ABA Tips for Parents-Functional Play Skills

Written by Alana George, BS Clinical Psychology, RBT Student Analyst

“Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children, play is serious learning.” -Fred Rogers

Functional Play Skills in ABA

The main intended goal throughout your child’s treatment is for them to achieve functional communication and independence. Teaching functional play skills is significant for a child’s development because it builds social skills, creativity, and allows the opportunity for learning in their natural environment (school, home, clinic). Throughout your child’s treatment at ABA Therapy Solutions the providers will focus on teaching functional play skills through modeling, role-play, and repetitive practice. Your child will be taught how to appropriately engage with toys and activities according to their intended function, such as racing toy cars on the racetrack, dressing up baby dolls, or playing board games with peers. The provider working with your child will ensure positive play teaching by setting up the environment so that your child is able to focus and by engaging the child in what interests him/her and joining in. Effective teaching will be done by the provider modeling how to play with the toy and gradually fading support. Social skills will be taught throughout play by verbally engaging with your child during play.

In relation to the previous examples here are a few demonstrations: “OH no, the cars crashed” “The baby needs to get dressed, what does she put on first?” and “Who’s turn is it?”. The provider will also encourage the child to engage with peers through imitation, sharing, and taking turns. Teaching language and communication through play is the most effective way to learn new skills and is the basis of most early learning in childhood development (Functional Play: Milestones & Development, 2021).

Functional Play at Home

As a parent, it is important to know all children develop their play skills at their own pace and the level of support they need may vary. At home, you can incorporate all the teaching strategies used by the provider to teach play skills at home as well. The best way to practice and teach functional play skills with your child at home is to create genuine teachable moments through activities they are most interested in. What play type is your child? What play type are you? This can look like setting up a structured, time-limited playdate with a peer one on one, using teachable moments at the playground, or birthday parties, or during structured activities or sports. Another great opportunity for teaching functional play skills is during family activities like game night. A few family activities kids commonly enjoy are duck, duck, goose, hot potato, UNO card game, charades, and bowling. I have provided some resources that list additional ideas for great activities for teaching functional play skills. When playing with your child it is important to practice patience and positive reinforcement. For playtime to be the most effective in your child’s learning development, it is critical to praise and reinforce positive behavior throughout playing.

Whenever your child is appropriately engaged with a given toy or activities, provide them with a high reinforcement such as their favorite candy edible, additional time to play, or simply verbal praise: “Nice job stacking the blocks!” “I love how you’re playing with your toys nicely” “You are doing great work sharing with your friends”. Encouraging your child to explore and play in an appropriate manner increases their social skills, creativity, and critical thinking.




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