Maria Montessori described play as a child’s work! It’s what children do to learn about their environment, learn how to communicate with others, and learn how things operate. They learn to problem solve and develop their fine and gross motor skills through play. Play promotes brain growth.
Research has suggested that a child’s pretend play skills are linked to their language skills. If a child has delayed spoken language skills they may also have delayed pretend play. Children learn language through overhearing the language used around them, and then they use that language in their play. However for a child with a hearing loss, hearing from a distance and when there is background noise is more difficult, and so they might not hear other people’s conversations as clearly. This means that they may not have the same opportunities as typically-hearing children do to learn language by overhearing stories, problems, themes, routines or scenarios to add to their play.
By encouraging your child’s pretend play skills, you will help to develop their language skills, social skills and theory of mind. It also gives you the chance to model more complex vocabulary, new ideas and concepts, and explore others’ perspectives in playful interactions. Here are four easy ways to extend your child’s pretend play.
1) Add An Object
Show your child how to play with toys that are more abstract, pretend or imaginary. If your child plays with real objects such as spoons, blocks, and cars think about ways you can show them how to use more pretend objects in their play. Here are some examples:
- Use a toy spoon to pretend to feed yourself or a doll.
- Pretend to pick up and eat food pictured in the books you read.
- Use a tissue as a blanket when putting a doll to sleep.
- Pretend an ice cream cone or basket is a hat.
- Pretend the empty milk carton is a car.
- Take inspiration from the books you read with your child to show them how to ‘role play’ characters from the story such as being an astronaut, zoo keeper or fairy.
2) Add More Characters
Show your child how to add more people or characters into their play.
- Play alongside your child, copy what they are doing and then add more people or characters to the play. If playing with vehicles, put people in your car, pretend to drive them to the shop or to the beach.
- Remember to add language to your play. Tell your child what you are doing and why, and model how to take on the role of the character by using their voice or explaining what the character might be thinking. For example, you could say “I am driving to grandma’s house. Hello grandma! Let’s go to the shop! I want to buy a strawberry cake because I am hungry and that is grandma’s favorite so she will like it too.”
3) Add A Problem
Show your child how to add another action or problem into their play. While playing alongside your child, copy their actions and then add another action or problem to the play story.
- Push a toy person down the slide, then they fall and graze their knee, so you have to get a plaster.
- The toy car gets a flat tire so you have to call the mechanic.
- You are making a cake but have no eggs or milk, so you have to go to the shop.
- You pretend the doll is cold, so you put an imaginary blanket on them.
4) Add A Plan
Show your child how to plan play by talking about what you will do before you do it.
- “I am going to make a (pretend) breakfast for the baby. She likes porridge so I have to go to the shop to buy oats and milk first, then I can make the breakfast.”
- “Let’s play doctors. I will be the patient and you can be the doctor. When I come into the doctor’s surgery you will have to give me medicine because I feel sick.”
- Your planning will become more and more complex depending on your child’s language level.
Remember, when guiding your child’s play to keep it fun! Play with or alongside your child and model ways to extend or add language to their play. Your child may not want to participate in what you are doing and that is ok! Children will choose to play with what they find interesting and will repeat play activities for fun, to master their skills, or to think about and explore an idea.
Rehab activities can be done at any time of the day! Check out these tips for practicing communication skills in the car.
Find out more about how cochlear implants work and how they could help you or your child.
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