The Stages of Play: Supporting social-emotional development

Upon entering the STEM classroom in January of 2021 at the Learning Pavilion, Justice was non-social with peers. He did not engage in group play, would not participate in circle time, and often just stand by the classroom door looking out of the window. Transitions can be hard on little ones and Justice had started in a new classroom with new teachers he did not know.

His teacher, Mrs. Cassandra, tried multiple communication techniques to involve him in the classroom with the goal of learning his unique style and social cues. She would let Justice explore his environment on his own terms instead of asking him to join everyone else. This way, his teacher could observe things that interest Justice and let him establish his comfort level. Little by little, Justice started showing interest in class activities, choosing to sit with the teacher during circle time – even if only for short periods of time. Eventually, Mrs. Cassandra gained his trust and she began to work with Justice on engaging with structured learning activities – and by that, we mean play!

As Justice opened up, Mrs. Cassandra noticed which toys he was drawn to like chalk, trucks, Legos, puzzles, bubbles and trains. Mrs. Cassandra would take those chosen toys and just sit next to Justice and show him how to play, showering one-to-one attention attention on him. Slowly, Justice began to initiate play sessions and be content with self-play for short periods of time. That was our opportunity to introduce parallel, or side-by-side, play. By observing his social cues, Mrs. Cassandra would pair Justice near others with similar likes to help him build his comfort level. Activities like chalk drawing or bouncing a ball outside was an easy, fun activity that Justice experienced with his peers while still playing solo.

This slow introduction to play near others led to play with others. Mrs. Cassandra introduced a game of toss with another child and Justice accepted! By careful observation and patience, Justice successfully established his own comfort levels and began to engage in cooperative play, even when initiated by a peer. Today, Justice has a huge smile on his face when he walks in the door, and participates in group activities with only a little help from his teachers!

With the help of Justice’s amazing parents, TLP teachers, and therapist all working together, we can proudly say that Justice has made tremendous progress, socially and emotionally.

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