Friday, March 5, 2010

Don't Boss a Child Around and Call That Playing

An adult might think that he or she is playing with a child when actually the adult is just bossing the child around. Just because there are toys involved, it is not playing unless there is actual play going on.  This means that people are having fun with the toys. An adult telling a child what to do with a toy is not much fun.  Most children do not respond well to this.  A second bossy and totally not fun behavior that adults tend to do with children is testing.  This is when the adult asks a question like what something is called (even though the adult knows what it is called) or asks the child other questions that no other kid would ask in similar play unless the other kid were pretending to be a bossy adult.  You don't have to ask questions to make play a language activity, and most of the time, asking questions is the worst possible way to teach a child new language skills.  Here is what this non-play interaction might sound and look like:

Do Not Do This
Bossy Adult: You try it (pointing at a toy)
Child: (ignores adult)
Bossy Adult: Your turn (picks up toy and hands the toy to child)
Child: (takes toy but does not know what to do with it )
Bossy Adult: Takes the toy out of the child's hands and operates it then hands it back to child.
Child: takes toy and looks at it but still does not know what to do with it
Testing Adult: More? (Adult wants the child to say "more" in order to get adult to operate the toy again)
Child: ignores adult
Testing Adult: Say "more"
Child: Ignores adult
Testing Adult: Is it fun?
Child: Ignores adult (but if the child could he or she might say "No, this is not fun! Not even a little bit fun!  I don't even know what to do with that dumb toy!")
Bossy Adult: Give it to me
Child: hands toy to adult
Testing Adult: Say "help me"
Child: ignores adult because the adult has not sold the child on the idea that playing with this toy is fun and the child does not actually want help.
Testing Adult: It is not wound up?  Can you wind it up?
Child: Does not respond but looks at the toy again
Bossy Adult: You wind it up.
Child: Wanders off

Video tape yourself playing with your child and I know that some of you will find, to your horror, that this is exactly how you "play" with your child.  When you are teaching a child to play or teaching a child to communicate using play, you have to play.  It is a skill you had at one time and can get back.  If you don't play with the toy, why should the child play with the toy?   How will the child know what to do with the toy? There was nobody leading this not-so-theoretical child into play.  What the adult needed to do was start to play by first showing curiosity, about the toy.  The adult needed to look at that toy like a child would and let the toy be an inspiration for exploration and playfulness.  The adult could have made this toy an inspiration for social interaction, play and language by focusing on play, playing, and then inviting the child into the play.

Do This

Adult: Look at this
Adult: Let's see what it does.
Adult: Cool!  I like it. (adult needs to actually look excited about the toy and focus attention toward the toy not toward the child) Turn, turn, turn--wind it up!
Adult: Wow!  Your turn. (offers toy to child)

Child: Takes toy from adult but does not know how to operate it
Adult:  That's tricky.  I'll help.  Give it to me.  Turn, turn, turn!
Child: turn
Adult: turn, turn, turn (grin at child because repeating words is fun)

Adult:  Here you do it, it's ready! (hands toy to child)

Child: Releases the toy so it will fly across the table
Adult: Wow!  That is so cool.  Let's do more!
Child: More
Adult: Yep!  We will do more.  I will wind it, you let it go.  Turn, turn, turn....


TJ said...

Great post! Sometimes when I'm teaching students how to collect a language sample, I use similar examples. It's so hard for most of us adults to keep from asking questions & giving instructions...

Jordan said...

Great, simple way to explain this. Cutting those questions out is a HUGE change for adults and one of the best things we can do for language development!

Karyn said...

What a well timed post! One of the programs I work on has just introduced a much more playful approach to the teaching. The reminder to actually look at the toy like a child would, is helpful to remind me how to play. Did I really ever play? It is so long I can't remember.

Tahirih said...

Learning to play is hard for many adults but the mental switch into playfulness happens for me when I see the world through a child's eyes. A wind-up toy is amazing! There is science and magic waiting to be unleashed and explored. The wonderful part is that as an adult you can enjoy it all over again--it is not acting, it is being open again like taking a visitor around to see the sights in your hometown and realizing how beautiful and interesting the things around you really are. Playing with a child is like so many acts of generosity, it is hard to say who reaps the most benefit.

Paulene Angela said...

Great post and reminder ....

Ok Ok I've been guilty of that.

I'm reminding myself to not ask so many questions, just a little line like "What do you think?". Also I find getting down on the floor helps me to feel more like a child, instead of a giant.

Jocuri Gratuite said...

Great, simple way to explain this. Cutting those questions out is a HUGE change for adults and one of the best things we can do for language development!

Unknown said...

Great post! It's a good reminder to me of my EI traiing, which can easily slip in more structured school environments.

pamelela said...

Such a good "reminder" of just what play is! As a therapist, I need to remind myself of this frequently! Thank you!

ibeeeg said...

I am so glad that I have come across your blog. My son has apraxia as well as PDD-NOS and this past year with therapies has been horrid due to behavior issues. The summer therapy at school was good, but less structered and the therapist went with my son's flow. I have been wondering lately if a more play approach to therapy would be good for him AND I am thinking that most (including us) has appoarched my son in the way you described as the non-play way. Thanks for the insight.