Playing with your child is a great way to foster early language development! Try these strategies during play time with your preschooler:
- Let your child pick the activity/toy they want to play with. This could be blocks, toy food, balls, cars, colouring—whatever they are excited about! Remember that your child, like us, will communicate about the things he or she is interested in.
- Then watch to see HOW your child plays. Maybe they want to stack blocks or line them up, put food in the cart or serve it to guests, toss a ball back and forth or throw it in a basket, send cars down a track or launch them off a cliff, colour a picture with crayons or scribble on the white board. There are so many ways to play!
- Join the play by playing like a child and getting your own toys.
- Sometimes children are protective of ‘their stuff’ and won’t let you touch their toys. It’s OK to play side by side with your own set of materials and not touch theirs. A great way to join the play is by getting a similar toy to your child’s. It’s okay if it’s not exactly the same! For example, if your child is playing with a baby, grab a stuffed animal! Try to sit on your child’s level and be face to face. This will make it easier for them to look at you and to include you in their play. Copy how your child plays! For example, if your child is building a tower, build a tower too! If they’re lining up their toys, do the same!
- As you play together, try to model functional vocabulary that matches the play, including fun words and sound effects. Some of the words you use could be “open”, “more”, “go”, “stop”, “in”, “out”, “up”, “down”, “mine”, “wee”, “boom”, “pop”.
- Listen for any attempts your child makes to copy your words. Don’t worry if their words aren’t clear! Watch to see if your child uses a gesture such as pointing. If they do, interpret these non-verbal messages. Interpreting means that we say what your child would say if they could say it, by using simple words from your child’s perspective. Just take your best guess! Remember this may mean that you have to think like a toddler. They may be trying to say action words or fun words, not just nouns (i.e., bounce and throw versus ball).
- Try to reduce your questions and make more comments. For example, instead of saying, “are you playing with the baby?” you could say, “your baby is so hungry! Drink milk baby!” Your child is more likely to imitate your statements than reply to your questions.
- Don’t forget to slow down and pause. Children need more time to process and react.
Remember that preschoolers have short attention spans! Be open to the play changing after a few turns and follow your child’s lead! Most importantly have fun together!
Written by: Kelly, Speech-Language Therapy Assistant