Five Steps in Floortime
Both listening to and watching a child are essential
for effective observation. Facial expressions, tone of voice, gestures,
body posture, and word (or lack of words) are all important clues
that help you determine how to approach the child, e.g.:
• is a child's behavior relaxed or outgoing?
• withdrawn or uncommunicative?
• bubbling with excitement?
• is the child a real go-getter?
2 Approach - open circles of communication
Once a child's mood and style have been assessed,
you can approach the child with the appropriate words and gestures.
You can open the circle of communication with a child by acknowledging
the child's emotional tone, then elaborating and building on whatever
interests the child at the moment.
3 Follow the child's lead
After your initial approach, following a child's
lead simply means being a supportive play partner who is an "assistant"
to the child and allows the child to set the tone, direct the action,
and create personal dramas. This enhances the child's self-esteem
and ability to be assertive, and gives child a feeling that "I
can have an impact on the world." As you support the child's
play, the child benefits from experiencing a sense of warmth, connectedness
and being understood.
4 Extend and expand the play
As you follow the child's lead, extending and
expanding a child's play themes involves making supportive comments
about the child's play without being intrusive. This helps the child
express own ideas and defines the direction of the drama. Next,
asking questions to stimulate creative thinking can keep the drama
going, while helping the child clarify the emotional themes involved,
e.g.: suppose a child is crashing a car: Rather than ask critically,
Why are those cars crashing? You may respond empathetically, Those
cars have so much energy and are moving fast. Are they trying to
5 Child closes the circle of communication
As you open the circle of communication when you
approach the child, the child closes the circle when the child builds
on your comments and gestures with comments and gestures of own.
One circle flows into another, and many circles may be opened and
closed in quick succession as you interact with the child. By building
on each other's ideas and gestures, the child begins to appreciate
and understand the value of two way communication.
Strategies for Floortime intervention
Follow child's lead and join them - it does not
matter what they do as long as they initiate the move.
Position yourself in front of the child and persist in your pursuit.
Treat what child does as intentional and purposeful - give new meanings.
Help the child do what they want to do and invest in whatever the
child initiates or imitates.
Join perseverative play and do not treat avoidance or "no"as
Expand, expand, expand - keep going, play dumb, do wrong moves,
do as told, interfere etc.
Do not interrupt or change the subject as long as it is interactive.
Insist on a response.
Keep it all fun - do not turn the session into
a learning or teaching experience.
Questions to Ask Yourself if You Are a Good Floortimer
Do I use a calm voice?
Do I give gentle looks?
Is my body posture supportive?
Arm my actions non-intrusive?
Do I use encouraging gestures?
Do I demonstrate calm and supportive listening?
Am I aware of the child's rhythms and gestures?
Am I able to help the child identify play themes?
Do I expand the child's drama by staying involved with the theme
and elaborating the details?
Am I able to help the child extend the drama by summarizing main
ideas of play themes?
Do I observe the behavior, language, and gestures of the child?
Do I observe the child's style of relating?
Do I approach the child slowly, with respect and thoughtfulness?
How often do I allow the child to take the lead? Do I follow that
Do I let the child know through gesture, facial expressions, emotional
tone, and supportive body posture that I am there for the child?
Do I know when to be verbally responsive, and when it is better
to quietly share a child's emotion?
Do I work to understand the emotional needs of the child?
Props Needed for Floortime
• plastic vegetables and fruits etc.
• plastic foods: chicken, hot dogs, eggs, bacon, french fries etc.
• plastic dishes, cups, forks, knives and spoons
• plastic or paper soup cans and boxes of foods
• plastic cooking utensils, pots, mixer, toaster etc.
• play kitchen with table and chairs
• minimum of 12 match box size cars, trucks etc
• tool kit to fix cars, e.g.: screwdriver, wrench, pliers, etc.
• road signs, play road
• road construction equipment
• other forms of public transportation: airplane, boat, bus, train
Empathy and nurturing of others
• minimum of two dolls, one boy and one girl
• minimum of two bottles
• plastic figures of a family whose sex and number of members matches
the child=s family
• plastic figures of helpers in the community: doctor, nurse, fireman,
construction person, police
• doctors kit to help dolls
• tool kit to fix objects owned by dolls
• doll house for plastic family
• blankets and clothes for dolls
• play bath equipment for dolls
• play crib or bed for dolls
• plastic animals from the jungle, zoo, water
• plastic dinosaurs
• Fisher Price or Play School: farm, pirate ship, airport, school,
• books on a variety of topics which are age appropriate
• word signs around the room
• display of letters of alphabet and numbers 1 to 10 in room
• school desk for dolls or child to go to school
• toy soldier set with military transportation
(e.g.: tanks, helicopter, boat, and armored trucks) guns, tents,
etc., cowboy and Indian set with horses, tents, wagons, guns, bows
and arrows etc
• wooden block set
• plastic block set
• tool kit for construction e.g.: saw, hammer, screwdriver etc.
• Lincoln log set
• construction equipment: truck, earth mover, etc.
• crayons and paper
• watercolor tempera paints, brush and paper
• finger paints and finger paint paper
• clay or Play Dough for sculpting
• sand box, pails, shovels and other sand containers
• water play table
• gym set with slide, swings and ladder
• rubber football and/or baseballs to throw and catch
• rubber soccer ball and/or basketball to kick
Constructive obstruction props
• soap bubbles to be blown on child while playing
to learn coping with distraction
• balloon or light ball to bounce on the drama which is occurring
to create crisis
• blanket to hide the desired objects under
• rubber bands, to fix or bind things together
• tape, to fix or bind things together
• bunch of nerf balls to throw to create obstacle which needs to
be attended to
keep theme related props in "shoe box"
size transparent plastic containers with covers so child can see
inside and select theme to play with. This will make it easier to
keep play room orderly and neat when Floortime is ended. Enlist
child to assist you in putting props in their respective containers.
some points worth remembering
Opening the symbolic door
Get engaged at any level with the child. Build
on any intent, problem solving, corner or undoing. Be ready with
symbolic toys available to use, and recognize and create opportunities
. Cue or model symbolic actions,
be meaningful but at the same time keep it easy and fun!
Creating and expanding ideas
Treat objects or actions as ideas! Do not "read"
or just describe things, talk to the child in role - as actor or
with a figure. Build on real experiences - bridge to what would
happen next and wait for the child to make the next move - then
give choices or model next step.
Resist the temptation to take over and "appreciate" the
child's need for control.
Try to build bridges between ideas and give reasons for your or
Problem solve and assist in the finding of a solution, and make
ideas more complex and more elaborate.
Constructive obstruction to extend problem solving
The child will be surprised, amused or frustrated
when faced with the changes and obstacles you create for them. Approach
child with a supportive attitude, sharing surprise, Oh no what happened?,
What's the matter? Help child solve the problem, but wait for child
to recognize the problem first and then encourage the process.
Stretch the problem as long as possible by playing dumb. Offering
wrong solutions so child can check out several alternatives. Asking
questions and opinions about what they want, etc. Remember: goal
is not to frustrate child but to mobilize child's thinking and acting
in face of something which matters personally to the child.
Opportunities for Doing Floortime with Child
To assist child to solve problems and handle changes
identify opportunities in the child's daily life which present a
"stage" for problem solving and change accepting "dramas".
Brainstorm how you could utilize the following opportunities:
• all thing you routinely do for child
• all the things child expects or waits for you to do
• all the things child already expects to do for self
• all the things child desires or expects to have or go to
• daily challenges.
Home-Based Opportunities for Floortime
Dressing and undressing: giving child choices
about what to wear or not or what to take off first, is following
the child's lead.
Mealtime: chose one meal a time with enough time - talk may focus
around food preparation, different foods being served, which foods
are particularly enjoyable or any topic relating to the child's
Car time: engage child in a relaxed conversation in which child
takes the lead, or sing-along for which child chooses songs
Coming and going time: plan to have at least a little time to get
child settled on arrival to a classroom or in switching and transitioning
from one activity to another by reading a short story, visit pet
in classroom or at home, or look at special toy in classroom or
at home. Show child support through your interest and warm clear
good-bye if leaving in classroom. On picking child up from classroom
give the child a chance to tell you something important about the
day while you are still in the school setting.
Bath time: Bath toys are wonderful props as they float, get dunked,
and come into contact with each other. The water is a great opportunity
for play. The child will naturally relax in the water.
book time: Read the book with the child on your lap or next to you
on a chair or bed. As you read, be aware of responses and questions
that you can extend. (If the child is totally absorbed, however,
it is best to continue reading and simply enjoy the sense of shared
Bedtime: Bedtime is often accompanied by a ritual, but is also a
moment to feel close and loving. Children sometimes share important
thoughts and feelings during the last moments before falling asleep.
Although you will not want to rev-up the child up prior to sleeping,
you can respond with empathy and stay close until the child is calm
and feels safe enough to sleep.
Every day activities as problem solving for child
• chair not close to table, in the child's spot,
when meal time arrives
• bottle not open when you are trying to pour juice
• bathtub empty of water when you tell child it is time to take
• shoes hidden from usual resting place
• changing the shelf locations of favorite books, tapes etc.
• putting two socks on same foot
• putting shirt on feet
• give child adult shoes instead of their own
• use rubber band to hold together a spoon and fork when giving
child tool for eating
• being sure cup is upside down when offering child a drink
• put markers in a new container which child has not yet learned
• mix puzzle pieces of two or three puzzles together.
Strategies for Engagement and Two-way Communication
Give child seemingly random actions new meanings
by responding to them as if they were purposeful.
Use sensory-motor play -- bouncing, tickling, swinging, and so on
-- to elicit pleasure.
Use sensory toys in cause-and-effect ways: hide a toy, then make
it magically reappear; drop a belled toy so that child will hear
the jingle; bring a tickle feather closer, closer, closer until
finally you tickle child with it.
Play infant games, such as peek, I'm going to get you, and patty
Play verbal Ping Pong with child, responding to every sound or word
the child makes and continue the ping pong match to expand the number
of circles closed.
Pursue pleasure over other behaviors and do not interrupt any pleasurable
Use gestures, tone of voice, and body language to accentuate the
emotion in what you say and do.
Try to be as accepting of child's anger and protests as you are
of child's more positive emotions.
Help child deal with anxiety (separation, getting hurt, aggression,
loss, fear, and so on) by using gestures and problem solving.
Strategies for Helping Child Build a Symbolic World
Identify real-life experiences child knows and
enjoys and have toys and props available to play out those experiences.
Respond to the child's real desires through pretend actions
Allow the child to discover what is real and what
is a toy (e.g., if child tries to go down a toy slide, encourage
child to go on; if child tries to put on doll's clothes, do not
tell it doesn't fit; if the child puts foot in pretend pool, ask
if he or she is cold).
If child is thirsty, offer an empty cup or invite to tea party.
If child is hungry, open cardboard-box refrigerator and offer some
food, pretend to cook, or ask if the child will got to the pretend
market with you to get things. If child want to leave, give pretend
keys or a toy car. If child lies down on floor or couch, get a blanket
or pillow, turn off the lights, and sing a lullaby.
Encourage role playing with dress-up props, use
puppets - the child may prefer to be the actor before using symbolic
figures. Use specific set of figures/dolls to represent family members
and identify other figures with familiar names.
Give symbolic meaning to objects as you play: hen child climbs to
top of the sofa, pretend child is climbing a tall mountain, or when
child slides down the slide at the playground, pretend the child
is sliding into the ocean and watch out for the fish. Substitute
one object for another when props are needed. Pretend that the ball
is a cake or the spoon is a birthday candle. Resume use of gestures
for props along with toy objects and substitutes. As you play, help
child elaborate on personal intentions.
When a problem crops up during play, create symbolic
Get the doctor kit when the doll falls so child can help the hurt
doll, tool kit for broken car etc.
Acknowledge child's disappointment and encourage empathy.
Get involved in the drama. Be a player and take on a role with your
Talk directly to the dolls rather than questioning child about what
is happening or narrating
Both help the child and be your own player.
Talk as an ally (perhaps whispering), but also have your figure
oppose or challenge child's ideas.
Insert obstacles into the play. (e.g.: make your bus block the road.
Then speaking as a character, challenge child to respond. If necessary,
get increasingly urgent (whispering to child to encourage to deal
with the problem, offer help if needed by becoming an ally).
Use symbolic figures child knows and loves, such as Barney, Disney
or Sesame Street characters, to generate symbolic play. Reenact
familiar scenes or songs, create new ideas, and notice characters
and themes child may be avoiding or fear. Use play to help child
understand and master ideas/themes which may have been frightening.
Work on fantasy and reality.
Let child be the director. Child's play need not be realistic (child
may still be a magical thinker) but encourage logical thinking.
Focus on process as you play; which character to be, what props
are needed when ideas have changed, what the problem is, when to
end the idea, etc. Identify the beginning, middle and end.
As you play, match your tone of voice to the situation. Pretend
to cry when character is hurt, cheer loudly when your character
is happy, speak in rough or spooky tones when you are playing the
bad guy. Remember, drama, drama, drama to give child affect cues.
Reflect on the ideas and feelings in the story both while playing
and later on as you would with other real life experiences. Discuss
child's abstract themes such as good guy/bad guy, separation/loss,
and various emotions such as closeness, fear, jealousy, anger, bossy,
competition, etc. Remember symbolic play and conversation is the
safe way to practice, reenact, understand and master the full range
of emotional ideas and experiences.
Strategies to Develop Abstract Thinking
Follow child's lead, build on child's ideas. Challenge
child to create new ideas in pretend play. Practice and expand rapid
back and forth interactions and conversations (gesturally and verbally).
Carry on logical conversations all the time (e.g.: while driving,
at meals, during baths etc.) Content does not have to be realistic.
Encourage understanding of fantasy-reality. The child will use toys
as real objects for self as if real (e.g.: puts feet in play pool,
tries to go down toy slide, tries on doll clothes, etc.) or may
prefer to start with role play and puppets. Encourage use of toys
in pretend fashion and recognize fears and avoidance of certain
feelings, themes and characters. During play and conversations get
beginning, middle and end of story or idea - identify problem to
be solved, motives and feelings - accept all feelings and encourage
empathy. Select books to read that have themes, motives and problems
to solve - discuss alternative outcomes, feelings.
Encourage abstract thinking by asking "why" questions
and asking for opinions. Compare and contrast different points of
view and reflect on feelings - come back to experiences again later.
Avoid rote, fragmented, academic questions
Be creative: if child puts foot in pretend pool, ask if it's cold.
If child is thirsty, offer an empty cup or invite child to a tea
party. If child is hungry, open toy refrigerator and offer some
food, pretend to cook, or ask if child will go to pretend market
with you to get things to eat. Encourage role playing with dress-up
props, use puppets - child may prefer to be the actor before the
child uses symbolic figures. Use a specific set of figures/dolls
to represent family members and identify other figures with familiar
names. Get involved in the drama. Be a player and take on a role
with your own figure. Talk directly to the dolls rather than questioning
child about what is happening or narrating.
Strategies to Develop Motor Planning Abilities
Encourage "undoing" such as moving objects
that have been lined up or positioned in a desired way. Put puzzle
piece in wrong place or bury desired object(s) under other toys
and very different objects. Hide a desired object from the place
where child last put it etc. and provide destinations for actions
- treat as intentional and symbolic. Some other examples:
• child throws - catch it in basket
• child taps - bring over drums (can be plate, plastic toy, sticks
• child rolls car - bring over garage, crash
into it, block with figure
• child reaches for hand - play give me five, variations, dance.
Create problems to solve that require multiple steps. Examples include:
• put desired objects in boxes to open, untie,
remove tape or rubber band
• pretend object needs to be fixed using tools, tape, rubber bands,
• create obstacles to child getting around or restore to correct
• hold book to read upside down and/or backwards
• offer pens/markers which do not work
• sit in child's special place
• get to where the child is running first
• hide object child desires in one hand or the other so that the
child can choose
• when child seeks your hand, put your hands on your head or in
• put socks on child's hands instead of feet
• give child your shoes to put on
• make desired toy/object a moving target (move from place to place).
Be playful and supportive as you encourage and
expand these interaction. Change environment frequently to encourage
flexibility, create problems and expand discussion. Move expected
objects (change drawer content, change content in baskets) and rearrange
furniture and create problems (child find chair upside down, or
is told to sit down when chair is across the room). Hang up pictures
from magazines at eye level and change frequently.
Play interactive song-hand games such as Itsy bitsy spider, one
potato two potato, slap my hand
sailor went to sea, sea, sea etc. Play Treasure Hunt and use maps
(use visual and verbal cues).
Activities that are good for building on motor
planning abilities include:
• Play games
• social playground/party games
• board games (cognitively challenging)
• arts and craft activities
• athletic activities • individual sports e.g.
tennis, roller skating, shooting baskets, ice skating etc
• group sports e.g. soccer, baseball, basketball etc
• Tae Kwon Do.
READING LIST and ONLINE RESOURCES on Floortime
For more information about Floortime and other
Greenspan Early Intervention concepts contact:
The Interdisciplinary Council on Developmental & Learning Disorders,
4938 Hampden Lane, Suite 800, Bethesda, Maryland 20814, or call
THE CHILD WITH SPECIAL NEEDS: ENCOURAGING INTELLECTUAL AND EMOTIONAL
GROWTH. Stanley I. Greenspan, M.D. and Serena Wieder, Ph.D., Addison
Wesley: (1998, Reading, MA). The most recent, comprehensive, and
parent oriented discussion of the use of Floortime with children
with special needs.
INFANCY AND EARLY CHILDHOOD - THE PRACTICE OF CLINICAL ASSESSMENT
AND INTERVENTION WITH EMOTIONAL AND DEVELOPMENTAL CHALLENGES, Stanley
I. Greenspan, M.D., International Universities Press, Inc.(1997,
3rd Printing Madison, WI). The comprehensive coverage of the whole
range of Behavioral, Sensory Spectrum Disorders which is addressed
to clinicians. The FEAS scales used in this program were developed
from material contained in this book.
THE CHALLENGING CHILD - UNDERSTANDING, RAISING, AND ENJOYING THE
FIVE "DIFFICULT" TYPES OF CHILDREN. Addison Wesley (1995,
THE CLINICAL INTERVIEW OF THE CHILD. Co-authored with: Nancy Thorndike
Greenspan, American Psychiatric Press, Inc. (1991, Washington).
DEVELOPMENTALLY BASED PSYCHOTHERAPY. International Universities
Press, Inc. (1997, Madison, WI)
FIRST FEELINGS - MILESTONES IN THE EMOTIONAL DEVELOPMENT OF YOUR
BABY AND CHILD. Co-authored with Nancy Thorndike Greenspan, Penguin
Books, (1985, NY).
THE GROWTH OF THE MIND - AND THE ENDANGERED ORIGINS Of INTELLIGENCE.
Addison Wesley (1997, Reading, MA).
Click here for the full
range of Asperger's and autism fact sheets at www.autism-help.org
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James J. Messina, Ph.D. & Constance Messina, Ph.D. This material
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