When I work with families, one of the most common questions I am asked is how to incorporate speech and language learning into daily play or routines.
Some parents are a little unsure how to begin or worried that it will be too time consuming. I promise you it is not. It just takes a little creativity to create a language rich environment for your child at home.
And guess what? I am here to shortcut that for you! I also want to note that my ideas and suggestions could be applied to any child and not just a child with identified communication needs. Encouraging language and literacy early on is beneficial to every child.
Now what to do and what to focus on? That’s always the hard part. So, I created a little cheat sheet of helpful language concepts and literacy ideas to get you started.
All you need to do is dedicate a little play time each day and refer to this checklist for ideas. Just pick one idea to focus on every day. You can even print this chart and hang it on the fridge to remind you of the many different things you can do. I don’t know about you, but I am not always quick to think on my feet and having a written reminder or example of something is of great value to me.
Below are more details about the chart above:
Introduce and define new words
Highlight words and concepts that your child may not be familiar with yet. Or, have your child explain what they think a word means when playing. Examples might be: “The girl in the story was very intelligent. That means she is smart.” “I see you are pretending to bite into that delicious apple.” “Can you tell me what you think “delicious might mean?”
Expand on what your child says
Expanding on your child’s words and/or phrases helps them further develop and expand their expressive language skills. If your child points and says “car,” you could follow up with “The car is on the shelf” or “The red car moves very quickly.”
Ask “WH” questions
Asking questions during your child’s play gets their language wheels turning. Think who, what, when, where, and why. This can help your child learn how to differentiate between different types of questions, as well as how to formulate answers to those questions. Examples could include: “Why do we need to wear a seat belt in a car?” “Where is your car driving to?” “Who is driving the car?”
Describe what your child is doing
For a child who does not have many words yet, it is great to describe the things he is doing. It’s also a great way to model language structure and teach new words. “Oh wow, you are really jumping high.” “I like how you are rocking your baby doll to sleep.” “I see you are making some tasty pizza in the oven.”
Give multi-step directions
You could easily do this during play interactions or you could play a game of Simon Says. “First put the doll in her crib, and then give her a blanket.” “Jump three times and then spin around in a circle.” “Get a red crayon, draw the letter B and then put a circle around it.” Watch your child’s memory and ability to complete short tasks improve!
Highlight the reasoning and the “why” for specific actions with your child? “Why does your dolly need to wear a coat when it is cold?” “What is the reason your toy car needs to stop at the stop sign?” Can your child answer these questions? This could also be a good time to point out cause/effect, too. “If you cook the food too long in the play kitchen, then it could burn.”
Compare and contrast
Pointing out similarities and differences between different objects or items is a great way to advance language skills. If your child is playing with pretend food you could ask questions like, “How are an apple and banana the same? How are they different?”
Talk opposites and concepts
Highlight opposite words as you play with your child to increase their vocabulary. Examples could include: “The car is moving fast and now it is moving slow.” “The red block is on top and the blue block is on the bottom.” “I am going to draw a big red circle and a small blue square.” “My cup is full of water and yours is empty.”
Point out letters and sounds
Get a head start on early literacy skills when interacting with your child. You could point out letters/sounds in print or ask your child what sound or letter a specific toy starts with. You could also clap out syllables of objects or think of easy words to rhyme like “car” or “book.”
Have your child explain
Have your child practice their expressive language by explaining out their play plan to you. What it is they are doing and why? Can they explain how to play the game or the play scheme to you?
It’s fun and easy to have your child make predictions when you are together. Some ideas might be to ask them what might happen to their block tower as it continues to get taller. Or, what could happen if you run too fast in the house?
Add in adjectives
Go ahead and throw out some adjectives while your child is playing to help grow that vocabulary. How does the pretend food taste? Scrumptious? Chewy? Sour? What about describing your child’s picture? Is it colorful? Fantastic? Shiny? I love thinking of new descriptor words to use when my son and I play together.
Focus on grammar
Playing is a great time to model correct grammatical structures. When you child makes an error, repeat the utterance back to them correctly so that they can be hear to the correct way to say it. For older students, see if they can fix an error every now and then.
Here are some of my favorite age-appropriate learning-through-play type toys: