We have written a lot about how you can use everyday toys in speech therapy. You don’t need special resources to work on language and communication – with a bit of thought and planning, you can use the toys you have around the house or around your school or nursery. For more ideas about using everyday toys, click the links to find out how to use a a ball, bubbles, a teddy or dolly, toy animals, a car or train, a jigsaw puzzle, a box, Mr Potato Head and Lego.
Today I’m going to talk about Play Doh. So many children enjoy play doh and it’s a very flexible toy that can be used in so many ways. That makes it great for targeting language skills!
A little while ago I worked with a child who had a diagnosis of Autistic Spectrum Disorder. Often I use a lot of very visual toys with these children to work on attention and listening skills, as they often find these motivating. However, this particular child was as unmotivated by visual stimuli as he was by auditory stimuli (spoken words, sounds etc). He was a puzzle to me for a little while. After consulting with his OT however, I discovered that he loved any activity where he could touch and feel things, especially squeezing and pushing things. Thus a whole new speech therapy plan was born, and it involved a lot of play doh! Here are some of the ideas that I have used with that child and with others over the years.
- Early words. As we are playing with play doh we talk about what we are doing using short single words. The more you repeat the words, the better it is for helping the child to use them. There are lots of verbs you can use easily – squeeze, roll, push, pull, cut etc. A set of play doh cutters in different shapes can also be really useful. You can name the different items as your child cuts them out. (Then you can splat each one, which is always fun!)
- Attention and listening. As I just said, splatting a ball of play doh is a very satisfying activity! However, you can bring a listening element into it by getting the child to wait for you to say “go” before they can splat the play doh ball.
- Comprehension of simple instructions. I often use the cutters again to tell a child what to cut out. For example, “make a dog” or “make a cat”. Even without cutters you can make different things such as a ball, a snake or a cup. You can make these instructions more complicated, by asking for objects by function (for example, “cut out something that builds a nest” or adding other elements such as size and colour (for example, “cut out a green cow”). You can even ask them to cut out more than one thing or cut it out and then do something in particular with it.
- Prepositions. Put your cut out pieces or balls of play doh in different places (under the chair, in the box etc). Have a think about where you are happy for the play doh to go first of all! If you want to keep the play doh in a very defined area such as on a tray, you could try printing and laminating a picture and asking the child to put their play doh objects in different places on the picture.
- Early concepts. You can work on a range of concepts with play doh but it works particularly well for big/small and long/short. Make long snakes and short snakes, big balls and small balls. Talk about them as you go or ask your child to make a big one or a small one to check that they understand the words. You can also work easily on early counting skills.
Even older children love play doh if they let themselves! Here are some ideas for working on language skills with slightly older or more verbal children.
- Describing skills. Take turns to make something out of the play doh, then give the other person step by step instructions to make the same thing.
- Vocabulary. How many different verbs can you think of for different things you can do with play doh? This is again slightly dangerous as you don’t want the play doh thrown around and ground into carpets. Therefore when I have done this, we have used a plastic animal or some kind of plastic figure (Batman or a favourite character of some kind) to see what things he can do with the play doh while still keeping it on the tray! Can he eat it? Stamp on it? Wear it? Stretch it? Rotate it?
- Motivator. If you want a quick and easy motivator to use with any laminated flashcards, play doh can work well for some children. Together the child and I make lots of small balls of play doh and put one on top of each flash card. Once the child has said the word, or talked about the picture they can splat the play doh ball on top of it.
What else do you do with play doh?