How to get your toddler talking: Play

Jan 2, 2016

Play is one of the best times to help toddlers boost their speech development, because it’s perfect for engaging them in fun, motivating interactions, and because children learn so well through play. This post shares some ideas for using play effectively to build great communication with your little one and boost their language skills.

Language boosting playFinding time for play

Parents are busy, and I’m reluctant to suggest that ‘play’ should be added to the daily to-do list, as though it were a chore. Generally, play happens naturally throughout the day. Still, it’s worth having a goal to share 30 minutes of play with our children every day. This means we’ll make sure to get down on the floor with our toddlers and have fun together while helping them learn.

If you can play at the same time most days as part of a routine, e.g. straight after breakfast, then your child will gain security from knowing that they get your undivided attention in this way. If you need to break this up into two 15 minute play sessions, that works too. If you have time for more, play more! It’s worth the time invested, because play makes parents and children feel good! It strengthens relationships and communication.

Really great play takes place when we forget about other tasks and distractions, like messaging, and enter the moment with our children. If you can make your play one-to-one, focusing attention solely on one child at a time then that’s great. This isn’t always possible though, and play with siblings together can still be wonderful for language development.

Communication in play

During shared playtimes try to get into the habit of using your best communication with your child. This means:

  • Use simple language, at or just above your child’s current level of speech.
  • Communicate clearly, by slowing down, making eye contact, and sitting or kneeling on the floor to be at your child’s physical level.
  • Be animated and interesting in your voice and facial expressions.
  • Listen out for your child’s responses and take turns with them in the conversation. Expand on what they say.
  • Use repetitive, predictable language, especially for children just starting to learn and use words.

Types of play

Look out for different ways to play with your toddler to build up a repertoire of games and activities. Many toddlers like to move a lot during play, so be sure to include very active, physical games, like obstacle courses, along with more concentrated sit-down activities, like puzzles. The key is to do what your child finds fun.

You might sometimes try out new activities and find they just don’t work for your little one. That’s okay! The activity may be too hard or too simple at this time, or just not a good fit for your child’s personality. I’m sure you’ll find many things that your toddler does love, so build language learning into the activities that are a hit!

Lots of toddlers are drawn to novelty. Showing them a new way to play can engage their interest and encourage them to enter an interaction with you, which is important for language learning. That’s why this blog shares lots of different activities to try out with children aged 1-3. I hope it will be a great resource for parents looking to make play more fun and better for language learning.

For hundreds of simple ideas for language-learning playtimes, check out my book, Word Boosting: A practical guide to encouraging your toddler’s language skills, with 365+ easy playtime activities.

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