Ten Reasons to Use Play-doh in Speech Therapy

I don't know about you but I know that I am often told 'I wish I could just play with kids all day with games and Play-doh'.  Are you?  When I have explained that Play-doh and games are just tools to keep student's engaged, I have been met with skepticism.  Next time someone asks you how Play-doh helps student's to meet their goals, you can take your pick!

1.  Sensory Input-  Some of our student's need the input from textures and smells to help keep them calm or engaged enough so that they can tap into learning the lesson.  This isn't just for our fidgety students but those that really need the additional sensory feedback.

Mash & Mark Articulation
2. Keeps Hands Busy While You Collect Data from Other Student's in the Group-  That is right!  It gives you a minute to collect the data from one student without three others staring you down or feeling like they are not getting time to independently practice. Grab my J Articulation Mash & Mark for free!

3.  Kinesthetic Learners- In 1983, Gardner introduced the idea of multiple learning styles.  One such style are Kinesthetic learning.  Kinesthetic learning takes place when an individual is completing a physical activity while learning.  Using Play-doh to create a letter while practicing that sound or covering a picture while working on that word would be a beneficial activity for our 'body-smart' learners!

Mash & Mark Phonology
4.  Fine Motor Support -  Do you collaborate with Occupational Therapists (OT)?  I have worked with several occupational therapists in the past and we have used Mash and Mark sets to work on fine motor skills while practicing speech and language skills too!  Working on fine motor skills increases the dexterity and muscle tone needed in hands and fingers (needed for writing and pre-writing skills such as cutting and holding a pencil).  Another way to use Play-doh as a collaborative effort with the OT is to place little figurines in balls of Play-doh so that student's have to dig it out.  Once they do, they practice their speech skill (or language skill) at their level.

5. Can Help Address Social and Emotional Development-  I have found many times that when I get a new little friend, they are sometimes too scared or nervous to start working with someone new.  It can be a moment filled with anxiety for little ones who do not spend much time away from their parents.  Using Play-doh can help calm them and get them to open up and share their thoughts or feelings about coming to speech.

Map, Mash & Mark Conversational Exchange
6. Provides Opportunities to Work on Social Skills-  If student's see you pull out the dough and begin to build something, they will usually begin asking questions (i.e. 'What are you building?' 'Can I have some Play-doh too?', etc..)  You can even split the Play-doh colors (or the tools such as stamps, dough scissors, etc..) between two or more students and remind them to use their manners and you will often see them begin to play and engage more with each other asking to borrow certain colors or tools or asking what the other is creating.   I also use my Map, Mash, and Mark Conversational Sets to work on keeping track of if they asked, answered, or commented to keep conversations going!

Mash & Mark Fluency
7- Turn Any Activity into a Mixed Group Activity-  It is true!  You may have one student working on language, another with fluency, and the third with articulation.  The student with the language goal might create something with their dough (imaginary or real) and then have to provide description, function, or talk about it like they were trying to sell it (or maybe just telling you how to create it).  The fluency student could be using their strategy while asking the language student a question about their creation  and then demonstrating with the dough if they thought their speech was bumpy or smooth.  Or you could have the fluency student practice using their strategies while completing the same task as the language student.  What about the student addressing articulation?  Simple!  If they are practicing their sound at spontaneous speech level (they could be doing the same task as the language student) or if they are at the word level, they can listen to their peers to see if they use their sound at their position and practice tearing off little pieces of the Play-doh from the ball they had each time they practice saying that word.

8- Visual Supports-  I love using dough for visual supports!  That might be because I am also a visual learner but I find that it helps so much for my student's too.    Visually for an articulation student, they can practice creating the letter while they practice words that contain their sound.  Or check out the wonderful blog post by Natalie Snyder about using Play-doh as a visual for /r/ (Link is provided at the bottom of this post).  Student's working on Fluency can use the dough to make bumpy vs smooth roads or the straight snake vs the bumpy snake.

9- Great Tool for Learning-  You can just about find Mash Mats for any needed goal you need to target with students!  Plus, Jennifer Bradley at Speech Therapy Plans has additional excellent ideas of ways that you can use Play-doh as a learning tool!

10-  Plus, its Fun! Even as an adult, I enjoy working with Play-doh! Kids have such great imaginations and can create some wonderful creatures, narratives, and/or turn it into is own instant dramatic play session!  Who feels like buying a Play-doh Burger and Fries combo?

Other blog posts about using Play-doh I would suggest:
5 Ways to Use Play-Doh in Speech Therapy
Another Quick Articulation Tip for the /r/ Sound

Do you love Play-doh as much as I do?  What ways do you use it?

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After a long day at work, I was never 'thrilled' to take my daughter grocery shopping.  Mostly, it was because I was just drained and I knew that she was too.  I never knew if we would be 'that family' that had the meltdown in the grocery store (I'm including myself in that meltdown too!)  Grocery shopping became easier when I kept us both engaged in learning and fun!  Here are some tips that you can share with your student's parents that will encourage bringing the kids to the store and building their speech and language while they are there!

1.) Build Vocabulary by Labeling and Describing EVERYTHING!  The grocery store is filled with speech and language opportunities. Parents and students can discuss size, color, function, category, location, etc.. Trying to find a few items in the same category is always fun!

2.) Work on Prepositional Phrases!  Is the item that you are looking for on the top shelf? Between the canned corn and the canned green beans? Is it on the second shelf?

3.) Work on Following Directions!  It can be as simple as 'please grab the big box of Chex' or more complex such as 'After you grab the small box of Chex cereal and put it in the cart, point to the kind of instant oatmeal you would like us to buy this time.'

4.) Work on Taking Turns and Inferencing Skills!  That is right, play good ole' I SPY in the grocery store!  Encourage parents to take turns with their kids in describing an item, its use, where it comes from (tree, cow, etc..), and its appearance while the communication partner guesses!

5.) Work on Pragmatic Skills!  Model and reinforce positive social skills and language to demonstrate good manners.  Practice taking turns asking and answering questions about the environment, what they need to find next, where they might find the item, and using please and thank you when asking the bakery for that free cookie or sample (not all stores offer the cookie but you would be surprised how many do!)

6.) Have a Sound Search Party!  While walking down the aisle, how many items can the student find that has their sound?  Where is the sound located in the word (initial, medial, final position)? Did the student find more or the parent (I always encourage making it into a game)?

I provided my friends that have joined my email list this exclusive freebie that include a starter list or words by sound!

7.) Build Executive Functioning Skills!  Prior to going shopping have parents and students decide on a recipe they want to complete at home and make the shopping list for it or just a shopping list for that week's groceries.  By planning ahead, getting organized, making a list, and developing a plan for where in the store they need to go, student's are building executive functioning skills!

8.)  Expand on these Lessons at Home with the Little Ones!  If they have a play kitchen at home... bonus!  However, these days parent's can get cheap toy food at the local dollar store or at some of the chain stores.  Continuing to practice the above-mentioned tips at home during play will increase speech and language skills too (plus it is a bonus if you just really can't bring yourself to include the kids at the grocery store due to the fear of meltdowns)!

How do you encourage parents to build speech and language skills at the grocery store?  There are a million ways (including learning money names, values, and concepts)!  I would love if you would share with me different ways that you have helped encourage speech and language growth at the grocery store!

    How often does this happen to you?  You send home practice homework consistently and it doesn't come back? You sit in an IEP meeting and the parent is not sure what their child is working on, or they do know exactly what their child needs to work on but they never saw the homework so they are not sure how to help?  I have sent home interactive homework notebooks and a variety of speech and language crafts with some success.  Usually the students who are motivated to get out of speech are most likely to do it and bring it back.  The rest... well, they just are not there yet.  No matter how we tackle building take-home practice opportunities.  So what do we rush to do when we have the parent that really wants to help their child and maybe their child is just not so motivated?  How can we bridge that gap without making it seem like more work (or a HUGE take-home packet)?

    1.  Make it Meaningful and Practical!
    Children are more likely to retain (like the rest of us) when it has meaning.  For my students working on following directions, I suggest to the parent that they work on following directions while targeting chores! Ask Johnny to "First unload the plates and cups before putting away the utensils."  Have Johnny work on repeating back the instructions before completing the task.  If Susan is working on /r/ and you need her to clean her room, have her say aloud the words that start with /r/ that she finds in her room as she cleans it! I am a parent so targeting independent skills (such as chores) while targeting speech and language is a WIN-WIN!

    2.  Make it Fun.  Go Ahead and PLAY with your Child!
    Yes, in therapy, we often play games. I'm not ashamed to admit that I pull out my Open-Ended Games a lot! It is a way to reward good behavior, manage behaviors, and make mixed groups a bit more cohesive.  Game Night with the Family CAN still be enjoyable.  Unfortunately, I find that many kids no longer pull out those game boards at home or even get family game night.  I suggest that parents play when possible. You can still target speech and language skills while playing a board game.  Parents can target the social language aspect ("Can you please hand me a card?" "Oh, it is your turn now!"), receptive and expressive language ("You moved one spot.  You need to move four more spots?" "Who rolled snake eyes?"), articulation (Does the number on the dice or the card they just pulled have their sound?), etc..   If their child is not old enough to play board games, I suggest that parent's get down on the carpet with their child and actually play whatever their child wants to play (coloring pictures, dolls, cars, building blocks).

    I sent my friends on my email list a handout that I share with parents about building language at the park while engaging in functional play! I use a lot of familiar language and build onto it by creating opportunities that require children to initiate and/or attempt communication by using expansion and/or having them direct my actions.

      3.  Create Opportunities for the Child to be the Teacher.  Be Silly and Be Wrong.  
      My students LOVE to catch me in a mistake. It is okay to make mistakes and I want my students to know it is okay to not always have the right answer.  Therefore, I make mistakes a lot (some just plain silly mistakes that are easy to catch too!).  I have found that by allowing myself to make mistakes I am not only modeling for students that mistakes are how we learn but that we can all help each other.  They will quickly tell me what I need to do to fix my error and blossom when they get to be the teacher.  The biggest reason I enjoy making obvious mistakes is really the laughter.  It fills me with joy when I am silly and the students laugh and then correct my error using their speech and language skills.  I love it because it doesn't seem like work to them at that point.  Plus they get pleasure from the silly interaction, demonstrate their skills, and typically smile with pride that they could teach me something.

      Do you share these same tips with parents during IEP meetings? What do you usually provide or share with parents looking to help their child?
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