Changing Colors: The Blog of Spectrum Pediatrics

January 3, 2018

Indoor Play Spaces: A Therapist’s Perspective

By: Tracy Magee,M.Ed., CCC-SLP

I recently went to a new play space, Scramble in Alexandria with my 3 year old and 18 month old, and I just had to share about it with our Spectrum families! Not only did my kids have a ball, but also I couldn’t help but also think of all the therapeutic activities and developmental skills that a parent could encourage in a space like this!

1. Physical activity: In the winter months, it is extra difficult to make sure that kids are getting enough movement during their days due to the frigid temperatures. Obviously, in a soft playroom space, kids can move about with ease, and a parent doesn’t have to worry about every fall and tumble. With all the new sites in a soft playroom, kids are motivated to jump, climb, crawl, and more! This works on their body coordination and hand/eye coordination. Beyond that, kids need to MOVE! Movement helps all humans attain self-regulation. Self-regulation is “the ability to maintain a level of alertness appropriate to a given activity.” A space like this allows kids to achieve adequate self-regulation through movement, which in turn, is essential for development of attention, regulation of sleep/wake cycles, and control of emotions (particularly during transitions from one activity to another). This particular play space offers movements areas for various ages – a baby area to practice tummy time, toddler area with smaller obstacles and slides, and a “big kid” two-level playhouse with mazes, obstacles, and slides.

  • Parents can encourage developmental benefits for physical activity and regulation by having their child to lift heavy things, push heavy items, and use their body in different ways (climbing, crawling, etc.). All these movements work on coordination and help the child feel regulated.

2. Pretend Play: This particular play space has four separate areas for kids to pretend, including a car garage with a giant racecar, coffee shop/café, vet office, and construction zone. The large soft playroom pieces are the perfect size for kids to lift and engage their imaginations in the theme of the room. Pretend play is important because it aids kids in understanding that a symbol stands for something else. Learning this concept can help a child’s language development, as words are a symbol to represent something else, as well. Parents can encourage pretend play by modeling how to use some of the toys for their child to imitate and naming the items or actions as the parent or child uses them.

3. Social Skills: Of course, social skills are naturally a focus during many of the activities listed above. Kids have to learn to take turns and share in the “pretend play” areas and on the slides. Working together is part of the fun!  Parents can encourage social skill development by helping the child ask and answer questions with other kids that are playing. This could include using longer sentences, answering questions with an appropriate response, or formulating questions. Kids may need varying levels of adult help to work on this skill. Turn taking with the toys, balls, and slides is something every kid can always work on, too!

4. Language Development: Language development includes a child’s ability to understand the language of others and use his/her own sentences to express him/herself. Parents can encourage language development by practicing following directions. This includes using descriptors and prepositions (e.g. “Get the red soccer ball and kick it in the goal behind me.”) and practicing safety words (“Stop! Wait!”) in a contained environment. Children also have to use their own language to ask for a turn with a ball or tell their parent what they need.

These are just a few ways that you can turn an indoor playspace, such as Scramble, into an activity that aids in lots of childhood development skills, and it’s so much fun that it doesn’t feel like work for the child or the parent!

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