Not By the Hair of My Chinny Chin Chin

Who says our kids need pretend playtime? It’s really a lot less demanding on us as adults to read them books or let them look at books (thought this is obviously important as well), let them watch TV, or play those educational games with iPads. Why should we go to all the hassle of providing props, setting up the environment, sometimes teaching our kids how to go about pretending and even occasionally engage in this play with them?

In an article posted in Psychology Today on line, Dr. Scott Barry Kaufman writes, “The research reviewed by Berk, Mann & Ogan, (2006) and Hirsh-Pasek, Golinkoff, Berk, & Singer (2009) suggest that make-believe games are forerunners of the important capacity for forms of self-regulation including reduced aggression, delay of gratification, civility, and empathy. When children use toys to introduce possible scenarios or friends, the representation of multiple perspectives occurs naturally. Taking on different roles allows children the unique opportunity to learn social skills such as communication, problem solving, and empathy (Hughes, 1999).”

When our group of 5 and 6 year olds act out the Three Little Pigs,  the social and life skills practice is evident. After reading The Three Little Pigs, the acting out came naturally to our 4 boys. They first chose roles and built their own homes. They chose to play this game repeatedly even during free playtime. Once they practiced a few times, they were completely independent in their negotiating roles, setting up the environment, and cueing each other. The play changed over time as the boys began to build homes together to make them more elaborate. They created different endings as they problem solved various ways to keep the wolf out of the house.

So, let’s examine how this one play scenario can help kids develop self-regulation as described by Dr. Kaufman.

agressive kid

Reduced aggression – What happens when a child doesn’t get the role he wants? Does he lash out? Refuse to play? Some of our 3 little piggy players did just that at the beginning of this activity. It took lots of explanation, opportunities to sit out and watch initially, and practice for them to learn that they may not get the role they thought they wanted but they could have fun all the same.

Delayed gratification – Once kids learned that we would act out the story over and over and over again, they relaxed about the roles and houses they were assigned. They knew that at some point, they would be able to have the role they wanted.

Civility – Learning to enjoy and even compliment each other is a really hard but important lesson for children, young and old. As kids acted out their parts in their own unique ways, rather than saying, “No, that’s not how you do it”, they learned to appreciate the uniqueness of their peers and support one another in their differences.

Empathy – The actual story of the three little pigs exemplifies empathy. When one piggy’s house is blown down, the others don’t laugh, they say, “Come to my house. I’ll help you stay safe!” Sometimes the kids even showed empathy toward the wolf and ended up inviting him in for cookies if he promised not to eat them!

Understanding multiple perspectives – Why does the wolf want to blow the houses down? Why does he talk in a mean way to the pigs? Why are the pigs afraid? These questions can lead to some pretty sophisticated discussions about our preconceived ideas about people and how we can listen to one another and try to understand.


Communication – Initially, kids wanted to jump into the story. Over time they learn that some talking time is necessary to plan. They become much better and more efficient and almost formulaic about planning. For example, the kids now say, “Who wants to be the wolf? Who wants to be the first pig?” Next they ask, “Where will you build your house? Mine will be here.” etc.

Problem Solving – This one is obvious but I must add that in the beginning, kids are so anxious about making sure things so “their way” that very little problem solving occurs without adult intervention. We’ve written about this before but the value of acting out the same story over and over again is that anxiety goes down and problem solving emerges.

Enjoy make believe play. It’s fun to join in as an adult to throw the kids some unexpected changes and see how they manage. This is also a fun activity with finger or hand puppets. Please check out Dr. Scott Barry Kaufman’s article as it is refreshing and informative.

Image by: Will Sawney







veggie garden

Planting Seeds of Language/ Social Skills with the Dr Panda Veggie Garden App

I work with so many kids who need to work on expanding their expressive language and social skills so I am always on the look-out for new activities for motivation. Lately I have been hooked on the Dr Panda Veggie Garden App. These are my top 5 favorite ways to use this app to expand language/social skills:

  1. For the kids who use primarily single words, this app is great for expanding to simple subject-verb or verb-object phrases (e.g., sun shine, mow grass)
  2. For the kids who need to work on articulation of a common word or phrase, I use this app for repetitive practice.  For example, I use this with kids who are working on /th/ sounds by having them use the carrier phrase, “I ___ this/these _____” (e.g., I rake these leaves, I water this tree)
  3. For kids who are working on adding descriptive terms, I use this app along with the Expanding Expression Tool to help them describe the various steps in the process (e.g. the little, green strawberries are turning red, ripe and juicy).
  4. For the kids who are working on stringing sequential sentences together, I take a screen shot of each step in the growing sequence while the kids are enjoying the app and then I visit the photos app on my iPad and have the kids describe each step along with each picture. The kids love to go back and forth between using the app to grow something and then telling the corresponding story with the pictures.
  5. This app is also great to use for encouraging social interactions. While playing the game, kids can work on taking turns, helping each other figure out what to do on each page, and talking to one another about the sequence of events. This app can also be a wonderful inspiration for some sequential dramatic play.  With spring soon upon us, the garden theme is particularly timely :)

Submitted by:  Karen S Head, MS, CCC-SLP

*Like this review and activities? Check out the Social Adventures App for more activities for children.



Sand Box Garden

The Atlantic Magazine posted a wonderful article about the importance of play in helping stem anxiety and depression in kids. You can read the entire article here: All Work and No Play. Basically, kids need less adult-directed time and more free playtime together. As the weather is becoming nicer I love to see kids outside doing what they do best – PLAYING

The Atlantic article lists 5 ways play benefits kids:

  1. Finding and developing a connection to their own self-identified and self-guided interests.
  2. Learning how to make decisions, solve problems, exert self-control and follow rules
  3. Learning to handle emotions, including anger, fear and hurt
  4. Learning to make friends and get along with each other as equals
  5. Play is a source of happiness

In a local school this week I observed a class of 4 and 5 year olds on the playground. A large sand box with sort of dirty, wet sand elicited the creation of a garden. (Self-identified interest). Kids started digging with play shovels. When shovels ran out and kids started complaining, others offered suggestions to use sticks, wait their turn, dig with hands, or take on another job. (Solving problems). Some kids ran around collecting dirty, dead leaves to plant while others filled toy dump trucks to collect dirt and dump it on the planted seeds. (Making decisions). Kids then started talking about what plants they were growing. Some said flowers, some vegetables. It didn’t seem to matter. (Self-guided interests). When one boy began flinging dirt, the others told him to stop and to dig somewhere else. Happily, the child was able to move away and began filling a truck with sand to take to the garden. (Following rules, handling emotions). The sand box was filled with well-organized chaotic play. Boys and girls played together and all seemed to have jobs and ideas. (Getting along with each other). Best of all, they were all happy in their industrious, creative, pretend play.

throw sand

This may seem like a mundane scene that can be found on any playground. However, I wanted to highlight it here because we continue to pressure our schools and families to improve academics and keep up with children in other countries and cultures in math and technology. We also need to let the children play, for within the context of play, kids develop essential skills that enable them to flourish in the global economy. If our kids can learn to discover their self-interests and skills, make decisions and solve problems, self-regulate, handle disappointments, get along with others and find happiness, what more could we ask?


lemonade stand

Who Wants Lemonade?

I always struggle to find good activities to address higher level language concepts such as inferencing, predicting and problem solving. I often know what I want to work on, but finding the right tool that is motivating is another battle.

But of course with the iPad…anything is possible.

Recently I found the app Lemonade Stand. I can’t remember who recommended this to me (probably the genius Sean Sweeney at www.speechtechie.com), but it any case I’m grateful.

lemonade stand 2

Today it became an app that I used individually and in the group setting. The app is essentially a virtual lemonade stand, where you are given conditions (a weather report, and potential events in the area), and then you are to decide how much lemonade to make, how to make it, how to advertise, and how much to charge. An obvious lesson in basic economics…but that is NOT what my focus was (I steer clear of math if possible). Instead, we brainstormed ideas for what would make people want to come to a lemonade stand (weather, good tasting lemonade, fair price, good signs, etc.) and what would keep them from coming back. We then created our own lemonade sign, which was a great perspective taking activity (and in a group- teamwork and flexibility activity). What information needed to be on the sign (and why!) and how it should look was a session all on it’s own!

Using the app to build language skills

We then played the app. In a group, a great opportunity for negotiating language, flexibility, and tone of voice as you discuss your ideas. Individually, great for discussing “why” you make changes to your plan. For example, “I added more lemons because I wanted the lemonade to taste better so more people buy it,” or “I charged less for the lemonade because the weather is yucky and I want to sell some.” There are no really right answers, as long as they support their idea. The app provides some “tips” in their information section which is great to have kids refer to if struggling. There are lots of opportunities for therapy….and it was lots of fun too.

Meghan G. Graham M.S. CCC-SLP

If you found the ideas in this blog helpful, you will definitely appreciate the activity ideas in the Social Adventures app available on the Social Adventures - all4mychild

felt food

Critical Elements of Make-Believe Play

“Research provides more and more evidence of the positive effects that well-developed play has on various areas of child development, such as children’s social skills, emerging mathematical ability, mastery of early literacy concepts, and self-regulation.” writes Deboral J. Leong, PhD and Elena Bodrova, PhD. in NAEYCE article, Assessing and Scaffolding Make-Believe Play

Dr. Leong and Dr. Bodrova include a clear guide delineating critical elements and stages in make-believe play. Please read their article as it includes wonderful and accessible information in helping us guide our children in play.

During our Social Adventures food theme weeks, our kids love to play deli with pretend food so I’ll use that theme to illustrate portions of Drs. Leong and Bodrova’s framework for the stages of pretend play.

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Plan: Initially our kids required a great deal of help to plan their play. They were then able to move into planning roles leading to planning scenarios. For example, the deli person initially knew he needed to stand behind the meat counter. He eventually planned words and actions such as, “Would you like cheese on your sandwich?” or “Would you like a drink with that?” He began to ask if his customer wanted the food here or to go and was able to tell the customer how much his meal cost. This was a far cry from initially standing behind the counter!

Roles: Our little players initially bounced back and forth between roles. For example, the customer grabbed the food to make his own sandwich and the deli person gave money to the customer. Over time, the kids learned that each child had a role with rules. For example, the customer never grabbed the food from the counter.

Props: In the beginning, the kids needed to have objects represent themselves. The play food was play food, the cash register was a cash register. As the play became more involved, they began to imagine other types of props they wanted but didn’t have access to. So they used other objects representationally. If they didn’t have a ketchup bottle, they grabbed a red beanbag to represent ketchup. Eventually, they were able to imagine items without holding anything concrete in their hands.

Extended time frame: This is one of my favorite aspects of pretend play. Initially, kids only played for a few minutes. For example, a customer entered the deli, ordered one sandwich and left – end of story. However, as the kids played day after day, week after week, switching roles, they began to imagine and elaborate on the story. One customer planned a birthday party and came in to make a large order. The deli person didn’t have enough food so had to call and order more from a delivery person. They then decided they needed a party store for additional supplies. When kids are able to play the same pretend play theme over time, they really get into it!

In conclusion, our 3-6 year olds don’t just WANT to play, they NEED to play to grow, learn and thrive. Let’s keep play in the forefront of their education! As the NAEYCE article concludes:

“Mature make-believe play is an important and unique context, providing opportunities to learn not afforded by other classroom activities. It should not be considered something extra that can be cut to accommodate more time for academic skills…” Dr. Leong and Dr. Bodrova

Check out our amazon store for some favorite pretend play food

pet doctor

The iPad and Beyond – Pet Doctor Inspires Collaborative Play

The iPad and Beyond – Pet Doctor Inspires Collaborative Play

We love using apps in therapy and in our Social Adventure Groups but we are all too aware of how kids can get over-focused on them. We have taken to using some of them as inspiration for play. One of our favorites is Toca Boca Pet Doctor. This adorable app introduces kids to some unexpected pet problems, such as a beaver who needs his teeth brushed and a bird who is stuck in gum. Playing this game for a few minutes before we start dramatic play can really get the kids thinking.

Once the kids have some ideas about what could go awry with their pets, we give them some time to work together to pick equipment to represent a house, a pet doctor’s office and an ambulance. Then the fun begins! Kids never get tired of taking turns calling 911 about their pet problem, riding in the ambulance to the pet doctor of course using all of the fun doctor kit items to take good care of that pet.

Just a few minutes with this wonderful iPad app leads to many more minutes of creative, collaborative dramatic play!

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Let’s Play Animal Doctor

Animals get sick and hurt and go to the doctors – simple theme but oh… so many sensory, motor and social experiences to practice!

Choose Your Role

We like the kids to have any role they choose and we fill in the empty roles. Sometimes they like to be the pet, sometimes the vet, the assistant, the owner of the animal, the pet ambulance driver, and so on. Later, they will have opportunities to play different roles and add variations to the theme, building complex pretend play skills along the way. It’s important to have them be the role they initially imagine. Sometimes that’s all they can visualize.

Move to Play


After the negotiation of roles, we build in some motor and sensory experiences by having kids create buildings and spaces. We find the story often results from the active creation of these spaces. For example, as the kids build a home using a blanket over a table, we talk about what happened to the animal at home. If they say the animal got stuck up a tree in the back yard, we talk about why the animal was climbing the tree, who found her, how did it get down, why did it have to go to the vet, etc.? Once the kids decided to create a circus and have one of the circus animals get hurt! You can imagine the wonderful motor activities built into that play: tight ropewalkers, tumbling acrobats, lion tamers climbing on and off large blocks, and horses prancing around a circle!

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Whose Job Is It Anyway?

One of the greatest challenge for our group kids seems to be maintaining their roles. They all want to be the ambulance driver, not just the one sitting in the back. Once the animal gets to the vet, they all want to handle the doctor kit equipment, not just hold the pet. We spend a lot of time working out the concept that everyone plays his or her part and each part is very important. Rather than grabbing the doctor kit materials, one child can ask the “doctor”, “Can I give you the doctor tools when you need them?” or “What do you need now?” rather than grabbing the syringe and giving the dog a shot without “doctor” approval. The kids develop impulse control, attention, perspective taking, patience, responsiveness, sequencing and collaboration in this child-driven, thoroughly enjoyable pretend play experience.

Now it’s time to change roles and do it all again!

Check out our Amazon Store for some basic doctor and vet kits


Rescuing Mermaids Takes a Whole Team

Playing board games doesn’t always have to be competitive. Some games are designed to get kids working as a team. This is a common theme in our Social Adventures Groups – working as a team. It seems a simple concept, but difficult for our kids to grasp. Kids in general are pretty egocentric around ages 3-7, but some kids really have a difficult time thinking about others. This makes it difficult for them to play collaboratively with others and this can lead to them being left out of lots of play opportunities. So we break the idea down into small steps and try to play games that highlight how working together gets everyone to a final goal quicker than if everyone tried to do it alone.

One of the games that we often use to bring this idea home is the Mermaid Island Game from Peaceable Kingdom. Here’s the set up. There are three mermaids who start off together on an island. There is also a witch who starts off on a different island. The goal is to get all 3 mermaids to the island before the witch gets there. But here’s the kicker, the players do not identify with one mermaid as they would in say, Candyland. Instead, as each player takes a turn, they must decide which mermaid to move in order to keep them all together. This is an excellent game for teaching the concept of “the needs of the group are more important than individual needs.” Almost every child who first plays this game becomes invested in a particular mermaid. It requires a lot of processing to make the point of working as a team. Once they get it though, it is a great way to talk about the same concept in different contexts. Oh and for those who may feel that this game is a “girl game” because it includes mermaids – we have never had a boy complain – whether boys or girls are playing, they are helping others and that is just wonderful!

Support all4mychild and order the Mermaid Island Game from our Amazon Store.

Copyright : Anna Omelchenko

Ganging up and Giggling

I run a little social dyad with two school-aged boys (almost middle schoolers). They both need a lot of support to appropriately initiate, and especially to maintain interactions. We use a variety of different strategies and approaches to help them reach their goals. Ask-Ask-Tell from our Social Adventures App, vocabulary and concepts from Social Thinking ™ (i.e. bubble thoughts, whopping topic change, etc.), lots of self-made visuals,  and even the Zones of Regulation to help when we get too silly. That is one of our biggest challenges…getting too silly and getting stuck.

Well recently I had to sit back and let us ride into the “yellow zone” and beyond…and hang out there.

zones 2

*Image from Zone of Regulation website

They were cracking themselves up while ganging up on the teacher (me). One of the boys set the alarm function on his phone to go off in the middle of our session. The other friend did the same on my iPad when we were using for a game. The had  coordinated this (clearly communicating and demonstrating great perspective taking by trying to be secretive…and failing:), and then couldn’t control themselves with laughter when the alarms went off. I tried to be “mad” at first, but then just sat back and watched them connect and enjoy themselves. What a typical social experience- ganging up on the teacher, acting “naughty,” and laughing together. It was important for me to appreciate the skills they were demonstrating: great communication, perspective taking, humor, and appropriate body language (looking at each other, matching their friend’s affect, appropriate proximity). It was awesome.


We now have to work on the concept that jokes are funny one time, sometimes twice…but usually not more. This has become something we want to do every week…but from my perspective, worth adding this new social goal.


The Magic of “Say a Name”

We have been running Social Adventure Groups for almost 20 years and although the kids in the program all come with unique challenges and strengths, most if not all of them, do seem to have one thing in common. They don’t gain the attention of their peers. As a result, chaos often ensues. During our talking time, it is not uncommon for 2 or more kiddos to launch into a story while staring at one of the adult leaders. They talk over each other and no one is really listening. If we are in the gym trying to work on a collaborative project; again, everyone starts doing their own thing, talking about their ideas without ever realizing that no one else is listening.

A Social Catch Phrase to the Rescue

So… what do we do? Well, we have found that using a simple catch phrase, “Say a Name” can be very helpful. But it isn’t so helpful unless we practice, practice, practice. In order to help the kids understand the power of gaining someone’s attention, we play a variety of games designed to focus on this one particular skill and use one of our Social Catch Phrase Cartoons to provide visual cueing.


Begin with Role Play

We have found that acting out social situations gone awry is a great way to introduce a concept. We are lucky to have two adults, so we tell the kids that they are going to go to a pretend movie. They are the directors so they say “action” to get things going, “cut” if something goes wrong and “print” if everything went smoothly. All kids LOVE being included in this way. Once the kids start the action, then here’s the script:

Actor 1: begin by looking distracted by something that draws attention away from Actor 2, such as drawing a picture.

Actor 2: looking at a pile of blocks says, “let’s build a fort with these”

Actor 1: keeps drawing the picture

Actor 2: now looks in the direction of Actor 1 says, “let’s build a fort – it will be so cool”

Actor 1: keeps drawing the picture

Actor 2: gets exasperated and stomps away

Hopefully, the kids have yelled “cut” by now because most of our kids recognize when something has gone wrong with other people, they just aren’t as good at monitoring their own behavior.

At this point, we ask the kids what would help. Sometimes they know, but more often they blame Actor 1 for not responding. At this point, we introduce our Social Catch Phrase Cartoon. We then act out the scene again, but this time Actor 2 says a name and all goes well.

Reinforcing Activities are Always Helpful

In order to reinforce the power of “Say a Name”, we play a pass the ball game. The kids are gathered in a circle or around a table. We explain that the rules of the game are to say a friend’s NAME and to WAIT until they look at them and show a READY BODY (hands out in front ready to catch the ball) before throwing the ball to that friend. This provides practice for saying a name while also working on waiting for a response before taking action.

We also play a version of Simon Says. Instead of saying “Simon says,” we say a friend’s name and then follow it up with an action. To keep it fun, the adults play too and sometimes we say, “EVERYBODY… clap your hands.” This activity works on perspective taking and regulation too because the kids need to ask their friends to do something that isn’t too difficult and isn’t too silly :)

Submitted by:  Karen S Head, MS, CCC-SLP

Check out the Social Adventures App for more activities like this.