Claire McEntee – The Value of Therapeutic Play Skills After 15 Years as an SNA

Early Years

Special Needs Assisting

Portobello Institute graduate, Claire McEntee, discovered the value of therapeutic play skills in her role as an SNA in a mainstream school.

After 15 years working with children with special needs she says she has now found new understanding, new approaches and has secured regular play therapy sessions for the children she works with and she is seeing the real value of therapeutic play skills. 

Claire recently finished our introduction to play therapy course and has incorporated the skills she gained into her weekly schedule. She explains the value of therapeutic play skills in her role as an SNA. 

“All the children I work with have Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Since I finished the course, I have been using the therapeutic play skills I learned for sessions with the children, it really has brought a lot to the classroom.

“All the children have gained from it, they have had that individual attention with me, and we have scheduled it into our timetables twice a week in the afternoons bringing the children out for that one-to-one time just doing art or sensory play with sand in a therapeutic session. 

“I have really learned so much from it and it’s a totally different approach to play.

“Usually, when we learned about play you think that you need to be interfering all the time and suggesting to them what to do whereas they need time where they can be left to choose themselves what they want to do, what they want to paint with no pressure around ‘we are doing this lesson, so you have to do this’.

“I can see they really enjoy the sessions because it’s them getting to choose, there’s no demand put on it. They’re so happy doing that so it’s great you can see it is very helpful for the children,” she said. 

The Value of Therapeutic Play Skills in Action 

Claire explains some of the benefits she is already seeing after integrating play therapy into their week.

“Besides enjoying the session, I think they really do build a relationship with the therapist – an even better relationship – that it’s not just me as an SNA giving them orders or demands but that they are enjoying it as well.  

“We are a few weeks doing it now and I can already see that with one child, it makes you aware of their emotions, I can see that they are working through them with paint, they will tell me about their painting after and a lot of it will be about things that they are watching, they would talk about fighting, anger, and fire.  

“I feel like that child is getting it out of their system in that session so when they are doing their work in a school that helps because usually, all these thoughts would start coming out and all of a sudden they could be angry.

“It was like they didn’t know what to do with this anger but now doing the sessions with me they’re getting it all out then in a therapeutic environment rather than in front of all the other children and when they should be doing work,” she explained. 

Now that she has the first-hand experience of play therapy in action, Claire highlights the value of therapeutic play skills for SNAs and teachers in mainstream schools.

“It would be something that I think a teacher or an SNA in a unit should have the skills to be able to incorporate into the day for children with special needs because it’s so helpful for them. 

“I definitely think that SNAs should do it because I think all children with special needs should have play therapy because there is always some underlying issue.  

“If it is a child that is nonverbal who needs to express themselves in some way if it is a child who cannot express their emotions or any child who is going through a transition because children with special needs feel those transition times as really difficult. 

“I’m sure children who don’t have special needs would gain from it too in hard times like a family break up or anything like that but in my experience because I am working with children with special needs I can really see how helpful it is for them.  

“It is a great asset to have for the classroom. Even teachers in mainstream schools, there is always a child in a class who has a difficulty, it would be great for them as well.

“There are so many professions that would gain from it,” she said.  

Claire completed her Therapeutic Play Skills course at Portobello Institute through online webinars and blended learning.

Portobello Institute offers a range of courses in Early Years & Montessori and SNA.

Claire McEntee – The Value of Therapeutic Play Skills After 15 Years as an SNA Claire McEntee – The Value of Therapeutic Play Skills After 15 Years as an SNA