If you’re anything like me, you’re always looking for new ways to help your young child learn important academic skills such as number and letter identification, rhyming skills, problem-solving skills and more. More times than not, I invest a lot of money into what I think will be the perfect high tech toy, only to find that all my child really wants to do is play with a box! Sometimes, simple is better! I’ve learned that I don’t need to reach into my wallet; I need to tap into my own creativity! In both my private practice and at home, I’ve used my imagination to create meaningful learning activities from everyday toys and objects.
Let’s discuss how you can use simple, everyday objects and toys to encourage communication skills with your child.
1. A box: Yes, we all know our kids love a good box, but why? Well, kids love to use their own imaginations, they enjoy hiding and climbing; it’s a full body experience! Use a large box for some of these language enhancing ideas:
A playhouse: Work together to create your child’s dream house! Add windows and a door with a box cutter and draw grass, flowers, cats, birds, and trees. Allow your child be the leader, directing your work. Ask questions, present problems for them to solve with their design, count flowers as you draw them, the opportunities are limitless!
Other ideas for boxes include: A post office, pirate ship, car, or rocket. You can even use a box for a game of hide and seek or peek-a-boo for smaller children.
2. Bubbles: All of us remember playing with bubbles as children, but what we may not recall are all the opportunities for language this activity can provide!
Work on basic words for emergent speakers such as “go” in “Ready, set, go!”, “pop”, “big”, “little”, “uh-oh”, “all-gone”, and many more. Keep it simple and model the words consistently throughout the activity, focusing on 2-3 target words at a time.
Use bubbles to encourage your child to request “more”, to refuse “all-done”, to comment “pop”, “pretty”, “up”
Oral motor skills! Of course, practicing blowing is great for the /w/ and /o/ sounds as well as lip rounding abilities and simple blowing
3. Sidewalk Chalk: Talk about a cheap, fun way to get your kids outside having fun and also learning! There are more ideas than I can possibly list here for how to use this creative outlet, but here are a few good ones.
For emergent speakers, draw pictures of things you see outside and label them aloud: Tree, bird, car, grass, house....this will encourage your child to engage with you and their environment and maybe even try to say a few words too!
Draw pictures that correspond to parts of a song: For instance, for The Itsy Bitsy Spider, draw a spider, followed by rain coming down from a cloud, a sun, and the spider again. As you sing, point to the pictures, and encourage your child to point to the pictures as well. Pause at different points along the way to allow your child to fill in the correct word.
Draw a track or road and use cars or dump trucks on the road. You can make the road turn and even go up a wall! Try drawing a big green "Go" sign, and a red "Stop" sign and practice stop and go with trucks. Add in lots of environmental sounds like "vroom!" "beep", "eeek!" even "woo-woo" for the police!
4. Books: Books are by far, one of the best ways to encourage learning. It is imperative that we read frequently to children, and here are some of the ways you can take bedtime stories to the next level!
Locating the first letter of their name: Begin by pointing out objects and people in the books you read that have the same beginning letter as your child’s first name. Act surprised, treat it as a very special word, and use your child’s finger to touch the letter. As time goes on, begin asking, “What letter does bug start with? That’s right! It’s the letter B just like your name Billy!”
Ask questions about the topic, problem, or resolution in a story. Stop and talk about it and ask your child what they thought about the story. Ask questions about the character’s names, reinforce important themes in the story, and help your child to identify what different characters might be feeling. All of these activities will help lay the foundation for more advanced receptive and expressive language skills.
Read the same books over and over! You are probably already doing this, and that’s good, because repetition is one way children learn and is important reinforcement for new skills. As you’re reading that much loved book for the thousandth time, stop and allow your child to fill in the gaps, either with the last word on the page of a rhyming story, or to have them tell you what is going to happen next. Again, you are helping lay the groundwork for continued learning.
Take these starter ideas and develop more! Grab a notebook and fill it with different activities for the toys and everyday objects you have at home. Once a list of activities is developed, it will be available to you whenever the need arises. Your child will be excited and eager to participate in new interesting games, and you won’t have to spend a dime more than you want to!
*Robyn Hillison is a Speech-Language Pathologist who owns Capital Speech & Language Therapy Services LLC, a private practice in Tallahassee, Florida servicing children birth through 18 years of age.