Play for young children is crucial to healthy development. Pediatric therapists who work in early childhood education know the importance of play and how to use it to reach IEP goals that are set for specific children. When a child is evaluated for therapy services, the therapist observes the child in the classroom setting. Therapists will then often consult with teachers and school staff on using different toys, activities and centers to encourage practice of motor skills and sensory development. Here are several tips to fine tune your observation skills and to guide children's play in the classroom.
1. Observe the environment.
Can the child access all the toys and activities? Are activities practiced in different environments to encourage generalization of skills?
2. Observe what the child does during free play.
What toys does the child like to play with the most? During free play what centers does the child spend the most time in?
3. Observe what toys or activities the child prefers.
Just like learning styles in older children, you can assess learning styles in little ones by what toys they prefer. Does a child prefer visual, auditory, tactile or kinesthetic activities?
Once these questions are answered use the gathered information to create a plan of action. Make sure that if possible all of the toys are accessible for the children. Provide the classroom staff with specific ways to generalize skills across different centers. After determining a child's toy preferences use that knowledge to make suggestions regarding toy placement. If a child dislikes a certain center, try adding favorite toys into that center to initially engage the child. After these ideas have been tried and a child is still not engaging in certain centers, provide prompting by adults in the classroom. Make sure that the adults provide the least amount of prompting that is necessary. Prompting can be done along a continuum such as:
1. Present the activity to the child
2. Provide a verbal request to play.
3. The adult can model how to play.
4. The adult uses hand over hand to assist with play.
At each stage of prompting the adult should wait several seconds for the child to interact following the prompt before moving on the the next level of prompting.
Each time that you observe a child in a natural setting, remember to observe closely to ensure that the environment is suitable for developmentally appropriate play. What do you find works best to engage children in play? Do you have any other observation tips? Would love to hear what works for you...
Reference: DiCarlo, C., Vagianos, L. (2009) Using Child Preferences to Increase Play Across Interest Centers in Inclusive Early Childhood Classrooms. Young Exceptional Children 12:4 (31-39).