3 Types of Play to Encourage Language Development

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Hey everyone! Today I’m going to take a quick minute to talk about the beautiful world of play. As a pediatric speech language pathologist, I get the pleasure of witnessing the incredible power of play in boosting language development in our little ones. And let me tell you, those tea parties and endless block towers you have been building are the bedrock of learning and language (it’s never “just play”). So grab a cup of coffee (or tea, if that’s your thing) and let’s dive into the wonderful world of play and practical ways we can use different types of play to encourage early language development.

  1. Puzzles: Puzzles are not just brain teasers; they’re language boosters too! They encourage problem-solving skills, vocabulary expansion, and spatial awareness. Try using puzzles to practice answering yes/no questions in a fun way: purposely put a puzzle into the wrong spot and playfully ask “Does it fit?”. You can model “nooo” and wait for your child to imitate you. If they don’t, that’s totally fine! You are modeling what they can say the next time around. 
  2. Pretend Play: There are SO many ways that pretend play encourages language development. Whether they’re pretending to eat a plastic apple, going on a wild safari, or battling dragons, pretend play sparks creativity and helps children develop foundational communication skills like imitation and reciprocal play, vocabulary skills, social communication and storytelling skills to name a few. This will be a blog post all in itself in the future. For now, here are a couple ways to think about language while pretending with your little one: For kids not yet talking, TRY making play sounds during early pretend play. Examples: “yum yum yum”, while pretending to eat a toy cookie or a “swish swish swish” when you’re little one is pretending to sweep the floor (if only the pretend sweeping actually translated to a little helper when cleaning the house). Here’s the important part: Focus on ONLY making the play sounds and giving PAUSE after (literally count to 5 in your head) so your child has the opportunity to try to imitate you. The magic of learning language is often in the pause from us as parents. For kids that are using phrases and sentences, TRY creating stories together and pausing for your child to fill in the blank. If they have a hard time filling in your pause with their own idea, give a choice of two. Example: you are pretending to be unicorns and have been “flying” around the house. You say “whew, I’m a tired unicorn, I wonder what we can do to rest”…. (if your child doesn’t give an idea of how to rest you follow up with “I could take a nap on this cloud (a pillow) or drink some tea in my unicorn bath (a box you can sit in while pretending to slurp a delicious unicorn beverage). 
  1. Building: Who knew that stacking blocks could pave the way for a bright linguistic future? Building with blocks not only enhances fine motor skills but also promotes language skills like following directions, understanding spatial concepts, and even introducing early math concepts. So, let those towers reach for the sky, one block at a time! Try creating a verbal routine when building with your little one. A favorite of mine is “up, up, up, (while stacking blocks) ….boom (for the playful crash once stacking is done) !” If your child is not yet using these words you can pause before the “boom” and look expectantly at your child while counting to 5 to yourself. This is giving your child the opportunity to fill in your pause with their own “boom”!

Play is not just a means of entertainment; it’s a powerhouse for language development. Embrace the chaos, ignite your imagination, lean into the pause, and join your little ones on this journey of discovery. Remember, the best lessons are learned when laughter fills the air and imaginations run wild!

Until next time, keep playing, keep talking, and keep connecting with those little humans so dear to us!

Natalie