How to Use Toys to Build Language Skills

How to Use Toys to Build Language Skills
By Ashley Ward, B.A., SLPA

With the holidays right around the corner, you are likely thinking about which toys and gadgets you will surprise your children with this year. Almost every toy imaginable can be used to build language skills while playing. In imaginative play with dolls or cars, engage in pretend dialogue with your child. This helps build their imaginations while working on vocabulary and sentence structure. Ask your child for descriptions of what is going on during the play session, like what certain characters are wearing and how they are feeling. Below, I have created a brief list of specific ways you can work on language skills with common toys.
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Baby Dolls:
In addition to imaginative play with the dolls, you can talk about the different body parts and use accessories (baby bottle, cradle, clothes, etc.) to talk about the baby’s needs and feelings. Use “wh” questions (who, what, where, when, why) to expand conversation. For example, “Why is the baby crying?” “When do you need to feed the baby?” “What is the baby doing?” You can also use these accessories to work on prepositions: “Put the baby under the blanket,” “The baby is in her bed.” If the doll comes with an array of baby clothes, use these to teach the names of these items (hat, bib, pajamas, socks, etc.)
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Play kitchen:
There is so much you can do with a play kitchen. If possible, set up a mini grocery store with inexpensive fake food products or even use some of your own. This allows you to teach your child names of all different types of food. While cooking, ask your child to describe how they are preparing the food. Again, this is a great opportunity to work on prepositions: “Put the meat in the oven,” “The pan is on the stove,” and verbs such as stirring, mixing, pouring, opening/closing containers, etc.

Doctor Set:
Go through the doctor set with your child and have them try to describe what each item is used for. What is a stethoscope used for? Why do doctors use a thermometer? Why would a patient need a cast/sling? Your child may have some trouble with this depending on their age, so they may need you to help them explain. Doctor sets are great for social/pragmatic play with turn taking. Your child can play the doctor first, asking you for your symptoms using “wh” questions and using the play tools appropriately based on their function. Then, switch roles and have your child play the patient by having them describe how they are feeling: “How do you feel when you’re sick? Tired, grumpy, nauseous?”

These are just a few ideas of ways you can incorporate and promote language development with play. We at Capital Area Speech wish you and your family a wonderful holiday!

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