If you’ve ever tried to learn a new skill while you were stressed out, you know that the process felt much harder than you expected. The phrase “pulling teeth” comes to mind. When you’re doing something you enjoy, on the other hand, you can’t help but relax, and then everything comes much easier. The same can be true for your child. When you engage with your child in play, they will feel safe, secure, and relaxed and want to interact with you. Spending time with you doing something they love will encourage them to try to communicate with you in new ways.
The following are some easy ideas of ways to incorporate language building into playtime using 5 toys you probably already have at home.
Let’s work on language while playing with cars!
Cars are a great example of toys that are perfect for independent play. However, did you know that most kids (young toddlers and babies) need to first be "taught" how to play? Plus cars are an easy toy for you to join in and play together while building language.
Important: make sure you have your own car(s)! This way you can join in on the fun without just commenting from the sidelines or taking over their play. Your child will be much more motivated to play with you and imitate you.
Language to model with cars:
We have the usual “vroom” and “beep”... which are great! These are good examples of exclamatory sounds (think: “sound effects” that your child will be more likely to imitate) but let’s switch it up!
Try some of these too:
- “up” as the car drives up some furniture or “mommy mountain”
- “wheee!” And “down” as it goes down a ramp
- “crash!” And “uh-oh!” When cars crash or fall
- “my car” & “your car” to teach pronouns
- “my turn” & “your turn” to facilitate turn taking
- “where’s the car?” when you hide it and “here it is!” Or “you found it!” when they find it
Here are some ideas for how to make playing with cars even more exciting:
- Build a small fort to be the car “garage”
- Use a box lid to create a car ramp
- Build a tunnel to make a car wash
- Get a bucket of water/bring cars into the bath and actually wash them
BUBBLES! The ultimate summer toy!
Okay hear me out: bubble guns/continuous blowers are AMAZING. They give parents the break they deserve and are great toys that we love in our home.
However, if you’re wanting to use bubbles to work on boosting language… continuously blowing bubbles for your child or having a toy that does it for you… means your child doesn't have to communicate what they want
So instead, try this:
Screw the cap on tightly between blows and wait. This creates an opportunity for your child to communicate they need help or want more.
Reminder: Communication from your child isn’t only about words. It can be in the form of gestures (hold out the bubbles to you, point at them), vocalizations (babbles, screeching, other sounds), or words (‘more’, ‘help’, ‘bubbles’, ‘open’).
If your child gets frustrated, that’s okay, don’t withhold the bubbles--this is supposed to be fun! Model what you want to happen with words and gestures and then open the bubbles back up and start blowing.
Children learn best with lots of repetition AND are more likely to imitate what is modeled for them.
- Some words you can model before you blow: more, open, bubbles, blow
- Some words you can model after you blow: size of the bubbles (big/small), pop, and how you're popping them (stomp, karate chop, etc)!
- Some words you can model after the bubbles pop: all gone, all done, top on, close
Blocks! My kids and I LOVE blocks. A great toy for all ages with endless opportunities! Here are some tips on how I play with blocks with developing babies and young toddlers and what to say while playing.
Remember: no matter the toy, your child will learn so much more language when you get on the floor and play with them at THEIR level. Playing with blocks on the floor is a perfect way to do this.
Tips on HOW:
- Keep your voice and facial expressions animated! Vary your pitch and volume, make your voice exciting to listen to and your face exciting to look at!
- Use expressive gestures. Gestures help baby understand the meanings of the words, and are important for baby to learn in order to transition to using words. if baby isn’t talking yet, they can imitate the gestures first.
- Think of this as a game or even a "script" for how you play with blocks. Using simple, repetitive language will make it easier for them to understand and imitate.
- Keep your language simple! Stick to one or two word phrases.
WHAT to say (and gestures to use):
- “Up” each time you stack
- “Doooown” animated voice!
- *surprised gasp* “Uh oh” , bring your hands to your face
- “Whoaaa” hold the blocks and make them wobble
- Bring your hand up as if you’re about to knock it down. Pause, excited anticipatory face, then “Knock it down!”
- “Again?” or “more” , add the sign!
I love puzzles! Puzzles are an obvious educational toy because you can work on naming the vocabulary (shapes, colors, animals, etc). But there's even more language you can model! Here are a couple different ideas on how to play with puzzles depending on where your child is at with communicating.
Free play: Let your child lead as they do the puzzle. Keep your comments short, sweet, and simple. Comment ideas: "in" "turn" "yay!" "hmmmm" "uh oh" "it fits!"
Ways to make it fun:
- put a piece that clearly doesn't fit and say "uh ohhhh"
- wrap up the pieces in tin foil or tape to slow your toddler down (also makes naming the object more fun)
- hide the pieces in a sensory bin "let's dig" "where is it?"
- put the pieces in an old tissue box where they can pull them out one at a time as a surprise
To encourage requesting: You can be the keeper of puzzle pieces. Put all of the pieces in a bag, box, or in your lap. This will encourage your child to communicate to you they want more pieces. This doesn't mean you need to withhold the pieces if they aren't requesting using words. Instead, think of it as creating an opportunity for you to model requests (like the words or signs "more puzzle") and for them to practice! If it's frustrating for your child, model and move on! You can feel confident when modeling that language thatthey're learning and storing it for later. Another way to encourage requesting is to give them options: "Do you want the car or the fire truck?" Then they can choose through pointing or verbal language.
5. Play doh
Grow your child’s vocabulary with play doh!
Here are my favorite words to model for toddlers while playing with playdoh:
- Requesting words like: help, again, more
- Action words like: squeeze, cut, pull, roll, poke, squish, push
- Concepts like: in, out, big, little
- Describing words like: squishy, hard, flat
Here are my favorite tips for encouraging language while playing together with playdoh:
- REPEAT!! Over and over. Say target words more times than you think you need to! Repetition helps your child learn new words as well as increases the likelihood of them imitating you.
- Grab your own play doh so you can join in on the fun! This allows your child to still feel independent while you can be a part of the activity.
- Follow your child’s lead. Are they not paying attention to what you’re saying or doing with the playdoh? Then just copy them and add words to what they’re doing!
- Keep your language simple. Use a lot of short phrases or even single words!
- Add fun sound effects and get silly- your child will be more likely to imitate you!
Remember to have fun!
Playing together should be enjoyable for you and your child. It’s easy to feel stressed out if your child is missing language development milestones. But if you’re reading this blog, then you’re already taking steps toward helping teach your child to talk through daily interactions and everyday routines (the stuff you already do together) at home. If you would like more tips and resources, I would love for you to join me and other parents like you for my FREE workshop “How to Get Your Baby or Toddler Talking More.” I will share my top 3 speech therapy secrets that have already helped thousands of families like yours!