Play is supposed to be easy. Sometimes it is so hard for us as parents and teachers to let go of the directive mindset and enter in to a quiet responsive place of play. Dr. Jim has written a wonderfully inspiring and easy to read book called Play to Talk that I highly recommend. In it he urges us to stop talking so much. We have heard somewhere that we need to bathe our child in language, that the more we talk, the more language the child will pick up. However, that doesn’t work sometimes. That doesn’t work for my kid, who is still not talking much at age 4. Dr. Jim suggests that we stop talking so much and only talk about as much as the child himself. At first, I thought this was ridiculous. I was curious to keep reading a bit more, just to see how something so ridiculous could be expected to work. I thought, “Then no one will be talking!” Silence seems scary and counterproductive to me. But silence is important for the child to learn that he is expected to take his turn in the conversation. Dr. Jim recommends modeling language that is possible for the child, using words that are in his repertoire or only one extra word, for example, if the child is playing with a car and he can say “car” you take a car to play with him and say, “car in” or “car, beep.” Then waiting for the child to take a turn.
Then I tried it with my son. It worked.
To be honest, it’s still a little tricky for me to shut off or limit my prompting directive voice when the camera is rolling. I need to remind myself that we are not wasting resources by letting the film roll on the digital camera. That we can delete the whole 5 minutes, no problem. I have tried to think of the camera as a cover for my mouth. There’s a place for prompting, but in this form of play therapy there is an importance in waiting.
There was a clear, and somewhat painful, learning experience for me while I was taking footage for a video story at the playground. Solomon had made a friend with another little boy named Sam. Sam’s aunt was energetic, playful and 100% present and available to interact. She joined in to the boy’s play of selling sticks at the store? I was filming. The boys gave her a handful of sticks, she said, “oooooo. A burger! Yummy!” Solmon said, “Burger.” She said, “Oh this is good!” Solomon said “Good!” and hurried to give her something else. He gave her another handful of mulch. She said, “Oh, good. Lemonade! I need a drink.” He said, “Lemon.” and hurriedly got her something else? Then my mom said, “Can I have a hamburger?” He gave her a pile of mulch. She said, “What is this?” He didn’t answer. I prompted, “Solomon, what did you give Gran? Solomon, is it a hamburger? Solomon? Is it a burger?” He ignored us both and went back to give mulch to the other mother, who said, “Ooooo. Perfect. I wanted some French fries.” He said, “Fries!” and rushed off to give her more. Then Gran asked for something again. He gave her something and she said, “What is this?” He didn’t answer. I tried again to get his attention and asked him to say some words, but he looked at the camera with a look that communicated some sadness and frustration. He didn’t respond to us, but brought the other mother more mulch. As I watched this footage in order to edit the movie, I started to cry. This other mother was demonstrating the skills I was learning in the Play to Talk book and getting much more language from Solomon. She was modeling words he maybe could say. Then waiting expectantly and quietly for his response. Gran and I were asking him questions without giving him a model of the words to say. Then we resorted to directing and prompting and he didn’t feel like we were playing anymore. He gravitated to the other mother who was actively playing, just like she was another kid. She was saying words, taking turns, not demanding a specific response. I guess we all have a lot to learn.
I have been very diligent at changing my method.