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Play is the Way, Baby!

“Children need the freedom and time to play. Play is not a luxury. Play is a necessity.”

-Kay Redfield Jamison

Learning about and implementing child-led, play-based activities during sessions completely changed the game for me when it comes to providing fun and engaging speech and language therapy for my learners.


I actually get a little excited when someone says to me. “I want your job. All you do is play all day.” While it could, of course, have been worded in a slightly less offensive way- the basis of the statement absolutely rings true.

My hope is that (from an outside observer) my therapy sessions look like 30-60 minutes of unstructured play! As the quote above so wonderfully states: play is not a luxury. Play is an integral part of how kids learn.

So what does child-led, play-based therapy mean, exactly?

Child-led: following your child's interests and signs of readiness for both academic skills and their own curiosities.

Play-based: using play as a context for learning. In this context, children can explore, experiment, discover and solve problems in imaginative and playful ways.

Okay, so we are allowing kids to explore and experiment with their own interests while we tag along- count me in!! Now, what are some of the benefits (other than having a blast) of this approach to therapeutic learning?

Increased Motivation

It is not a hard connection to draw that following each child’s interest can increase motivation to learn. More specifically, it increases intrinsic motivation which is important because it creates engagement because it is fun and enjoyable and not because an outside factor (or reward) is being promised. Research has shown that intrinsic motivation is more effective long-term in achieving fulfillment and avoiding burn-out.

Improves Participation

When therapy sessions encompass the individuals' interests we understandably see more buy-in from the individual. Language and communication is an integral part of most activities we engage in on the regular. If playing with blocks is my favorite activity of all time and I walk into speech and there are blocks waiting for me, I’m probably going to want to participate more easily than if there were worksheets waiting for me.

** Unless worksheets are your learner’s love language, then by all means- live it up!! **

More Natural Environment

As someone once shared with me, “Play is the universal language of childhood” and as such, it happens frequently throughout our learners’ day. Play is a natural environment for kids of all ages and we know that teaching that occurs in the natural environment is more readily generalized to other settings. Score!

Offers Choice & Autonomy

There is power in getting to choose what you engage in. A lot of kids’ everyday lives are dictated by adults for safety and other necessary reasons! Giving learners’ the opportunity to make their own choices when possible, fosters independence and creativity.

Builds Positive Relationships

This is one of my favorite benefits of child-led, play-based therapy. All of the above benefits foster positive relationships between therapists, kids, and their adults. Allowing kids their own autonomy as often as possible creates mutual respect and joy. There is no better feeling than that look of excitement that you can get after a learner hears, “Time for Speech!”

BONUS: Less Planning

So, this benefit is definitely more for the therapist, but I do think it tends to work out best for all parties involved. When implementing child-led therapy the amount you can plan is significantly diminished. There is no way to write up an entire session plan when the session is contingent on the learner’s in-the-moment choices. This can seem a bit scary at first, I know, but I will never go back. Not only are sessions more fun and engaging for my learners’ (and me!), but the absence of a strict “to-do” list in my head has allowed me to become more present during my sessions. That presence creates stronger connections and more meaningful communication. It’s truly a win-win.

What are your thoughts on child-led, play-based speech & language therapy? Do you already implement this type of intervention or are you planning to start? Are there other benefits you’ve experienced using this type of intervention?

I’m excited to hear your thoughts!


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