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As a child on the Autism Spectrum, an area Isla struggles is social skills and understanding social norms. While that’s a broad brush description of a common autism struggle, it’s something we work on at almost every moment of every day. Chances are that you do the same, even if you have a typically developing toddler or preschooler. As she’s gotten older a combination of more experience with peer interactions and ABA therapy has made social interactions easier and they are becoming more natural to her.
One of the easiest ways we work with her is through imaginative play. Using toys she shows interest in, we can contrive situations and tailor them specifically to things she needs help with. We’ve used it to talk about potty training, asking for a turn with a toy she wants, and what to say if someone (ahem, little brother) does something you don’t like. Honestly, it’s a great way to work on any skill with any child and to develop deeper cognitive and social/emotional skills. The pressure is off because we’re talking about the toys we are playing with and not her personally which helps her relate to the fact that the things she is learning are things all of her peers learn at some point.
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Imaginative play is a great way to:
- Make connections to the world: At preschool age, they are still very self centered, but it’s important to start introducing the fact that they are apart of something bigger.
- Develop social and emotional skills: Imaginative play allows children to take on try on new roles that they may not do in their day to day life. It develops a sense of empathy when children are encouraged to take on a new perspective.
- Increase language skills: taking on a pretend role allows your child to take new language for a spin. Maybe they’re pretending to be a teacher and teaching the class about sharing, or pretending to be a parent and getting the kids to clean up. Words have power and this is one way your child can try out what they hear all day long. You may be surprised at what they say and hear that maybe they really are listening after all!
- Critical thinking skills: When done with a partner, imaginative play requires children to take turns, share props and work toward a common goal- all skills that will serve them well into adulthood!
Now that Isla is getting older, we can play with a wider range of toys and talk about more complex situations. It’s a great chance to get some one on one time with her too because Nolan just doesn’t have the patience and attention span to play with some of these more complex toys. Since our kids are only 20 months apart, they do practically everything together, but we’re learning that while they have so much fun together, it is important that they get some solo time every once in a while too.
Lately, Isla has been really into police officers. She is the girliest of girls and I think we may own every princess and unicorn under the sun, but I love fostering her interests outside of the Land of Glitter. It certainly helps that she knows Dad is an officer, and she loves to spot police cars as we’re driving or out in the community. I love that the PLAYMOBIL Take Along Police Station gives her an opportunity to learn more about community helpers, like police officers, and that she is learning that if she is ever in a situation that she needs help she should look for an officer. I also love that it gives them a chance to play one on one.
We picked up this PLAYMOBIL Take Along Police Station at Walmart. I was incredibly surprised by the budget friendly price point and the quality of Playmobil! They were definitely built to withstand kids and will last until Nolan is ready for it too!
One thing I didn’t anticipate with this toy was the set up. Initially it was more time intensive than I anticipated. Nothing too terrible, just more involved than a 4 year old’s attention span. I worried that Isla would lose interest as AJ put it together. But, setting it up became part of the learning experience. They were able to talk about how they had to read the instructions to know how to set it up, which is such a valuable life skill. Isla also has a really hard time waiting, so this was good practice in staying patient to wait for something good. She also got a good experience in working with a partner to complete a common goal, which will be such an important skill when she gets to Transitional Kindergarten next year.
I’m definitely excited for these new “big kid” toys we get to have around the house now. We’re (mostly) over the stage of a baby putting everything in his or her mouth, which opens us up to a whole new world, including these fun Playmobil sets! You can find more PLAYMOBIL sets by clicking here. There really is something for every interest!
Do you use imaginative play with your children? What concepts have you introduced or worked on with your child?