Playing with Purpose: A Pediatric Speech Therapist’s Perspective
With holidays and birthdays, come many toys that cycle in and out of your home. They come in many different brands and styles but all have the same underlying potential for developing your child’s communication skills. Here are just a few commonly found toys that I use as a Pediatric Speech Therapist with the children I work with in order to develop and expand their speech and language abilities.
Toy Farm: This toy is loaded with opportunities for you to model early developing speech sounds to your child. Some of the first sounds acquired by infants and toddlers are made with their lips such as “b” “p” and “m”. When playing with this toy with your child, exaggerate these target sounds while modeling animal names and noises. Some of the target words I use include: “baaa”, “moo”, “pig” with exaggerating the initial sound of each word. Try to have your child watch your mouth while you are saying these words. Allow wait time after saying a target word to give your child an opportunity for imitation.
Cause and Effect Toys: These toys come in many varieties but all have the same underlying theme. They are toys that allow a child to “cause” an event to occur. In the case of the pictured toy, when your child pushes a button, the window opens and an animal appears. Communication is founded in cause-effect. Even before a child learns to speak, they understand that when they cry, it results in an event. This event can be a diaper change, a feeding, or attention from their caregiver. When a child understands this relationship, the door for purposeful communication is opened.
Kitchen Set: Pretend play is a huge component of a child’s language development. It is their way of taking scenes from their environment and re-enacting them using language they hear daily. When you listen to your child play, you may hear some familiar phrases!
This is a great toy for children of all ages. When playing with this toy, help your child to pretend. Model actions such as: stirring with a spoon, putting food in the oven, or turning the sink on and off. While performing these tasks, keep your language SIMPLE. Phrases such as “too hot”, “all done”, “more please”, and “all gone” are simple beginning phrases that can be used in many situations throughout the day.
While these are just a few suggestions for your holiday and birthday gift list, there are many other options of toys and play that stimulate communication. Any toy that encourages an opportunity for interaction between you and your child is a learning opportunity!
When you go shopping, look for toys that encompass interaction. Although there are several toys on the market that light up or make noise, many of these toys only have a visual component, but do not allow your child to manipulate or physically engage in active play. Much of our early language consists of “active” words that rely on motion or position. Some of the best toys set the scene for using words such as “go”, “stop”, “up”, “down”, “in”, “out”, “on” and “off”.
Why is this type of play important? Young children understand much more than they can verbally express. Even before your child says their first word, they are acquiring and understanding of multiple vocabulary terms daily. By the age of 2, a typical child understands 200-300 vocabulary terms! This makes your task of modeling these early vocabulary terms during play that much more meaningful.
If you are concerned about your child’s speech and language development, below are a few warning signs that may warrant assessment by a Speech Language Pathologist:
- reduced eye contact
- disinterest for communication
- does not respond to their name or sounds in their environment
- frequent ear infections
- limited babbling or verbal output
- difficulty understanding simple commands
- For toddlers who have speech that is very difficult to understand, resulting in frequent anger outbursts and temper tantrums
There is no “right” age for seeking help for your child’s speech and language. Speech and language development varies for every child. A child who is behind may catch up on their own without intervention, especially when developing their speech sounds. With that being said, do not ignore your parental instincts. It never hurts to seek assistance or an expert opinion.
Michelle Keenan, SLP-CCC is a Tx:Team Speech Language Pathologist treating the Pediatric population at FMH Rose Hill Outpatient Clinic. You may contact Michelle at 240-566-3132 or find out more about Speech Language Therapy go to www.fmh.org/Rehabilitation