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Our 5 Core Values

The Play Awhile Approach

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We see PLAY as a mindset!

We use our 5 core values to provide a framework for play-based therapy. With them, we are able to center play as the primary therapeutic modality, incorporating other evidence-based practices seamlessly. It’s fun to compare our values to colors in a rainbow. Individually, each of our 5 core values is beautiful, but when put together they are truly magical. Here’s an example of how a simple game of peek-a-boo might incorporate each of our values.

First, the child takes a play scarf, and hide behind it. They’ve just made a playful bid. We’re going to acknowledge that playful bid by engaging in traditional peek-a-boo, then we will make it even more fun by hiding under the blanket with the child. They giggle and sign “more!”

As soon as they sign “more”, we sign, say, and model “more” on their communication device, taking a total communication approach and accommodating their current needs.

We play peek-a-boo for awhile, and when the child demonstrates that they are ready to be done, we follow a playful whim by tying a soft ball inside the play scarf. This intrigues the child, who scoots closer and examines the “new” toy. Suddenly, we engage in a game of toss the ball, exclaiming as the scarf trails behind it through the air. Multiple times, we are able to model requesting for more, along with other meaningful language.

After a time, the child demonstrates the need for some different sensory input by chewing on the ball. We offer a yes, but redirection (yes, you can chew-but not on the ball- here’s a clean chewy tube instead,) and continue our session, gravitating toward the blocks next.

In order, we’ve used the core values of “Plan Less, Play More”, “Yes, And”, “Play to Your Needs”, “Process or Product”, and “With Respect, Redirect.” We’ve had a fun, simple session that centered authentic play and led to language growth. That’s the magic of The Play Awhile Approach!

Yes, And

Back in college, when I was an undergraduate majoring in speech-language pathology, my minor was in drama and theater for the young. I basically grew up on the stage...taking dance classes and performing in musicals. At the time, I thought the minor would help me hone my skills as a theater instructor… and it did. I paid my way through college by directing children’s musicals and teaching dance classes for the local school district. I was proud of myself for graduating debt-free, and had actually enjoyed my college gig.

What I didn’t expect was that my children’s theater minor would help shape my pedagogy as a speech-language pathologist. It was in my improv class, taught by Jessica “Decky” Alexander, where I first learned about Yes, And.

Yes, And is a rule of improvisation that basically means take what you’re given, and add to it. In improv class, that meant letting go of how we wanted the scene to go, and instead helping it unfold. We learned to accept what the scene partner was giving us (that’s the “yes” part), and move the scene along in that same direction (that’s the “and” part). This rule made sense in the context of drama games, and in time, I learned to apply it in every aspect of my life.

Approaching Yes, And as a philosophy for interacting with others uses up very little time, and requires absolutely no planning ahead. It’s easy, and turns mundane moments into meaningful memories. As a speech-language pathologist, I have come to know Yes, And as the first of five core values in my practice. As a parent, wife, and friend, I use Yes, And to keep the joy of play time flowing all day, strengthening our relationships along the way.

So often, we give the “yes”, but stop short of the and. I’m here to share that the “and” is where the magic happens; it’s where the learning takes place and the relationships are built. Just imagine the connections we could make with our fellow humans if we approached more moments with Yes, And.

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Plan Less, Play More

Confession time: I am a recovering perfectionist. The field of speech language pathology is filled with incredibly smart, creative, and (let’s face it) type-A women. We want to give the best to our clients, and for some reason, we confuse that with obsessing to make everything Pinterest-Perfect.

So, after spending nearly three years in graduate school with other hard-working, goal-oriented, go-getters, I entered the field with a spirit of perfection-or-failure. Every evening after dinner, I would spend hours making materials, laminating, Velcro-ing, and packing it up for the next day. It was exhausting and unsustainable. And guess what? Hand-coloring the black-and-white printed images from the school printer did not make a difference for student engagement. Having a data sheet that corresponded to each learning target did not help students achieve those learning targets. The ONLY thing that made a difference in the success of the session was whether or not the children were having fun.

So I KNOCKED IT OFF! I stopped planning sessions for each-and-every goal area, and started choosing activities that could target any goal area. I stopped creating visuals to match each-and-every activity, and started using core vocabulary that could generalize to any situation. I stopped caring about the look of things and started caring about the feelings that my activities inspired.

I cannot overstate the feeling of relief that I felt after this change. I was Planning Less, and Playing More. AND…the students were making faster, more meaningful progress. I now give you permission to step away from perfectionism. Say goodbye to Pinterest-perfect stress, and say hello to high-impact learning. I challenge you to Plan Less, Play More!

Process or Product

You may have surmised this by now, but I believe in a final product. As a student, the hard work was worth it to see that shining report card. The goal of speech-language pathology is to produce functional communicators. In drama, my role is to put on a good show. Even my hobbies ( baking, writing, gardening) all end in a beautifully finished product. If it comes from Olivia, it comes tied up in a bow and ready to present to the world.

Okay, now that you’re thoroughly disgusted with my vanity, I’ll try to redeem myself: I also place great importance on the process it takes to get to those finished products. Sometimes, I even disregard the finished product simply to enjoy an activity.

In drama, I find that playing team-building games is usually more worthy of our time than rehearsing that rough scene once more. Does it make our performance better? Not directly, but through the process of building trust, the individual players become an ensemble. This almost always leads to a better performance.

As an SLP, I often set aside the activity I have planned in favor of incorporating a child’s special interest into play. Do we end up with a cute craft or checked-off schedule? No, but we build stronger functional communication skills and therapeutic rapport.

As a writer, I’ve begun challenging myself to play with words in a way that is simply fun (may latest “masterpiece?” Good night’s sleep. Good knights leap!) In gardening, I have started “bombing” parts of my garden with native seeds. These practices may not result in a perfect product, but they sure are fun!

Deciding between following the process, pushing to achieve a product, or balancing both is where the challenge comes in. Procrastination often disguises itself as a playful whim, while a completed project often disguises itself as successful learning. We cannot sacrifice outcomes to follow a playful whim, just like we can’t sacrifice fun for the sake of a finished product. This dilemma is where the Play Awhile approach comes in. Being flexible enough to recognize a playful whim as more than just a distraction can result in increased learning and the emotional warmth that comes with spending time meaningfully. We just have to ask ourselves… Process, or Product?

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Play to Your Needs

We’ve all heard the old adage, “play to your strengths.” It means if you do the things you’re good at, you’ll be successful. It makes sense…if you’re good at art, keep creating and you’ll have your own gallery in no time. If you’re good at math, keep solving and you’ll be an accounting wizard.

Playing to your strengths works great… until the artist needs a working budget for their business, and the mathematician needs beautiful and eye-catching marketing. If you only play to your strengths, you’ll soon find that perhaps your comfort zone has become a pigeon-hole. I suggest that every so often (actually, as often as possible), you step outside that comfort zone and Play to Your Needs.

In practice, Playing to Your Needs doesn’t have to be as dramatic as making a major life change. I see it taking 3 forms in daily life:

  1. Accommodate First: In this model, you identify what needs to be in place to provide an adequate learning environment, and then provide those accommodations. For me, it’s corrective eyewear, limited auditory distractions, noise cancelling earplugs, and a clean workspace, and the ability to work on the floor. For others, it might be a visual schedule, communication device, chewy tube, hearing aid, curb cuts, quiet corner, closed captioning, fidgets, a place to sit, a place to stand, a comfort object, wheelchair, bumpy cushion, or sensory break. It might be the absence of something (fluorescent lights, trigger words, loud noises), or a preference in language (“they” not “she”, “autistic” not “with autism”…). Once an individual is accommodated in their play space (or work space, or living space, or community), they are able to learn from, enjoy, and contribute to that space.

  2. Teaching Disguised as Play: In this model, you identify a need or skill that you’d like to work on, then you choose a play-based activity that will help build the skill. (For example, when my son couldn’t say “up” yet, I repeatedly tossed him onto my bed, where he likes to play with the pillows. I modeled “up” several times, then paused expectantly. Sure enough… he shouted “up!” when he wanted another turn.

  3. Something Scary: In this model, you try to incorporate one thing that is slightly outside of your comfort zone each day. It doesn’t have to be monumental, but even a tiny step into the unknown is crucial for personal growth. Today...I learned how to update my DNS codes for my website (just don’t ask me what that means!)

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With Respect, Redirect

This is the value that we call upon to set boundaries around and within our play. The first (and most important) aspect of this core value is the respect part. Whether you are redirecting your child, your student, or yourself, the individual on the receiving end deserves respect. So…to make sure you are offering respect in all situations, ask yourself this I redirecting the person, or am I redirecting the action?

If you’re redirecting the person (meaning, asking them to change who they are)...DON’T.

The best example I have of this is stimming. For those who are not familiar with the word, my most basic description is a repetitive action a person does to gain or release sensory input. Everybody stims (think, clicking a pen or jiggling a foot), but some people stim in ways that are what neurotypical people deem “socially inappropriate” (think, hand flapping or humming). For a person with autism, stimming fulfills a crucial purpose or purposes. The moment you ask an autistic person to stop stimming is the moment they learn they can’t be themselves around you. Redirecting a stim is redirecting the person and just shouldn’t happen. (If the stim is harmful to self or others, redirect to a safer stim that serves the same purpose.

So… when you ask yourself, “am I redirecting the person, or am I redirecting the action?” what do we do if the answer is “the action?” This is the point when we choose a redirection that fits the situation. There are three types of redirections in the Play Awhile approach.

  • Yes, But: Basically, this is what you employ when you need to add some structure/boundaries to a situation. “Yes, you can throw water balloons, but you have to go outside first.”

  • No, But: This is the redirection we use when desired action is not an option, but you can offer an alternative. “No, you can’t have another cookie, but you can watch a show while you wait for dinner.”

  • No, And: This is used when the answer is a resounding NO because the action is dangerous or inappropriate, this is a way to show respect by explaining why. “No, you can’t touch the stove because it is hot.”

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