Tip of the Week: Ideas for Interactive Play For Learning

Creating opportunities for interactions is key when working with any child, but it is especially important when working with children with autism. ABA often gets a bad rap for being staid or leaving a kid stuck at a table doing discrete trials for hours on end. In reality, it should be neither! While I do discrete trials in my practice, my biggest priority is always focused on increasing learning opportunities by taking advantage of the child’s natural motivations. This typically means leaving the table, so I alternate between discrete trials and lots of teaching through games and activities. Here are a few of my favorites:

Toss & Talk
For this activity, I usually use a large ball, a soft ring, or something else the child can toss. I name a category, and we take turns tossing the ball (or other item) and naming an item from that category. The game can be easily modified for whatever you’re working on: counting, skip counting, or even vocal imitation. I like the game because it’s simple, it provide a back-and-forth that is similar to a conversation, and it can easily be modified to include peers, siblings, or parents. This is particularly great if your learner likes throwing balls, but I’ve also modified it to push a train back and forth or take turns hopping towards one another.

Ideas for Interactive Play For LearningPlay Dough Snake
This game is one I saw a preschool teacher use years ago and have had great success with. In this game, I simply create a snake out of play dough. I make a large opening for the snake’s mouth, then roll up little balls of dough that will be “food.” I tell the child that we are going to pretend the play dough is food. I have a silly snake voice, and I tell the child “I’m so hungry. Do you have something I can eat?” The child picks up a piece of the rolled-up play dough, tells me what kind of food it is, and then feeds it to the snake. I pretend to love it, and the little ball of play dough becomes incorporated into the snake’s play dough body (which is great, because the more “food” the snake eats the bigger it gets.) I can expand the game to have the snake dislike certain foods or tell the child he is too full. On several occasions, the learner has asked if they can be the snake, which is fantastic! This is another great game for peer play, sibling play, and modeling.

Pete’s A Pizza/You’re A Pizza
One of my favorite books for young learners is Pete’s A Pizza by William Steig. In this book, it’s a rainy day and Pete’s parents entertain him by pretending they are making him into a pizza: they roll up the “dough,” toss him in the air, add toppings, etc.
This is another game I saw a preschool teacher using during play time, and one I’ve used with many, many students. Sometimes I read the book beforehand, but if my learner’s level of comprehension or attention span is not appropriate for the book, I can just introduce it as a standalone game. I say, “It’s time to make a pizza!” Then, we get into the fun part of rolling the learner around, tossing him on a couch or mat, etc. This can generate a lot of language, work on sequencing, and provide a lot of opportunity for requesting activities.

Ideas for Interactive Play For LearningAnything with a Parachute
My parachute is one of my best purchases of all time. I use it often and it allows me to play a wide range of games. Besides just having the learner lay on the floor and have the parachute float down onto his/her body, it is a highly motivating toy for a range of activities. Many of my learners love just pulling that large item out of it’s small bag. I’ve already written about three games I frequently play with the parachute. You can see that here.


Repeating rhymes and songs with motions that your learner loves can provide anticipation of an activity that may increase eye contact and manding. One of my favorites is shown in a video here. While this video is shown with toddlers, I’ve used it with kids up to 6 or 7 years old. Similar activities might include Going on a Bear Hunt; Heads, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes; and Animal Action.

It’s important to note that none of these activities is beloved by every learner I encounter. The idea is to have a range of possible activities to learn which ones are motivating to your learner, then use those to create opportunities for language and interaction.


Sam is an ABA provider for students ages 3-15 in NYC. Working in education for twelve years with students with Autism Spectrum Disorders and other developmental delays, Sam utilizes strategies for achieving a multitude of academic, behavior, and social goals. Sam is currently a PhD candidate in Applied Behavior Analysis at Endicott College. She is also a lecturer in the ABA program at The Sage Colleges.

Pick of the Week: Jumbo Magnetic Spin Wheel & Spinners – Transform Your Classroom Whiteboard!

Teachers, transform your classroom whiteboard into an interactive, whole-class game space with the Jumbo Magnetic Spin Wheel or the Magnetic Whiteboard Spinners. Simply place the spinners on your whiteboard and use dry-erase markers to create the games and activities or use the the spin wheel with its colorful accompanying templates to set up the class activities you need—the possibilities are limitless! This week, save 15%* on your order of one or both of our featured products—the Jumbo Magnetic Spin Wheel and Whiteboard Spinners, when you apply our code SPINZ8 at checkout!   

The jumbo 16″ Magnetic Spin Wheel comes with 3 double-sided write-on/wipe-off templates (right) that contain 4, 6, 8, 12, and 32 sections, along with a blank, to enable complete customization.

You can organize and manage classroom tasks from assigning responsibilities to choosing students and activities.

Create interactive learning games for a fun spin on subject-specific review and reinforcement. The includedTeacher Guide contains 16 math, language arts, readiness, and classroom management activity suggestions.

The set of Whiteboard Spinners includes three giant 11″ spinners (below) that help turn your whiteboard into a custom game or activity for the whole class.  Draw a circle, write in content, attach a spinner, and play!

This week only, save 15%* when you order the Jumbo Magnetic Spin Wheel and/or the Magnetic Whiteboard Spinners and use our promo code SPINZ8 at checkout!

*Offer is valid until 11:59pm ET on May 20, 2014. Good for one-time use only. Not compatible with any other offer. Be sure there are no spaces or dashes in your code at checkout!