Are you “stuck” with a child who only wants to play with the same toy in the same way over and over?
That kind of perseverative play is often seen in toddlers with developmental delays. We need to break this pattern so that a child can move on to do (and learn) something new.
Many times this can be accomplished by adding another component to a favorite play routine.
For example, if a child loves to hold on to Thomas or only gets down on his belly to watch Thomas’ wheels spin, try something new.
Add some new pieces. Find Thomas some tracks to roll on rather than the floor. Pick up a station where Thomas can go in and out the doors. Or really splurge and buy a few more trains to play with Thomas. In case you haven’t been toy shopping lately… there are about a gazzilion Thomas accessories available to expand a child’s options.
New trains can be hooked together, can crash into each other or the wall, or can roll down an improvised ramp by slanting a large hardcover book or the back of a wooden puzzle on a block, a stack of books, or even your leg.
Try adding a tunnel. If you can’t purchase one, use what you already have which could be as simple as placing a cardboard book on its ends over the track. If you’re crafty, cut holes in both ends of a shoe box. (Resist the urge to over do it here! Don’t bother painting the box to resemble an actual tunnel. Use that time to actually “play” with your little one who probably couldn’t care less if your box “looks” like a real tunnel…)
Another cheap idea is using a blue sheet of construction paper and calling it “water” so that Thomas can drink, take a bath, or swim. If you’re up for it, use a small bowl or shallow container with real water to wash Thomas!
For more sensory play opportunities, roll Thomas in play doh to make tracks. On that note, it’s also fun to roll Thomas through washable paint and “paint” tracks on a large sheet of paper. For more sensory play, hide Thomas in a plastic bin filled with dried rice, pasta or beans.
Don’t just tell a child how to play with Thomas in a new way. Show him! Hold Thomas yourself and make him perform the new action. If a child becomes upset when you want to handle his beloved Thomas, show him with another train.
One more piece of advice… keep your language very simple while you’re playing together. A child who struggles to play often doesn’t understand words as well as other toddlers his age. Instead of talking in long sentences, speak in 2 to 3 word short phrases. Many times I limit myself to single words and play sounds. This means you’ll say something like, “Thomas! Choo choo! Woo woo!” rather than saying, “I know you like to roll your train back and forth on the floor, but we’re going to do something different today. Watch me as I hook these two trains together to make one long train. Then we’re going to roll the trains through your new station….”
Too many words can sometimes drive a child away from you during play. Keep it short and FUN!
Don’t let a child get stuck with repetitive patterns in play. Our job as adults is to help young children move on to more mature actions that begin to resemble “pretending.” Many friends need this extra support by seeing you model new ways they can play with toys.
If you need more specific ideas and need additional ways to connect play to a child’s speech-language goals, check out my book Teach Me To Talk: The Therapy Manual at this link.
Until then, happy playing!