If you have ever spent time in the waiting room of Melbourne Child Development, you have no doubt seen the Speech Pathologists whizzing past with their arms full of games, pushing a tub of blocks or dragging a plastic kitchen behind them. While many of us love thinking of new ways to set up fun sessions for our clients and families, playing and using games in therapy is good for many different reasons:
1. Building strong relationships: Many children are quite shy when they meet a new person, and this is no different when they start therapy with a new Speech Pathologist. Playing games can help to break the ice, with fun and laughter being a great way to quickly build good rapport. Continuing to have fun, even when the child has been attending therapy for a while, is a way of maintaining a strong and effective therapeutic relationship with the child. Research tells us that this relationship is one of the most important factors to therapy outcomes, and so by making the sessions fun, we are working to strengthen and maintain this.
2. Increasing motivation: Through play and games we are able to introduce many different concepts or goals (that can often be quite difficult or dry) in a way that is exciting for the child. In this way, they want to continue working on the goal because it is enjoyable (intrinsically motivating). This can lead to children to continue longer with tasks that they might find difficult or can increase the frequency of a therapy target by building it into a repetitive game.
3. Promoting generalisation: Research shows us that children are learning more when they are having fun! By working on goals through play or with games, the child is able to begin using the targets in a more natural way (i.e. in the way that they typically would outside of therapy). This means that when they play a similar game or in a similar way at home or at school, they are more likely to accurately use their therapy targets.
4. Helping with regulation: Children can sometimes feel tired, stressed or worried when entering the room for a therapy session. On the other hand, some children are over excited and full of energy at the prospect of another great session. Whichever the case, being in a state of dysregulation can impact on the child’s participation within the session. Starting off the session with a game can help the child regulate and gives them time to physically and mentally prepare for the learning that is to come.
5. Creating positive experiences: In therapy we challenge children by asking them to complete tasks that they find difficult. A fun game can often be the reward needed (an extrinsic motivator) to help children continue trying in tasks they may be having little success with or are finding hard.