None of us go through the experience of taking a Ryanair flight (with children), without the promise of the warm sunny destination at the other side. We don’t put in the elbow grease required for making cookie dough, without the promise of the sweet, soft and crumbly cookie at the end! Speech and language therapy practice for children is no different. Although less like the Ryanair flight and more like the cookie! our little workers need the promise of that reward at the end. Something to keep them motivated, engaged and encourage them to keep going.
What is a reward game?
When working towards any speech or language goal, you can keep things interesting by incorporating games. For instance, your child may be working towards saying ‘P’ or they may be fine tuning their ability to use ‘he’ and ‘she’. Each attempt is followed by a turn in a game. This can make working from a worksheet a little less boring. It also means that you can create games and practice when you are out and about, for instance in the car playing eye spy, practice and guess.
Reward games are fantastic way to combine play and practice, supporting learning and fun at the same time!
Why play pays
Using some of your child’s play time to do speech and language work not only helps them work towards their current targets but playing has many other benefits too. Play builds creativity, encourages general language development, facilitates problem solving, reduces stress levels and strengthens social and memory skills! *
How can I use a reward game with my child?
When using games to practice goals with your child there are few key things to remember. Keeping the following in mind during play practice will ensure sustained attention and cooperation!
- As with all practice, keep it positive! If your child Is very young or under confident you may want to t reward every attempt they make to keep them engaged and motivated. Let them know how they have done though by offering feedback e.g. ‘good try’ or ‘remember, lips together like this for ‘P’’ See our advice on speech strategies for more information of this kind. If your child is a little older and more confident you can try only rewarding the correct attempts with a turn in the game, but continue with the encouraging feedback!
- Take turns! Make sure you take a turn too. Take a go at working towards your child’s target. This gives you the opportunity to model the right answer or make silly mistakes and have a giggle together.
- Don’t wait too long to reward your child once they had a go at practicing.
- Depending on your child’s attention level, you can speed things up or slow things down, so they get rewards nice and quickly. This may be a good idea for a child that is resisting practicing. Begin by giving rewards quickly and as your child learns what to expect you can attempt to leave more time between rewards e.g. can they practice their ‘p’ sound once before a reward, then can they practice ‘p’ five times?
- Set some ‘cool rules’ before playing so your child knows exactly what they have to do before they can have a turn in the game. Refer them back to these rules as you play e.g. ‘I am waiting for you try ‘P’ before you can put the sword in the pop up pirate! Or ‘can you remember what we have to do first?’
If it already has your child’s vote, practice can become rote!
The best thing about reward games is that you probably already have everything you need to get going!
Think about what motivates your child. There will no doubt be an endless number of things that your child likes to do that are not listed below. Use anything you think your child finds rewarding!! To give you some ideas, you could try taking turns to:
-Make lots of noise through clapping, stomping, banging!
– throw or pass a ball
-colour in or paint part of a picture (you may need a timer for this, so it doesn’t take too long or count to 10/20 seconds)
The games cupboard.
You can use almost any boardgame as long as the turns are not too long (you won’t get much work done!). Here is a quick look at some of the games inside a Speech and Language Therapists cupboard:
1. Sneaky snacky squirrel.
I have never worked with a child who didn’t want to help the cute little squirrel collect acorns and store them the tree trunk. Anything can happen from one minute to the next. Just when you think your squirrel has collected all the acorns it needs; an acorn storm comes along and blows them all away. Sometimes your squirrel component steals one of your acorns and you must work to win it back! Short turns make this game ideal for goal practicing. As a bonus there is a lovely acorn grabber that you must use to pick up the squirrel’s treat!
2. Velcro dart board and balls.
Take turns to throw balls at a Velcro dartboard and then tally up your points. You can make this harder or easier depending on where you position the board. Normally this game inspires lots of competition and giggles!
3. Pop up dragon.
Putting the flags in to the dragon’s castle and waiting for him to pop up, normally ensures lots of turns! If the Dragon pops up on the first go, it works as a good demonstration of what your child is aiming for in the game (if they haven’t played before). Keep going and try to make him jump again whilst getting in more and more practice.
4. Cheeky monkeys
Take turns to hang a monkey or a gorilla on the tree. Children love the buildup of anticipation as they wait for the tree to get so heavy it falls in the pool of crocodiles!
The games above represent a small sample of the structured games that you can use as reward games. You may have many of your own already at home.
Remember: keep turns: short, positive and fun!
Written by Carolyn Fox, Children’s Speech and Language Therapist