Be a Good Playmate

A teacher and a young boy who is deafblind enjoy playing in a tub of water and glass rocks.
A teacher and a young boy who is deafblind enjoy playing in a tub of water and glass rocks.

When the child trusts you, you are ready to become more of an active playmate. Think about the type of playmates you experienced as a child. Remember when you were required to play with a child at some event you attended with your parents? Did you ever get stuck with the child who was bossy, always controlled the objects or activity, didn’t play any of the games you knew and liked or only played games that you were bad at, and who hoarded all the good toys? Did you enjoy that interaction? No! You probably tried to get away from that child as soon as possible. Most of us were happier if we had an opportunity to find a generous playmate, someone willing to share all his toys with us. We wanted someone who was interested in the things that interested us. A good playmate was someone who took turns, and offered new ideas and experiences without demanding that we go along with his suggestion.

As an educator (or parent) working with a child who is deafblind or visually impaired with additional disabilities you must become the good playmate to the child. So how do you do this?

Helpful Tips

Slow your pace

First of all, consider the pace of your interactions with the child. How fast can this child take in information? How long does it take for the child to physically be able to respond to sensory input? Is the child unsure of what you might do with him and a little fearful of the speed at which you move? A much slower pace than you would typically utilize may be needed. Unless we discipline ourselves to be aware of how fast we are moving around the child, we are likely to frighten him or simply overwhelm him. Step one, slow down.

Be generous

Be generous with the toys you have. Offer the whole toy box and see what the child picks. In order to learn about objects and their properties children have to have a wide variety of objects so they can compare the objects to each other. A typical two-year-old doesn’t play with one object but with many objects in a sequence, often returning to familiar objects to compare with a new object. This is a good pattern for learning about things and how they work. Children with sensory impairments need this opportunity as well.

Be generous with yourself in your interactions with the child. If the child is interested in continuing the interaction, give him extra turns.

Make your hands available for the child to use to as he chooses, allowing him to guide you in the interaction. Wait and give him time to consider how he wants you to respond.

Let him know you understand or value what he is trying to tell you by mirroring back what he shows you. This type of generosity is the beginning of many good conversational interactions.

Don’t be bossy or controlling

Don’t be bossy. Let the child control the activity. Be quiet and don’t make demands of the child. For example when you are sharing a ball don’t say, “Throw me the ball. Let’s put it in the basket.” Instead make a variety of balls available to the child and imitate what he does with the ball.

Don’t try to control the action or the object. Offer to be a part of the exploration, but respect the child if he refuses your involvement. Don’t correct him or tell him he is handling the object incorrectly or not completing the correct action. He will be much more inclined to include you in his game if you aren’t trying to take over.

Don’t make him share until he is ready

Learning to share is something we have to be ready for emotionally. In the earliest developmental stages, we are reluctant to relinquish something we like to another person. Having duplicates or a sufficient quantity of toys to offer a child addresses this issue. This allows you to model things to do with an object without making the child share his toy with you. Remember, at first the child will not be open to sharing his toys with you. He may show you his toy and you can comment on how lovely it is, but don’t make the mistake of taking it from him until he insists you have it. It takes longer for some of us to learn to share, so don’t rush it.

Be an interesting model

As the child experiences success in the way he is acting on the object you can offer an idea of something new to do by modeling an action. Try to determine what is interesting to the child about that object based on how he is playing with it. Is he fascinated with the shape of the object? Show him how the object’s shape will fit with another shape, for example putting the ball into a tube or a container. Is he interested in the texture of the object? Show him a different object with the same texture or offer a very different texture in a similar object for him to compare. Is the child interested in the way the object bounces or sounds when you throw it? Show him how many different objects bounce or sound. Remember, if the child decides he is not interested in what you are showing him you should return to his game. A little later you can try modeling the new action again.

Let the child feel success as well as challenges

Make sure that what you model is only slightly higher developmentally than the the child is currently demonstrating. For example, if the child is taking things out of a container you might show him how to put things in a container. It is important to have a clear notion of the “next step” when you sit down to play with a child so that you don’t target skills that are too high.

Educators have a natural tendency to constantly be working on the child’s IEP goals, which typically are written just above where the child is able to function. However, to be a good playmate, you need to strike a balance between letting the child feel success by practicing learned skills and challenging him to develop new slightly higher level skills. Let the child be competent in play.

Go from imitation to turn-taking to participating in routines

As the child becomes more inclined to engage with you, slowly work from imitating him to having him imitate you, to setting up turn-taking interactions. Taking a turn is a first step in participating with someone in an activity. Learning a series of steps is what we do when we teach a child a routine. Being able to carry out a routine means that the child has a memory of a series of events that can be expanded on by adding new information.

By being a good playmate we can entice the child to join in with us as we explore the world around us. As good playmates we can share information about actions and interactions that are possible. When we are good playmates, we are also being good educators. When we are good playmate we generally enjoy teaching more.

Video Examples

Cookie Conversation

In this video the teacher, Chris Montgomery, and student are previewing an activity that they will do soon. They look at the materials together and have a playful interaction.


Box Conversation

In this video the teacher, Adam Graves, imitates the student’s actions about a large, plastic box, taking turns with him and labeling actions, objects, and emotions.

Video Tutorial Companion: Be a Good Playmate 

TSBVI Outreach Consultant TVI Sara Kitchen discusses the importance in the adult assuming the role of a good playmate with their student. 

Sara Kitchen