Why Play Can Help Your Child Communicate
We are often asked, “What is an effective strategy to help my child communicate?” The answer: Play! Yes, play is SO important for communication. According to much-loved Mr. Rogers, “Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood.”
Understanding that play is important for communication, how can we as parents best utilize this truth for the benefit of our children?
According to Speech-Language Therapy, language development in young children is developed as you sit with your child and actively engage in play (Speech-Language Therapy, Jan. 8, 2018). What does this look like?
Here are some suggestions:
1. Whenever you’re playing, use open-ended questions and plenty of comments to encourage conversation!
Play can help your child communicate. Playtime offers so many opportunities to engage in conversation—a pleasant exchange of both questions and comments. Asking open-ended questions encourages your little one to consider and respond. And it’s good to let them direct as much as possible. Here is an example to get you started:
Your child is pushing baby elephant in the stroller.
- “Where are you going? I’ll come too!”
- “I’m going to the store. Do we need any food?
- “Oh, look! There’s the red light!” What should we do?
- “Which way is our house? I’ll find it first!”
Even if your child is too young to fully engage, she’ll begin to understand the concept of questions and answers. Not only that, she’ll be thrilled that you’re going to the store with her!
The possibilities are endless. Whether you’re building with blocks or throwing a ball or playing dress-up, ask questions and make comments, all the while having a fun time together!
2. Provide “communication temptations” to encourage your child to initiate communication.
For example, if you place your child’s toy just out of reach, she’ll make some sounds or gestures to communicate that she wants it! Follow up by asking, “Do you want your toy?” Perhaps a wind-up toy needs to be rewound. Or the end of a story needs to be told! Take these opportunities to encourage your child to say what she wants or needs.
3. Let your child lead.
She will need to find a way to tell you what to do.
4. Create real-life play schemas.
Children love to watch what their parents do and imitate it. Cooking together is so much fun! Crack eggs, make coffee, stir batter, sip tea, knead dough—the sky is the limit! Or take care of baby doll. Is baby tired? Let’s cover her and keep her cozy. Is baby crying? Give her a hug! Perhaps you’re out of milk and need to go to the store. “Do you have your money? Get in the car seat. Let’s go!”
5. Provide options.
“Would you like the bear or the lamb?” “Do you want cereal or yogurt?”
6. If your little one has a hard time focusing or settling down, say, “Look at me,” or “Find my eyes.”
Be sure their body is calm for “whole body listening.”
7. Modify your language to match your child’s receptive language ability.
You may need to slow down, label objects, or exaggerate speech. Try to be consistent and specific.
8. Reply to your child’s word(s) with an additional word.
For example, if he says “ball,” respond by saying “red ball.”
9. Give your child undivided attention.
This means turn off the TV and shut down your phone if possible. Spend a half hour in play without interruptions. Your child will feel important, and he is! Have fun and create memories while building opportunities for open communication.
PLAY! PLAY! PLAY! to help your child communicate.
We’re going to let you in on our secret tip to help your child communicate through play.
We use this activity in therapy, and the kids love it!
Our Secret Tip: Container-Lid Fun!
Here is a fun and motivating game you can play with your little one using a large plastic container lid. Sometimes the more non-toy items you find to play with, the more fun it is—have you noticed that? So here we go… Take a container lid and transform it into a slide. Lean it against a chair or couch, grab a few toy characters, and have them climb up and slide down.
This activity is great for practicing words:
- My turn
Try some variations:
- Add new characters: hot wheels cars, stuffed animals
- Move outside and have the characters slide into a water bowl “swimming pool.”
- Introduce new concepts: Swim, Wet, Dry, Splash!
Be creative and have FUN! You’ll create meaningful memories as your child practices the art of communication!
To learn simple and effective strategies to help get your little one talking, check out our Talk on Track (newborn-14 months) and Time to Talk: Toddler Course (15-36 months). We’d love to equip you to experience the joy of your little one talking to you!