You enjoy playing with your child, but did you know that play is a great way to build communication and the foundation for reading skills? This can be as easy and fun as acting out a familiar story like the Three Little Pigs.
Begin by reading the story of the Three Little Pigs. The best one that I found is Mary Engelbreit’s Nursery Tales: a Treasury of Children’s Classics. The drawings are big and colorful, and the stories are quite short. I searched for such a book because I could not accurately remember these old familiar stories. I also liked the fact that this version of the Three Little Pigs and Little Red Riding Hood did not end with the animals eating anyone; even the gingerbread man survives his ride on the nose of the fox!
Next read the story to your child. Shorten the events and the dialogue if you see interest waning. A short time after the reading suggest playing Three Little Pigs. Act out the story with you being the wolf and model what your child should say as the pig. You can set this up with the child under a table or in a tent made of blankets and two chairs. You really don’t need any props, however. You might say “Little pig, little pig, let me come in!” Model for the child, “Not by the hair of my chinny chin chin!” Actually, when I did this with my child, we never got beyond the wolf’s lines and the pig’s lines. I did do the huffing and puffing and ended with tickling my child, much to his delight. I watched for his gaze and repeated the play again and again.
This play is fun! But there’s a lot of learning going on as well. First, the child is learning to participate in a joint action routine. These are routine interactions between two or more people using frequent repetition and rehearsal of language around a motivating activity. Many schools use TEACCH to help children interact in communication exchanges and social understandings. This method of acting out stories to promote language development has been supported by research, but not specifically with children with autism. Yet it works because it employs a structure of routine and predictability which we know supports learning for children with autism. As a parent, the best part is that it is easy and fun.
Here are a few tips about joint action routines that will helped me act out familiar stories.
- Set the routine up so that interaction between you and your child is necessary.
- Break the routine into clearly defined roles. You be one character (wolf) and have your child be another (pig).
- Break the routine down into small steps. Keep the story short. Forget the details of the other two pigs.
- Model what you want your child to say or do when s/he requests. “Not by the hair of my chinny, chin, chin.”
- Keep the sequence of events the same so your child learns the routine. Your goal is to get him to engage with you and have fun.
- Every step in the routine should be marked by a word, phrase or sentence used consistently – EXACTLY THE SAME WORDS.
Acting out simple Mother Goose stories is more than fun. We know that engaged communication builds language learning. And language development ensures your child’s future success.