Putting the Pieces Together: Language and Puzzle Play

September 29, 2023

One of the best (and most fun!) ways to introduce language to your little one is through playing with them. Playing with toys puts you both at ease, which makes learning so much easier. There are tons of great educational toys out there, but one of the best toys I’ve found, both as a mom and a speech therapist, is puzzles. 

If your baby or toddler doesn’t seem interested in puzzles yet, don’t worry. I have a not-so-obvious trick to encourage them to use this great tool! When presenting a puzzle to young children, parents often have the puzzle already put together. It makes sense, but here's a pro tip: put the puzzle pieces in a small container next to the puzzle as an invitation to play!

Tips for helping your child talk more with puzzles

While there are obvious ways to use puzzles to help your child with vocabulary (shapes, colors, numbers, animals, etc.), you can also model other types of language while you play. Here are a few ideas to help your child talk more with puzzles:

1. Free play - Don’t rush to show them the “right” way to do the puzzle. Let your child lead as they do the puzzle. Stay engaged, but keep your comments short, sweet, and simple. You can say things like, “in,” “my turn/your turn,” “yay!,” “hmmm,” “uh oh,” or “it fits!”

2. Make it fun! - When kids are having fun, they’re much more relaxed, which makes them more likely to engage with you and try to communicate. Think about adding some of these ideas into your next play session:

  • Put a piece in upside down or in an obviously wrong spot, and say, “uh ohhhh!” in a silly way.
  • Wrap foil or tape around the pieces to slow your toddler down. Or hide them in plain sight, and let your child find them. Your toddler will love “discovering” the pieces. You can even “gasp” when they finally unwrap it or find it. Littles love to imitate fun sounds, and a gasp of surprise is a great one to model.
  • Hide the puzzle pieces in a sensory bin. You can say, “Let’s dig!” and “where is the _____ piece?”
  • Put the pieces in an old tissue box, so they can pull them out one at a time. They will love the added surprise of not knowing which piece comes out next. Shake the box while saying, “shake,” and “in/out,” and “next.” 

3. Encourage requesting - Put all of the pieces in a bag, box, or in your lap, and be the keeper of puzzle pieces. Needing to come to you when they want more pieces will encourage them to communicate. 

Of course, you should never withhold the pieces if they aren’t requesting using words (or aren’t using the “right” words). Instead, think of it as creating an opportunity for you to model requests (words or signs for "more puzzle") and for them to practice! If it's frustrating for your child, model and move on! Even if they don’t respond right now, every time you model language for them, they're learning and storing it for later. 

Another way to encourage your little one to request is to give them options: "Do you want the big or little piece? Do you want the triangle or the circle?" Then they can choose by pointing or using vocabulary.

Mom doing puzzle with toddler daughter.

Want tips for other toys?

Looking for more ideas on how to encourage your little one to talk using toys? Check out my YouTube video series Talking With Toys. I have lots of helpful tips on ways to use Magnatiles, dinosaurs, cars, and dolls to engage with your child and model language. While you’re there, leave me a comment to let me know what other toys you would like me to cover. Also, be sure to subscribe to my channel, so you won’t miss it when I post new videos!

Have you taken my free workshop yet?

If your toddler is struggling to communicate, it can be frustrating for them and for you. I get it! I was there once. That’s why I’m offering a FREE workshop on my proven TALKER method to help your little one say more words. You can sign up here to learn: 

  • The exact steps to get your baby or toddler saying their first 50 words and beyond
  • The 3 things you should STOP doing when trying to help your baby or toddler talk and what to do instead
  • Your family superpower that you can leverage to grow your baby or toddler's vocabulary

Don’t wait! You can start helping your child today!

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