Mr. Potato Head play ideas for building language skills with your toddler or preschooler

May 30, 2016

Mr. Potato Head is a popular toy among speech therapists because little kids often enjoy playing with it, and it’s perfect for encouraging some important early language skills, including naming body parts, understanding object function, using early verbs and much more. Today’s post shares some fun ways to use this toy in educational play.

potato head

  1. Teach body parts.

This is probably the most natural way to use the Potato Head toy, and that’s great because body parts are often among the first words that little ones learn to understand and use. As your toddler explores the toy label the different pieces clearly. If they are at the stage of using early words, encourage talking by holding onto the pieces and prompt requests with simple, repetitive questions: ‘Do you want the eyes? Eyes? These are the eyes.’ Or offer a choice: ‘Do you want the mouth, or the tongue?’

Target words: Eyes, mouth, arms, feet, nose, tongue, back, hat, shoes, glasses

  1. Teach simple actions.

As you construct the toy together teach useful early verbs like push, pull, fix and help. Make the toy to perform simple actions for your little one to copy, such as waving hello and bye-bye, giving a kiss, or simply walking! For children just beginning to talk, remember to use lots of fun, repetitive play routines. Laura Mize at teachmetotalk.com gives a great example for this toy: make Mr. Potato Head walk and fall over while saying ‘Walk, walk, walk, walk, BOOM!’ You know how much a toddler will love this! This toy is perfect for being silly. My kids are delighted when Mr. Potato Head goes for a walk, falls, and loses his ears or nose, so they have to leap in to help.

Target words: Push, pull, want, walk, eat, talk, see, help, hello, bye-bye, wave, please, thank you

3. Teach object function.

Talk about what the different body parts are for as you play: eyes are for seeing, a hat is to keep the head warm, mouths are for talking and so on. e.g. ‘He’s lost his eyes! Oh no! He needs his eyes to see!’ Be expressive and exaggerated! Ask your child about what Mr. Potato Head needs and why. Keep this fun with silly ideas. For example, my kids think it’s pretty hilarious if we give the toy two mouths and then make him talk really LOUD…

Target words: Body parts etc. as above (1), need, got, see, hear, listen, wave, touch, walk, smell, warm, use

  1. Make mistakes.

There are lots of ways to assemble this toy, so make mistakes, by putting his arms in his back, and his eyes under his mouth, for example. This is a funny way to teach wrong and right. Talk about what’s happening with faux-seriousness: ‘Oh no! Something’s wrong! What’s wrong with Mr. Potato Head?… Yes, his arm is on his back. Uh-oh. That’s not right!’ Mistakes are also useful for teaching negation: ‘Uh-oh. No! That’s not right. His eyes don’t go there!’ For more confident speakers introduce some more advanced pronouns like under and beside.

Target words: Yes, no, uh-oh, oh no, yeah!, right, wrong, in, out, on, where, here, there, under, above, top, bottom, below, next to, beside

  1. Tell stories.

Mr. Potato Head toy is full of character, so he’s great for pretend play. Take him for a walk on a windy day and make him loose his hat. Perhaps he catches a cold and keeps sneezing. Maybe he can’t find his glasses and keeps bumping into things. Or ask your child what his favorite food might be and fix him a meal. (Weirdly, my kids think he eats potatoes…) Just give him a funny voice and try out anything that might appeal to your child! This kind of play is great for so many language skills, including sentence building and storytelling. We found it especially good for learning to talk about feelings.

Target words: Cold, warm, sad, happy, hungry, sleepy…

  1. Teach pronouns

An idea for more advanced speakers is to use the toy to practice the pronouns he, him and his. These typically don’t emerge until around age 3, after a child is already using I and you, so don’t stress about it too early! These words will naturally occur in Potato Head play as you talk about his arms, his feet and so on. If this is something you want to work on, hold onto the parts and encourage your child to use pronouns in their requests.

Target words: He, him, his, she, her, hers

7. Liven up other activities

Get Mr. Potato Head involved in other games and activities you might be doing, such as hide and seek or puppet play. You could try using the different body parts with play dough. An easy trick to liven up reading a familiar story is to have a toy, such as Mr. Potato Head, in the audience. He might ask questions your little one could answer. We had a lot of fun this way with From Head to Toe by Eric Carle, an amazing action book for toddlers and preschoolers. Some of the actions Mr. Potato Head could do, but others he couldn’t (e.g. bend his neck, because he has no neck), which fascinated the boys and prompted lots of funny discussion!

Above all remember to keep your play fun and enjoy spending time with your little one! For some tips on building language learning into play check out my Key Strategies posts.

This post is adapted from my book: Word Boosting: A practical guide to encouraging your toddler’s language skills, with 365+ easy playtime activities.


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2 Comments

  1. Lady Lilith
    May 31, 2016

    We loved playing with Potato Head. The kids can learn sequencing, body parts, and later get to play with him. Such a fantastic educational toy.

    Reply
    • Kathleen
      May 31, 2016

      Thanks for stopping by! I forgot to mention sequencing – you’re right, another great use.

      Reply

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