Program: Play Stations

Related Posts: NET, Program: Toy Play

A great program for teaching or increasing appropriate play skills would be: Play Stations.

I usually teach this during NET portions of the session, and the specific way it is implemented will vary according to client age, current play ability, and the setting. So what follows should really be considered a template that will need to be individualized to your specific client(s).

Teaching play stations would be ideal for a client with play deficits, to teach independence/leisure activities, or for pre-school age clients struggling in that setting.
Many of my young clients spend their time at pre-school/daycare wandering aimlessly around the room, or engaging in problem behavior. In that type of setting there's often less of a strict schedule of activities, and more "free play" time with multiple choices around the room. So the client would be at a disadvantage if they are unable/unwilling to interact with the play choices.

A play station is just an all-contained area for play with a related group of toys. For example: clay/Play Dough area, play kitchen area, water play area (I like to include sensory play as well), blocks/Lego area, etc. Think of a typical pre-school classroom. The room usually will have specific play areas sectioned off, in what teachers often call "centers". Toys stay in the specific designated area, and there are many choices available for the children to rotate through.
A play station could also include one themed toy, such as a carwash toy, a marble maze toy, or a railroad set. The options are endless.

I like to label the play areas, this can be done textually or visually, and also include teaching prompts for both the therapist team and the parents/caregivers. A huge benefit of this program for me, is that it's often so easy to generalize to the parents/outside of therapy sessions.

Teaching prompts for the therapist team could include current targets that can be embedded into the play. For example, at an art play station the therapist could embed color ID, tracing/writing, imitation, one step instruction, sharing or turntaking, and multiple fine motor targets ("open the ______","pick up the _______, "use the scissors to cut", etc.).  Mastered targets could also be embedded as a maintenance skill or to target generalization across stimuli.

Teaching prompts for the parents or family could include suggested ways to interact/engage the child with the play, as well as a handful of teaching examples (that have been modeled for the parent during therapy sessions). For example, at a water play station the parent could start an imitation game of pouring out water, implement manding trials to have the child request, or redirect the child to a play station activity when the parent needs to take a phone call, do laundry, etc.

For older clients or as appropriate, play scripts could also be used to teach this skill. For example, a play station with dress up clothing could be made with the following script used as a prompt:

Characters: Civilian (C), Firefighter (F)
Props: Firefighter's hat, empty spray bottle, crayon drawings of fire

  1. C: "Oh no! There's a fire."
  2. F: "Don't worry, I'm on the way to help."
    (Make fire engine sounds and drive a pretend fire truck over to client)
  3. C: "Help, there's a fire"
    (points to crayon drawing of fire)
  4. F: "I'll save you!"
    (squirts crayon drawing with empty squirt bottle)
  5. C: "Help, there's another fire!"
    (points to another crayon drawing)
  6. F: "I'll save you again"
    (squirts second crayon drawing)
    --Continue until all fires are out--
  7. C: "Thank you Mr./Ms. Firefighter."
  8. F: "You're welcome!"
Over time this script prompt can be faded, the acting roles can be alternated, and the language used can vary for spontaneity.  For example, the firefighter can pretend to be unable to put the fire out to see how the civilian will respond.

Keep in mind that this program is aimed at teaching play skills, meaning it should be FUN!
If the client isn't enjoying interacting with the play stations then reinforcement needs to be examined, perhaps the time interval is too high, perhaps the adult isn't all that fun to play with, or maybe the play choices available just aren't that interesting.
Does the client love straws? Iron Man? Beads? My Little Pony? Insert their interests/likes into the play stations, and remember to bring along lots of creativity when designing their play choices.

Below are some examples of varied play stations. All images found on

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