Playing with purpose to develop language and communication skills in toddlers

Being the parent of a toddler can be one of the most rewarding and simultaneously challenging responsibilities in the world. Your dependant precious baby has suddenly grown-up into a determined little explorer. But then, with the amazing infant stage emanates the feared ‘terrible twos’. A developmental period of irrational behaviour and desperate tantrums.

The root cause of the frustrating outbursts can be the toddler’s inability to communicate requests, due to limited vocabulary or alternative methods of communication.

Research proposes that children begin to advance communication skills from birth and absorb words long before they practise and repeat them. Learning to comprehend words, sentences and conversations is known as ‘receptive language’.
Luckily for you, playing is inexpensive and an effective way to advance your toddler’s language. Here are 5 fun play ideas for you and your little buddy…

Sand Play

Make use of a sand table or merely visit the beach with your toddler. Sensory play is beneficial in building vocabulary. You can play alongside your infant to describe what you see, feel, touch and hear, thereby growing the number of descriptive words that they can use.

An alternative style would be to hide toys in the sand and ask your little explorer too, for example; “find the car”. Repeat the name of the object once it has been found. This is a great play exercise to help build ‘expressive language’, which is the ability to talk using words in sentences.

Water Play

Water play is a great avenue for your toddler to use their imagination and get creative. Lots of messy fun to help develop language.

What’s not to like about bubbles? You could ask your toddler to describe the size and number of bubbles they can see, whilst running to pop them. Hours and hours of fun to be had.

A water table is an entertaining way of letting your toddler’s creativity flow. You could pretend it is the sea with fish inside, you can sing songs, find toys and help your little one to say speech sounds properly so they can be understood by others.

Role Play

Role play is a fun way to develop ‘pragmatic language’ in infants. This is the ability to know how to use language socially. For instance; having a conversation with a teacher will be different from a conversation between a child and their friends.

Dressing up for the part can be fun but is not a necessity. The more characters you play and introduce to your little one too, it will help stretch their imagination and vocabulary. Role play is not only beneficial for language skills but also for making eye-contact, turn-taking and listening and attention skills too.

For example; your child could be a Prince or a Princess in a castle, feed them appropriate language and let your little one take the lead. Each game should be adapted to suit their ability. Children learn language through hearing it first and then repeating in a similar context.

Another role-play game can be to pretend to be Mummy or Daddy ‘cooking in the kitchen’. Something they have witnessed before, and this gives your toddler the ability to repeat the words that they have learnt and to also learn new words too.

Story Bags

These are a great way of encouraging language skills of smaller children.

What are story bags?
These are bags of items which help you to make up your own stories, no words just objects inside a bag so the possibilities are endless and your imagination is all that limits you.

Two different types which we love are both from Early Years Resources. The first is called Really Random Story Bags.  These consist of 3 bags of items – Where, Who and What items.

There are

  • 6 random characters
  • 15 random objects
  • 10 scene cards
  • 3 cloth bags

You then chose a scene card, a character and a random object and begin to create your own stories. This is a great one for both young and older children.

Younger children can choose one of each for a simple story and older children could incorporate a few characters and objects and they could even write down their stories to retell at a later date.

The other item we love from EYR is the 5 little ducks rhyme set, this is aimed at much younger children say pre-school or nursery age and comes with 5 ducks, a pond which doubles up as a bag to keep your ducks safe and a rhyme card.

Most children know and love the 5 little ducks rhyme so this is a physical set which can be used for language development and play time. The children can use the ducks to recreate the rhyme or they can be used in discussion circles by asking the children questions about the rhyme, ducks – for example, Do you think the water was cold? What do the ducks feel like? Can you swim?

Animal Hopscotch

A childhood favourite, Hopscotch can be drawn with chalk and adapted to have animal pictures on them. Your youngster can name the animal with the accompanying sound. For instance; a lion says “Roarrr”.

Once your child is happy with the animals and their sounds these can be substituted with pictures of other objects, adapt the game to suit your child’s ability. What is great is that Hopscotch will help to physically develop your little one, whilst also increasing their vocabulary too.

**Collaborative post**

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