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Are You Forgetting to Play in Your Social Groups?

Rebecca Reinking, CPSP, CCC-SLP

Feb 21, 2018

Are You Forgetting to Play in Your Social Groups?

I don’t know about you, but as soon as I have a school-age kid on my caseload with social learning challenges, play goes right out the window. Because play is for little kids. You know, the ones who aren’t expected to sit for structured learning. The ones for whom, let’s face it, play IS the only real option.


Now I’m going to let you in on two secrets.


One is that I recently I got to go to the—yes—the Social Thinking clinic as part of my clinical training and saw that play really was all the rage, despite the age. It was the type of observation that made me sit back and think ‘get me a pen and paper, pronto.’ It was truly a therapeutic game changer.


Two is that I’ve been sitting on the Group Collaboration, Play and Problem Solving (or GPS) book that’s included in the We Thinkers! Volume 2 Social Problem Solvers Deluxe Package for way too long now because the thought of that book just overwhelmed me.


And it took that long because I’m the type of SLP who needs to actually see things in practice so that I can connect the dots.


The dots are officially connected.


You see, I have always been a little scared of play. It was one of those areas that I brushed away because in my career I typically see school-age kids, so play wasn’t really on my radar. Then this big blue GPS book would just sit on my desk and I’d peek in it and think ‘no, no, no… I don’t have time to read all this just yet.’ And so I kept pushing play to the side. Yeah, I make pretty good excuses for myself. And it was such a lame excuse because after I finished my training and actually sat and looked through the GPS book, I realized that all Social Thinking was trying to do was give me a more functional, practical and therapist-friendly tool to help me expand what I was already doing with the We Thinkers! Volume 2 curriculum and storybooks.


I should’ve opened that book months ago!


Group Collaboration Play Scale Book

And when I finally did, and flipped through the first few pages to read that the purpose was ‘helping you understand more about how children play to enable you to teach early learners through the lens of Group Collaboration, Play and Problem Solving’ I felt totally silly. This is what I have needed the whole time!!!


So now, instead of being that person who thinks ‘hmmm…what game can I play to teach thinking with your eyes,’ I have SO many ideas that I have therapy planned for at least half a year. At least.


Because I had it all wrong.


As soon as I opened that GPS book and read through the activities, I was thinking ‘hey, I saw Ryan do that in her group! That was AMAZING!’ And I guess that’s the visual learner in me. As I’ve learned from attending Social Thinking conferences, social learning is a slow and deep process. You can’t just expect to read the Size of the Problem storybook (found in We Thinkers! Volume 2) and talk about it over 3 sessions and expect that a student will not only get it, but use it. And so the way that my brain has analyzed the GPS book is that this is my extra tool, my inspirer of ideas, my fun creator and therapy revolutionizer!


Now I want to take the perspective of an everyday person, just going about my work trying to implement Social Thinking to my best ability and share how I have been using this tool, because I feel like I’m just scraping the surface (but you’ve gotta start somewhere, right?!).


  1. I get informed: If the idea of play leaves question marks in your clinical knowledge (as it has mine), then the first chapter is simply marvelous. So yeah, it’s a little like a crash course in play development, but it’s enough so that I have a basic framework, I’m feeling more self-assured, and things make sense. Play is less scary and I have an “I can do this” surge of confidence.

  2. I get to know the play scales: The GPS Play Scale is one of those things that you scan and laminate as soon as you see it. Immediately your brain starts thinking about your caseload and where each student’s play skills lie. I found that I had direction and clarity in terms of how to group my kids and how I wanted to expand their skills. I knew where we needed to focus and I had goals for where I wanted them to be. These are probably my favorite few pages in the whole resource, for the depth they give me—the GPS overview (below) is a great reminder too.


Group Collaboration Play Scale Overview

  1. I expand my therapy tools: The GPS resource and the We Thinkers! Volume 2 curriculum and storybooks go together. So well. Basically the GPS just gives you a deeper understanding of how to integrate play for each Social Thinking area, but by using the Play Scales. You might have a few groups or students learning about Smart Guesses, but some of the students might be at a GPS Play Level 2 while others are at a GPS Play Level 4. So then there are specific ideas and activities to go with these play levels. It’s brilliant and feels so much more targeted and individualized. Another way to help me think about play and integrating the GPS framework is to get a little organized. I have separate bags (which I’m sure will turn into boxes) for each We Thinkers unit, and I have laminated and inserted the associated play scale that goes along with all the visuals that come with the curriculum and additional ones that I’ve made to help teach the concept. This way I can always be oriented to current goals and where I’m heading.

  2. I print rubrics: These keep me sane. They are my reference point for goals and measuring progress, and teachers and parents just respond to them really well. The rubrics have definitely been that missing puzzle piece for me in terms of therapy and data collection.

While it might be impossible for you to attend the Social Thinking Clinical Training Program and have all the sparks of therapeutic clarity that I’ve had, I will say this: Don’t make my mistake and leave the GPS book closed on your desk because it’s thick. The thickness is really just a reflection of well-organized, thorough chapters—your phone-a-friend if you like, of packaging real therapy frameworks, rubrics, and activities for people like you and me who love teaching Social Thinking but want to do it better.


Update: In addition to being sold as part of We Thinkers! Volume 2, the GPS book is now sold separately as an assessment tool to help evaluate the peer-based play and reciprocal social engagement abilities in children. The stand-alone GPS book is not designed to teach core Social Thinking concepts.


* I completed the Social Thinking Clinical Training in November 2017 and would HIGHLY encourage anyone to attend. Social Thinking provided me with a copy of We Thinkers Volume 2 which included the GPS curriculum and I love nothing more than to reflect and honestly interpret how an everyday person uses the Social Thinking Methodology.


Author Bio: Rebecca Reinking is an Australia-based speech-language pathologist. She works in private practice with people of all ages with a strong focus on social communication and speech sound disorders. Rebecca also blogs and creates therapy resources on her site, Adventures in Speech Pathology.

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