Play strategies

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Other Play Strategies

If you are interested in creating a safe and motivating area which encourages independent play, here are some tips to share...

New! Step by Step Drawing
To create sequenced drawing books, visit Gary Harbo’s web site. ( He graciously posts a monthly drawing sequence in single page format so it can be printed out, trimmed and laminated for Drawing Flip Books. Each new line in the drawing is highlighted making it easy for the students to follow and copy. We have also used these with students who don’t have particularly good fine motor skills, but they often are more motivated to work on them and produce some really good attempts at the picture. Try it out! Once they can do these on their own, it's a nice activity for a play or leisure schedule.

New! Play Trays
Large (18' x 18') plastic trays are great to encourage cooperative activities when there is more than one student in the play area. They define the area to be played in and encourage awareness of and tolerance for a nearby student. Try some of these, seating the students across from each other:

New! Calendar practice
Staples, K-Mart and other office supply stores now sell large sized children’s desk calendars. The calendar page for the month can be laminated and hung on the easel with a wipe off marker. The student traces or copies the numbers on the calendar for writing practice.

Puzzle Aids
For a child just learning to complete non-inset puzzles, creating an outline jig can help. Place the completed puzzle on tag board or heavy paper. Remove one piece at a time and outline the empty space on the paper using a black marker. As you remove each piece write a number on it and then write it on the paper in the spot where the piece will be correctly placed. After this has been done with all pieces, laminate the paper and place it in the play area with the puzzle pieces in a small bin or basket. The child can then complete the puzzle by matching the numbers or use the additional visual cues of the shapes outlined on the jig. This process can also be used for inset puzzles if desired.

Dress Up
Learning to pretend can sometimes be a challenging skill to teach. For novice players, it can be overwhelming to have a variety of clothing, shoes, hats, etc. from which to choose. We like to start with just a few items. Place 3-4 interesting hats in a basket next to a mirror. When “dress up” is on the play schedule, help the child sit in front of the mirror to try on a few hats. Initially this is a very short activity. After trying on the hats, help the child put them back in the basket and go on to the next activity. Once the “dress up” routine is established, you can begin to vary the clothing items to shoes, then large jackets, etc. Be sure to use items large enough to be easily manipulated. Later “theme” sets can be used, which combine clothing and related items. (for example, doctor’s coat, stethoscope, band-aids and picture illustrations or book.)

Filling Containers/Openings
This can be very satisfying for young children who are novice players. Typically the toy parts are relatively large for ease of handling. Place only the correct number of parts in a basket with the item to be filled. This helps build understanding of one-to-one correspondence, keeps the activity short and gives it a clear ending. Some game parts can also be used in this way. Some examples:

Pretending with Play Sets
The Fisher-Price playground set is a nice beginning for this. Put the merry go round, swing and slide in a basket with enough people to fill all the “seats”. Help the child place one person in each spot, then move them appropriately. Keep the number of pieces small initially and the play time short. This also works nicely with 'house' items, chairs and beds. In the beginning, the child is finding a place for each person and grouping them together, later placing them in a dollhouse in the appropriate rooms.

Easel Play
Large stencils taped to paper at the easel give some structure to this for children whose drawing skills are still developing. Provide easily manipulable coloring tools for the child to use in filling in the stencil (fat markers, chalk or crayons). Providing a simple picture model taped to the easel or a large dot to dot can be fun for more able students.

Comfort Zones
Small, confined spaces can sometimes help a child sit calmly to play, or encourage interaction with a peer sharing the same space. Some examples:

Good ideas to add? Email