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Playing with Early Learners: Yes, and…

This week’s post comes to you from our Clinical Director!

With early learners, by far the most effective way to teach is by playing with them without making it immediately obvious that you’re teaching. Join in their games, blend in, and then find the opportunities to teach built into their games. 

One of the most effective strategies I’ve found in engaging with a young child during pretend play is approaching interactions with them through an improv game called “Yes…and.” In this game, you’re not allowed to ask questions or say no to anything the other person has said, but you have to build on it and add to the story.  

So if a child declares, “The bus is on fire!” you can say, “oh, then the fire department is going to come put it out!” and let the child keep adding on to what they want the story to be. Add in sound effects of the fire truck, or the hose. You can ask them to pretend to be the fireman putting out the fire and model it (teaching imitation skills), but try not to ask simple yes or no questions in this context (Is the fireman putting out the fire?) that don’t allow the student to engage, learn, or continue to play, but merely interrupt the flow of the activity. 

In our experience, it’s very easy for adults to default to asking questions about play (“Where is the fire truck going? Who’s driving the fire truck?”), but this does not engage with the student and can cause the adult to become aversive during play contexts due to increased demands. Instead, if you have a question, answer it yourself and let the student correct you. For example, instead of: “Where is the fire truck going?” say, “The firetruck is going to the big building!” from there, the student will either correct you (“No, it’s going to my house!”) or go along with your bid to play (“Yeah! And it’s going to put out the fire!”) In this case, you can then continue the game and find more opportunities for the child to learn while maintaining their attention.  

Using this strategy can help extend the playtime between adults and children and provide more opportunities to teach in a way that children are enthusiastic and engaged.

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