination, balance, motor skills, and spending their natural energy (which promotes better eating and sleeping habits). While sports are a favorite way for my boys to play outdoors, they also enjoy creating obstacle courses, having water gun fights and batting balloons around trying to keep them in the air. When I was younger, my favorite active games were Sardines (like hide & seek but you hide with the people when you find them) and Capture the Flag.

EMOTIONAL

During play, kids learn to cope with emotions like fear, frustration, anger, and aggression in a situation they control. They can also practice empathy and understanding. One way that kids can work through emotions is by role playing- so things like playing house or with dolls is great for working on these emotional skills. Reading stories about emotions and talking about them and acting them out, like in this activity called Mad Face Scary Face, is helpful as well. Musical Feelings is a fun active, musical game kids can play to talk about emotions, too.

SOCIAL

Playing with others helps kids negotiate group dynamics, collaborate, compromise, deal with others’ feelings, and share – the list goes on. I’ve noticed great strides in my children’s social skills after they go to summer camps and over the years as they have been involved in a number of activities. Being around other children really does help them grow. Whether they are playing team sports, chasing after each other in a game of tag, or playing a board game, children learn social skills as they navigate game rules and learn to work together towards a common goal.

CREATIVE

By allowing imaginations to run wild during play, kids create new worlds, and form unique ideas and solutions to challenges. One of my favorite creative play activities is making mud creations. Children enjoy this messy fun and it’s a great way for them to be creative with nature. Open ended craft activities allow children to be creative as well. As a teacher, I’d often set out a variety of materials on the classroom tables and it was fun to watch what the children created out of the random materials they were given.

COGNITIVE

Children learn to think, read, remember, reason, and pay attention through play. STEM toys and activities are great for encouraging children to learn cognitive skills. Activity ideas include making marshmallow sculptures with toothpicks and marshmallows, playing 20 questions, and creating a marble run. Children don’t even realize how much they are learning because they are having so much more fun learning these skills through activities than they would have sitting in a classroom or doing worksheets!

COMMUNICATION

Play lets kids exchange thoughts, information, or messages by speech, signals, writing, or actions. There are so many fun activities that kids can do to strengthen their communication skills. I shared 25 fun writing activities here– from writing out a script for a play they can act out with friends to making a treasure map to using sidewalk chalk to create a town or race track for their toy cars. Another fun activity to do in Spring is to create a nature journal to draw pictures of what they see on their walks.

Want more activity ideas? Check out the Genius of Play website. What are your child’s favorite ways to play?

30 Fun LEGO Learning Activities

My boys love playing with LEGOs and have a massive collection of these brick pieces. I started looking around for LEGO ideas that would teach them something and wanted to share some here. These are my favorite LEGO activities that make learning fun!

Learn Math

Learn Science

Learn Writing/Reading

Other Categories

Playing With Purpose

(Disclosure: This is a sponsored post.)

When my kids were smaller it was always a joy to sit down on the floor with them and play. I noticed how much they progressed and learned just by playing with their baby toys and crawling around exploring the space around them. Bonding time with them through play at that age was priceless.

Today I am happy to announce a special fundraising and awareness campaign from Toys“R”Us, in partnership with Save the Children (a nonprofit committed to ensuring all U.S. children have a healthy start). Together, they are embarking on a mission to provide children in impoverished regions of the country with opportunities and resources to integrate purposeful play into their everyday lives; a factor proven critical in children’s emotional, physical and cognitive development and future growth.  The Play With Purpose campaign is designed to support Save the Children’s early childhood development programs – Early Steps to School Success, Literacy/Healthy Choices and the SummerBoost Initiative – which help children in some of America’s most underprivileged areas thrive. I love this special project because it will help all parents enjoy the bonding times through play that I enjoyed with my children.

From February 17 – April 17, customers can make cash donations at any Toys“R”Us or Babies“R”Us store, or online at Toysrus.com/PlayWithPurpose, to help bring learning through play to kids in need. Please take the time to watch this Save the Children video. It is worth everyone’s time to see it and share the video on social media using #PlayWithPurpose and tagging @Toysrus.

 

In 2014, Save the Children worked in 120 countries, including the United States, and helped more than 166 million children — including more than 55 million children directly. Together with the tremendous support of our donors and partners, we transformed children’s lives and the future we share. No one knows when or where the next crisis will hit. But we do know that children are disproportionally affected in times of crisis — and often suffer the most. That’s why Save the Children is dedicated to providing child-focused emergency readiness, relief and recovery in the United States and around the world.

Visit Toysrus.com/PlayWithPurpose to learn more about the program and make a donation. Donations will support Save the Children’s early childhood development programs, which help children in some of America’s most underprivileged areas thrive.

When my boys were younger our favorite way to play was stacking blocks and building elaborate train track configurations for trains. How about you and your kids?

 

Celebrate Play in the Windy City this Saturday with Let’s Play!

As many of you know, I’ve been working to help share the importance of play in the lives of children as a Play Ambassador for Let’s Play, a community partnership led by Dr Pepper Snapple to get kids and families active by providing them with the tools, places and inspiration to make physical activity a daily priority

Play is important to children’s physical, emotional, social and intellectual development. It is more important than ever for kids and families to get outside and play, especially in Chicago, where playgrounds are often lacking at public elementary and middle schools, according to research shared by the Chicago Tribune.

That’s why I’m so excited to announce that Let’s Play is helping bring play to Chicago this Saturday, August 9 and we want you and your family to join the fun! In the morning, Let’s Play will be working with its partners KaBOOM! and Good Sports and a team of volunteers to build a playground from the ground up at O.A. Thorp Scholastic Academy and donate nearly 2,000 pieces of new sports equipment valued at $68,000 to eight youth organizations in Chicago.

In the afternoon, you can come on down to #LetsPlayChicago, a FREE community event for families and kids of all ages, featuring fun play activities like bouncy houses, obstacle courses, face painting and snacks. The #LetsPlayChicago community event is from 12:30 p.m. 4:00 p.m. at O.A. Thorp Scholastic Academy (6024 W Warwick Ave., Chicago, IL 60634). It will be a fun time for all and a great way to get active with your family!

For more information and to register to join the fun, visit LetsPlay.com.

Disclosure: I am currently serving as a “Play Ambassador” for Let’s Play. This is a sponsored post, however, the opinions expressed are my own.

 

Join Me In Taking The “Let’s Play” Pledge

(Disclosure: I am currently serving as a “Play Ambassador” for Let’s Play. This is a sponsored post, however, the opinions expressed are my own.)

I’m excited to share that I’ve recently been chosen to be a Play Ambassador for Let’s Play, a community partnership led by Dr Pepper Snapple Group to get kids and families active by providing the tools, places and inspiration to make play a daily priority. I first realized the importance of play when I taught pre-k years ago. I saw first-hand how children learned through play more so than they did through any other way.

As a mom, I continue to believe in the importance of play but it is not so easy to integrate into life outside of the classroom. After a long day of work and driving the boys to their activities, I often just want to head home to eat dinner and relax. We have a backyard but the boys would rather sit inside and play legos or watch TV. I don’t want them to grow up and be couch potatoes so it’s my responsibility, as their mom, to get them outside playing.

With summer just around the corner I’m looking forward to warmer weather and more time outside. I decided that as tired as I am at the end of the day, it doesn’t take much more energy to sit at the park while they play on the playground than it does to sit on my couch. I figured we could spend 30 minutes to an hour at least a few times a week at the park. I recently heard about the “Let’s Play” pledge and signed it, pledging to engage my children in 120 hours of active play each week.

Along with playing on the playground, here are 5 other fun active ideas for kids this summer:

  • Go on a nature walk and make a nature collage with items they find
  • Have a toy wash. Grab a bucket of soapy water and a sponge and kids can have fun while they are cleaning their toys
  • Pull out the sprinkler and the slip n’ slide and cool off on a hot day
  • Play ball! Baseball, soccer, football, and other sports are great activities
  • Ride tricycles or scooters on the sidewalk

Want to join me and make active play a daily priority in the lives of your kids? You can sign the pledge here. Follow along on Social Media, too! Find Let’s Play on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram.

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