Stories From the Field

The Life is Good Playmaker Project is partnering with Boston Public Schools to help them effectively support students who have experienced trauma and to strengthen system-wide approaches to social and emotional learning. Following a recent Playmaker training, Boston Public School teacher - Viergeline Felix Ibia - shared with us how integrating Playmaker practices into her classroom was a game-changer for one of her students.

The student’s name has been changed for privacy and this post has been lightly edited for brevity and clarity.

I teach in an inclusion classroom with a student, Zac, that has been diagnosed with selective mutism. Selective mutism is an anxiety disorder that makes my student unable to speak in certain social situations. I believe that play is a universal language, so coming from the Playmakers workshop, I focused my attention on ways to increase social interactions with his classmates. I chose to Goodify the game "musical chairs." Due to space limitations, placing chairs in a row would present many challenges. Instead, we had "musical desks." I put silly decodable sentences at each desk that included student names and interests. I wanted to engage Zac as much as possible, but getting him to speak would be challenging because he often shuts down in social settings.

However, as we started playing the game, his giggles were such a distinct sound as he read the sentences. Although he did not read the first few out loud, he touched the words and moved his lips. I intentionally stopped the music at specific sentences where I knew he would see his name. During one of our final rounds, he came to a sentence with his name that read, "Zac and 'Didgo' (one of the names he gave to his toy Lego) had a hotdog dance party in their shorts." This sentence focused on using r-controlled vowels, a skill the kids practiced in Fundations. To my surprise, Zac read the sentence out loud. Another student stated, "he talks?" to which I responded, "yes, when it feels right." After the kids heard him read his sentence, they incessantly cheered for him, and ordered me to make him "BC Eagle of the Day" for showing openness. In addition, the kids begged me to play "musical desks" again, and their joy from reading those silly sentences and hearing Zac's voice was palpable. I thought to myself, "what if all along Zac was just waiting for the right game or the right silly sentence for him to showcase his voice to the world?' That's the true power of play. In that moment, I realized that play was Zac's most natural form of expression.