Encourage Play was founded in 2013 by Janine Halloran, a Licensed Mental Health Counselor and a mom of 2.
As a counselor working primarily with children and adolescents for the last 15 years, Janine has been working with kids who struggle with social skills. When she first started out, she did more traditional social skills training, where she relied on worksheets or focused only on specific instruction around one particular social skill at a time. She noticed that kids learned the words to say, but they didn’t use those skills in real life moments when they needed them, like on the playground at recess or when playing a board game.
Kids could tell her exactly what taking turns meant in theory, but in practice, they struggled to do it.
Learning social skills can be tricky, and over time, she found that what worked best was using play. A child’s natural way of connecting and relating is through play. Play allows for real-world experiences and teachable moments to happen. These experiences and moments can be used to reinforce positive skills and redirect less desirable skills. For example, when playing a simple game like Connect 4, a child could work on social skills like:
- Compromise (who will be the red pieces and who will be the black pieces)
- Winning and losing graciously
She wanted to create a resource for professionals and parents to help them create these real-world experiences and teachable moments to help kids practice social skills. Encourage Play provides products and resources to help children learn social skills through playful experiences.
Janine has created digital products you can download immediately. The products are designed to be used in school, in small group settings or at home to work on social skills playfully.
In addition to those products, Janine has put together recommendations for other useful resources.
For professionals, she has created recommended book lists, one for the professional to use and read, and another full of kid-friendly books for students or clients. She’s also curated a list of essential items for a professional’s office to help them teach social skills.
For parents/caregivers, there are lists of helpful books and useful products for kids and families. Connecting with others is essential, so Janine has also created a list of things families can do to encourage connection - from playing games, to finding a play date to helping kids locate an exciting camp where they can connect with others.
These lists are growing as Janine finds new recommendations, so check back.
Encourage Play regularly donates games & toys.
Places we’ve donated:
Janine has also created a sister site called Coping Skills for Kids to help children learn healthy ways to cope with stress, anxiety and anger is safe and healthy ways.
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Disclaimer: I’m a Licensed Mental Health Counselor and a mom of two elementary school aged kids. I write about what I've found has worked for my clients and my own kids and encourage you to try these ideas for yourself. However, this site is not intended as a replacement for seeking individualized face-to-face services or treatment.