February 21, 2019

10 Ways to Incorporate Learning Into Play Time

If you were to watch a therapy session in person, one of the first things you would probably think to yourself might be “wow, kids play so well with their therapists!” On top of that, you’d also notice that they’re learning skills, and applying those skills to new situations while they play. That’s cool and all, but what about at home? How can parents get their kiddos to take those skills from the clinic, and use them in the real world? NEURO-DIVERSE TIP ALERT: This stuff works for every different kind of kid…we’ll explain!

Well, first of all, remember that therapists are people who are literally trained in playing with children…but then also tying in skills they’re teaching? Yeah, that part takes a little more training. But we’ll spell out the basics for you. All it really boils down to is:

  1. What motivates your kid?
  2. What skills are they already working on? What skills have they mastered (or really learned?) hint: ask your BCBA!
  3. Tying those two things together by finding ways to rope those skills into play based activities that your child already likes.
  4. Keep it light, keep it fun, and keep it positive (with praise!).

Check out some of our suggestions below. Remember, each of these skills can be modified based on the skills that your kiddo is currently working on generalizing, and your child’s specific interests. Always ask your analyst which skills are appropriate to use for play with your child, and remember that your analyst can model some appropriate play for you too ahead of time. The more motivated your child already is by an activity, the easier time you’ll have tying-in some skills.


Beep Beep! The next time you’re playing with race cars, use a piece of paper to draw 10 parking lot spaces! You can draw the numbers 1 through 10 on corresponding spaces, and count them out loud as you take turns parking them! When your child doesn’t know the next number, slowly start to sound it out and see if he catches on–if not, help him out with the full number! Modify this by adding new numbers to the lot once your kiddo learns them!


Or “Arrrgh-dentifying pirate booty” as we would say in Pirate Speak. Make a pretend treasure chest out of an old shoe box, and fill it with some pretend gold. Sprinkle in a few “fun” finds of things that your child is starting to learn how to identify (Ask your therapy team for a list of items your child has learned!). Take turns pulling the items out and saying what they are in your best pirate accent! “Arrrrgh me matey, I see a fork!” Mix up the objects as your kiddo learns the names of new items!


A Land before…..table time. Get your Dinosaur toys ready to help practice this skill away from the table, and back in the playroom! Snap and print out some real life pictures of your kiddo’s favorite Dino figurines (or substitute with any other type of preferred toy!)! Have your child match the picture to the item to bring their favorite dino into the jungle for the ultimate dino battle. When they match the picture, give them vocal praise and bring the dinosaur into the arena! PRO TIP: It always helps to practice your best pterodactyl noises in the privacy of your own home.


Grab your buckets and shovels–it’s time to build a sand castle! Take those colored buckets and keep them out of your child’s initial reach. Take out two or three buckets at a time, and wait to see which one your child reaches for. When they show interest, ask them “What color do you want?” If your child reaches towards a specific bucket without saying the color, you can model the word for them by saying it out loud. If they say the color, give them that color bucket and praise by saying “Good job! That is periwinkle!” Ok, maybe stick with primary colors initially, but you get the point.


“Simon says…..JUMP!” Practice some fun actions during a game of Simon Says! For new actions, do the action with them so they can see how it’s done! For actions you’ve worked on before, see if they can do it by themselves before helping them out. Always pair the correct responses with lots of praise (especially the tough ones)!


Anyone remember playing freeze? Pick a fun song that your kid already loves to wiggle to (but one you’re not seriously over hearing on repeat already). Blast the music and dance it out with your kiddo. But make sure they’re ready to freeze in some silly poses when you pause the song and shout “FREEZE”! Follow it up with “good job listening!” and tons of high fives after each successful freeze. This is a fun one to bring some other kids in, like siblings!


Grab some cookie punches from your local baking or craft store, and punch out pepperoni slices into different shapes to top your homemade pizza! You call out the shape, and your child has to find the right one to put on the pizza! Reward yourselves with lots of laughter, praise, and some cheesy goodness at the end! Too easy for your kiddo? Switch it up by either having them name the shapes you’re pulling out, or by making patterns on your pizza. Pizza makers gonna shape shape shape.

8. “COPY ME!”

Strike a pose! Take some silly pictures of your family doing super ridiculous poses, print them out, and turn them into cards you draw out of a bucket. Take turns pulling out different poses and trying to copy the person on the card! If your child gets it right, always give them kudos and praise. Jump in and offer a little help if they don’t get it by themselves after a few seconds!


If your child is working on imitating sounds, now’s your time to whip up some fun paper animal masks! You can DIY these if you’re feeling crafty, or pick some up at your local craft store. Put on a silly animal mask, say “copy me!” and make an animal sound. Any time that your child imitates that animal sound, offer them a lot of praise and high fives by saying “good job copying me!”


While you’re maybe not ready to “hit the courts”, you can bring a basketball style game into play. Put a few different color baskets around the room (within your child’s reach), and a bunch of different balls in the middle that match the colors of the baskets. Grab your timer, and see who can correctly match and “dunk” the most number of balls in a minute! 13/10 your kid thinks this game is ballin’…would dunk again.

If you’re still a little unsure about how to put these into play, check in again with your therapy team! Each of these should be slightly modified for your child, their skills, their favorite activities, and their needs. If you’re a little unsure how to come up with the best Pirate accent, stop by one of InBloom’s centers! We have a few kiddos there every day that are pros.