The park or a playground is a wonderful place to have Floortime with your child. These
environments provide many opportunities for interaction around a
favorite piece of equipment on the playground, like a slide or jungle
gym for example, or while taking a walk together through a park,
interactions around your child’s interest in flowers, birds, the way
bark feels, etc., or just sitting on a bench together chit-chatting
about whatever the child is interested in. The playground environment
provides natural opportunities for interaction with peers, facilitated
as needed for your child’s individual needs. Both the park and
playground environments can provide a change of pace for you and your
child and be refreshing and fun for both.
at the park or on the playground follows the same principles as you
would use in Floortime at home or anywhere else. It’s important to
understand your child’s unique way of understanding his or her world and
how he or she takes in and processes information. The playground is
likely to involve a lot of gross motor activity: running, climbing,
going on slides. Some children enjoy these motor challenges, other
children avoid them. Some children enjoy running but not the slides.
other children can stay on the slides forever. Also, a playground tends
to be noisy and busy, with lots of other children talking and playing
on the equipment or running around. This can be overwhelming for some
children and they may prefer to stay on the perimeter of the playground
for a while or play in the sand. The park setting tends to be more
quiet and calm, which for some children may be just what they need, but
for other children might not provide the level of activity or sensory
input that they crave. You can be creative and find ways to engage and
draw your child into interaction in these environments by understanding
his or her motor and sensory needs and following his or her lead and
interests, just like you would at home or in any other setting.
When at the park or playground, keep in mind the following basic Floortime principles:
- First, understand your child's individual sensory and motor profile. In
order for your child to be able to interact with you and/or other
children in the playground she needs first to be regulated and
interested in the surrounding environment (Stage 1).
Carefully observe which sensations, like movement, for example, help
your child become calm and regulated and which ones overwhelm her, like
loud noises. What gets your child’s attention and helps her focus?
- Second, help your child engage with you by following his lead and interests.
Just like in the home Floortime sessions, you want to follow your
child’s lead and interests and entice him into engaging with you around
these interests (stage 2).
Have fun with him as you join him in the activities he wants to do.
For example, if he likes to swing, you can stand in front of him and use
gestures and/or sounds, like making different funny faces and sounds
that he likes (soft or loud or squeaky or using different pitches) as he
comes toward you and then goes away from you on the swing. While
taking a nature walk in the park, your child might show an interest in
the texture of the bark on a tree, for example. You could put your hand
between his and the tree and make a little game with him chasing your
hand around the tree. Enjoy the activities that he likes to do and make
them meaningful for both of you. Connect with your child's affect; help
him to connect with your affect. Are you both enjoying the activity? Is
he enjoying being with you?
- Third, encourage two-way communication.
Getting the flow of back and forth communication going while enjoying
each other at the playground or park is as important as in your home
Floortime sessions (Stage 3).
Because the environments are different and fresh for you and your
child, you may find it easier to be creative in encouraging your child
to initiate communication and then keep the circles of communication
going. While your child is on the swing, for example, you might
encourage her to indicate, with gestures or sounds/words, if she wants
to go higher or lower, faster or slower, and challenge her to take the
initiative. In the park, you can get many circles of communication
going around the smell of the tree, the texture of the bark, leaves and
acorns around the tree, etc.
- Fourth, expand your interactions and create situations where you have to solve problems together.
Once your child is able to maintain a continuous flow of back and forth
interactions, then you can challenge him to move up the developmental
ladder to Stage 4.
The playground and park are great places to expand your interactions
you’re your child and create problem-solving situations where she has to
take the initiative. You can create a game where you and your child
have to figure out how to get around obstacles, like having to go around
you or between your legs, to get where he wants to go. In the park,
you can go hide behind a favorite tree and encourage your child to come
find you or work together to figure out how to get to the other side of
the lake. Gross motor games can be very helpful to entice interactions
between you and your child as well as with peers. Invite a friend to
come along on the trip to the playground and bring a ball to throw back
and forth, play chase, "hide and seek", "monkey says", sing songs, etc.
While your child masters motor and sensory challenges she will also be
enjoying the interactions with you and other children.
- Fifth, encourage imagination and meaningful use of language. As your child progresses up the developmental ladder and begins to use ideas and do some pretend play ( stage 5),
parks and playgrounds can offer unlimited opportunities for use of
imagination and language. A jungle gym can become a pirate ship or zoo
with different “jungle” animals. A swing can become a spaceship or a
sailing ship gliding through a sea of clouds. Make sure you follow your
child’s lead and interests, letting her set the theme of the play and
then become a character in the drama. A peer can be involved in the
pretend dramas as well and can offer further opportunities to expand and
broaden themes and use of language. Try to encourage the meaningful
use of language—words and gestures—during these times. Pretend play in
these different settings may encourage your child to express different
emotions (e.g. anger, fear, sadness, joy).
- Sixth, facilitate logical thinking. If
your child is doing very well with Stage 5, you can now challenge him
to connect those emotional ideas together in a logical manner (Stage 6).
For the verbal child, these environments offer great opportunities for
asking and answering all the W questions, including Why questions. If
your child indicates that he wants to go to the slide, you could ask,
“Where is it? I don’t see it?” or “Why do you want to go to the lake?”
If your child can’t answer Why questions yet, you can give him a
choice—good choice first, and a silly choice second so he can’t just
repeat the last thing you said. “Do you want to go to the lake because
the ducks are there, or because you want to go to sleep?” Be creative
and help you child broaden and expand his range and flexibility in all
different environments and situations.
In summary, the primary
goal of Floortime, no matter where it takes place, is to follow your
child’s lead and interests while challenging him or her to move up the
developmental ladder. None of the stages on the developmental
ladder should be done in isolation from one another. Taken together,
these Floortime stages form a way of engaging with your child, getting a
continuous flow back and forth communication where you follow your
child’s lead and interests while at the same time challenging her to
broaden and expand her range and flexibility, use of ideas and language,
and to be logical, all within the context of your child’s unique motor
and sensory needs. And parks and playgrounds offer unique and
refreshing opportunities for parent and child to have fun together while
strengthening and mastering all these stages.