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About Floor-Time

An Example Of Child-Centered Therapy

The following discussion comes from ECO Resources, a therapy manual created by the Nisonger Center at Ohio State University. Although this particular scenario focuses on language acquisition, the ideas are completely relevant to a wide variety of issues. In our constant quest for results and improvement as parents and as therapists, it is so easy to slip into command mode (like the first scenario). I encourage you to evaluate your therapy experiences in light of this analysis. Make enjoyment a priority!

Stress can put a damper on the play partnership you want to create with your child. As adults, we often think working harder will solve our problems. When we use a "work-oriented," stressful attitude with our children, our efforts will often backfire. In creating play partnerships we must convince ourselves that enjoyment leads to success.

Less Like This

Jill: (Sits quietly looking at a book.)
Dad: Let's work on your good talking, Jill.
Jill: (Gives Dad the book.)
Dad: I see a little lamb in your book. Can you say "lamb"?
Jill: Lamb.
Dad: Good talking. I like it when you say your words so nicely. Do you see the bird in the tree above the lamb?
Jill: Yes.
Dad: Point to it. Show Dad that you really see it.
Jill: (Points to it.)
Dad: Good. You are getting to know your words, Jill. I am proud of you. How about this. Can you tell me what that bird is doing on this page?
Jill: (Looks quizzically at Dad.)
Dad: That's a tough one. We haven't worked on that one much yet. Say "fly".
Jill: Fly.
Dad: Yes, the bird is flying. We will work on that one again tomorrow. Okay?
Jill: Okay.

Why Less?

Dad assumes the role of task master in this interaction while Jill plays the role of the quiet, responsive learner. Neither experience the enjoyment that can result from communicating. Jill never moves unless her father suggests, as in pointing to the picture task. He fails to find out what she might be interested in talking about. Instead, he sets out the agenda, she responds, and he praises her for her knowledge. Such an interaction offers Jill little practice in the equal partnership conversations she will find in her daily life encounters.

More Like This

Jill: (Sits quietly, looking at a book.)
Dad: (Sits down quietly next to her and waits with his face full of anticipation.)
Jill: (Turns the page.) Oh. (Points excitedly to the little lamb.
Dad: Oh, it's a lamb. (Points to it excitedly.)
Jill: Lamb. Lamb and bird. (Points back and forth between the two.)
Dad: Bird in the tree. (Nods to acknowledge her notice of the bird.)
Jill: Bird, tree. (Points to each, smiling at Dad.)
Dad: (Turns the page.) Fly away bird. (Points to a picture of the bird flying away.)
Jill: (Waves her arm in imitation of the picture.) Fie.
Dad: (Waves his arms, too.) I can fly.
Jill: (Looks directly into Dad's face, smiling.) Me too. (Points proudly to herself.)
Dad: Me, too. (Laughs and points to himself as he rubs noses with Jill.)

Why More?

Facial expressions, laughter, movement, and physical contact characterize this interaction. The father joins Jill rather than coming in and dominating the interaction. He responds to her initiation, then trades the lead back and forth with her as they discuss what they see. The conversation results in an equal partnership, providing Jill with some experience in talking for the fun of a social contact rather than to show an adult that she knows something. Yet, she shows more knowledge than she did in the previous dialogue interaction. Such an interaction shows learning can be fun.


Language develops through at least two dimensions, knowledge and communication. Many delayed persons know much more than they communicate. Part of the reason may be the way their significant others approach the task of teaching language. Teaching language didactically may result in a skill that the child rarely uses. Adults may inadvertently teach children that talking is a tough task by the attitude they take in teaching the child new words. A playful sharing of ideas might get just as much accomplished, yet provide the child with motivation to communicate with others simply for the pleasure of communicating.

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Some Floor-Time Strategies For Children Who Can Sustain
Two-Way Communication

Adapted From Stanley Greenspan and Serena Wieder, The Child With Special Needs


Keep in mind that the following ideas may not all be appropriate or applicable to your play with your child. They should help you, however, to get an idea of what to emphasize and how to engage and connect. The most important element of floor-time is your shared enjoyment of an activity with your child. If you two are having fun, then you're definitely on the right track!

bulletFollow your child's lead and join him or her. It doesn't matter what you do together as long as you are sharing the activity.
bulletUse gestures, tone of voice, and body language to accentuate the emotion in what you say and do.
bulletGive symbolic meaning to objects as you play:
--When your child climbs to the top of the sofa, pretend he is
climbing a tall mountain.
--When she slides down the slide at the playground, pretend she is
sliding into the ocean and watch out for the fish.
bulletAs you play, help your child elaborate on his intentions. Ask who is driving the car, where the car is going, whether he has enough money, did he remember the keys, why he's going there, why not somewhere else, and so on. Expand as long as you can.
bulletMake use of breakdowns. When a problem crops up during play, create symbolic solutions. Get the doctor kit when the doll falls so your child can help the hurt doll, get the tool kit for the broken car, etc. Acknowledge your child's disappointment and encourage empathy.
bulletGet involved in the drama. Be a player and take on a role with your own figure. Talk directly to the dolls sometimes rather than always questioning your child about what is happening.
bulletBoth help your child and be your own player. Talk as an ally (perhaps whispering), but also have your figure oppose or challenge your child's ideas.
bulletInsert obstacles into the play. For example, make a bus block the road. Then, speaking as a character, challenge your child to resolve the problem. If necessary, get increasingly urgent (whispering to child to encourage her to deal with the problem, offering help if needed by becoming an ally).
bulletUse play to help your child understand and master ideas/themes which may have frightened him. Work on fantasy and reality.
bulletLet your child be the director. Her play need not be realistic, but encourage logical thinking.
bulletFocus 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.
bulletAs you play, match your tone of voice to the situation. Pretend to cry when your character is hurt, cheer loudly when your character is happy, speak in rough or spooky tones when you're playing the bad guy.
bulletReflect on the ideas and feelings in the story, both while playing and later on, as you would with other real-life experiences.
bulletDiscuss your child's abstract themes such as good guy/bad guy, separation/loss, and various emotions such as closeness, fear, jealousy, anger, bossiness, competition, etc. Remember that symbolic play and conversation is the safe way to practice, reenact, understand, and master the full range of emotional ideas and experiences.

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