What’s inside? Super easy things you can do to help your baby or toddler develop essentials communication and language skills. A perfect start for parents who want to use playtime effectively and teach their kid’s a lot of skills through play. Come in!
Do you think that you are not good at playing? Or do you freeze when it’s time to play with your child? Does the idea of play freak you out?
Alright alright, maybe not that bad. But maybe you simply don’t know how to easily build and boost your toddler’s language with super-simple techniques that you can use anytime anywhere with any type of activity or game.
Playing with your children to improve their language skills does not have to be a complicated task as many parents tend to think.
One of the reasons why I call this blog LingoBalance is that I aim to help you teach your child more while doing less. To do this, I bring you what research says about language development and combine all this knowledge with simple and fun activities. I find this to be a very cool combination. Balance is key, after all.
Learn with LingoBalance: How should I PLAY with my child to improve language skills?
Playing with intention and making a baby, toddler or preschooler happy at the same time should not be that hard!
And it is not. All you need is to:
- know some basics of language development and their connection to play
- trust yourself that you can do it
- enjoy playing and teaching your child valuable skills at the same time
you are good to go, super parent!
If play is that useful and important for your child, it should be important to know how to make use of it in the best way, right?
BUT WHY IS PLAY SO IMPORTANT FOR LANGUAGE DEVELOPMENT?
Children learn a lot of social skills, language skills, motor skills and emotional skills through play. But how to play with your child to help them develop all these skills? Many parents ask this question. As we grow up, we tend to forget something that we used to know very well: how to play.
When it comes to language development, playing serves two very important skills; joint attention and turn-taking. These two are the building blocks of communication.
What is joint attention?
Joint attention is the shared attention between two people. These two (or more) people can be attending to an object, event, or another person.
Joint attention is a very important step in communication and socialisation.
Imagine trying to communicate with someone without joint attention. How would it be?
There would not be communication. You would be talking about something and the other person would be talking about something else, with no common interest.
Joint attention comes into play right here. Being able to pay attention to the same object during play becomes being able to pay attention to the same conversational topic. Isn’t it amazing? Through this skill, children make a connection between the words and their meanings.
What is turn taking?
Through play, children learn to interact and take turns. You say something, I say something back and then we repeat. Even small babies who do not talk, take turns. Babbling, smiling back, making weird sounds when you look at your baby with a funny face, are all a part of it.
Why not spend playtime to help develop all these important communication skills while improving your child’s vocabulary?
I want parents to be confident and to have fun playing with their children. Play time shouldn’t be a burden on your shoulders. It should be something you look forward to as well.
Some simple things you can do while playing will give your child a good language boost. I promise, these things will not tire you out.
Let’s go back to your childhood and bring that playful and fun person back to life again.
Here is how you can easily play with your child.
OBSERVE YOUR CHILD’S ACTIONS
Most of the time you believe that you should be super active during the play. Can it be the reason why you think playing with your child is so difficult?
Try observing your child for a while instead of jumping headfirst into the game. Stop giving directions, talking, or trying to figure out how to play with the toys for a bit now.
Observing will help you to find out what interests your child. One of the main principles of language development is:
Children learn words for things that interest them!
If children are masters of play, then why not learn from them how to play.
Depending on the age of your children, the way they play will be different.
What is your child doing? How do they like to use the objects?
Does s/he grab the things and bounce them against the table?
Does s/he mouth?
Or does s/he talk to you or asks for your help to open that little lid of that little box?
You already do a lot to raise this baby all the time.
This time, take a step back and observe your child.
Do nothing instead and learn from them.
Rest a little and observe your child’s actions, listen to their voice, feel your child’s reactions towards the objects, toys, and you.
By this way, you will give your child a much bigger opportunity to communicate with you.
For little children to start communication, there should be silence so that they have some time to act and react.
Slowly and slowly, join into your child’s play. What to do when you slowly and surely go into your child’s world? Keep reading!
USE THE POWER OF IMITATION
If you took my advice, you will be observing your child for a while. Good.
I hear you asking:
‘’But how is it playing with my child, I am doing nothing!?’’
Isn’t play supposed to be done with two people in that case?
Don’t you have to join in at some point?
Yes, you definitely will.
Now all you have to do is to imitate.
Imitate your child’s actions, words, sounds.
Depending on your child’s age and skill level, a different scenario will take place each time you are imitating.
Be a mirror to your child.
Adult tip: If you feel silly imitating your child, I have a suggestion. Just keep imitating and maybe do it even bigger than your child!
I promise, you will get used to the feeling. Who knows, maybe you will enjoy doing silly things after all.
As you imitate your child, you will create two very important things for your child to learn many things that will help develop language skills.
As you imitate your child your child learns to imitate you
How do little ones learn? By imitating he adults around them.
That is why as a parent, you may be super conscious about what part you show to your child. As your baby grows up with you, that’s why they become a mini you! Imitation is one of the prerequisites of learning new skills. As you imitate your baby, you also give your baby the tools to imitate you. It is a win-win situation.
As your child learns to imitate you, that’s when you can create so many learning opportunities.
Sometimes your baby may need help to learn to imitate you. You can always model the behavior and help your baby do the same. Don’t forget to reinforce our baby when s/he imitates you by showing your happiness and excitement! Or with a little hi5!
When you imitate each other, you take turns
The story goes like this:
You stick your tongue out,
Your baby sticks their tongue out.
You pat your head,
Your child does so too.
You make raspberries
And then your baby laughs at you.
You laugh at your baby.
And the interaction continues until you stop. How simple is that? Like a conversation between two adults. Observing each others’ actions, listening to the sounds coming out of each others’ mouths, and taking turns…
Adult tip: If it is not fun enough for you, make your face even more ridiculous than it was before.
Taking turns is one of the fundamentals of communication. Such an important skill should not be missed during a simple play.
As you imitate, it means that you are paying attention to your child
As we talked in the first session, to imitate your child, you have to observe them first.
This also shows your child that you are paying attention.
Your baby needs your attention to feel safe. Imitating your child will show that you are paying attention to your child’s communication attempts and needs. Without your attention, your child’s needs wouldn’t be met.
DON’T BE SHY TO REPEAT REPEAT and REPEAT
Kids LOVE repetition.
They NEED repetition to learn new things.
Imagine learning a new language. Would you be able to hear a word once and then remember it the next time you want to use it? (Maybe you can! If so, I admire you for that. It is not me.)
As we grow up, we become bored easily.
We seek novelty most of the time. Sometimes we don’t like to eat the same food or wear the same things. We don’t like to watch the same movie over and over again anymore.
But remember your childhood.
How many times did you watch your favourite movie or read your favourite book?
I have to confess, I watched Home Alone 7 times, Jurassic Park 9 times, and Jumanji 11 times or so. Ask me to do it now! That would be impossible.
The reason you may be confused about play time may be that you want to create new things all the time. Is it necessary? Sometimes yes but many times, no!
Your child likes to hear the same book and play with the same things over and over again.
Hearing the same words over and over again will not hurt your child.
Don’t shy away from repeating yourself, use it to yours and your child’s advantage.
That might even mean you will play peekaboo 25 times in a row.
Or pretend like sneezing and dropping the ball on your head 17 times in a row.
If your child still laughs and enjoys each time, then keep doing. You are about to turn these repetitions into learning opportunities!
Repetition is an amazing tool for helping your child develop language skills for so many reasons. Especially the three following reasons:
Repetition is one of the main principles of language development
Do I need to talk more about this?
Repetition gives your child many opportunities to hear a word in different contexts
Repeating the same word is useful in many ways. First of all, your child will hear it, watch how your mouth moves and how you use the word or sound in a context many times.
The cooler thing is, you don’t have to say the word in the same way each time.
One of the ways children learn language is that hearing the same word over and over again in different contexts.
When playing, you don’t have to change the context drastically but you can repeat the same word in a different way.
For instance; if you are playing with toy cars, say ‘’wrom wrom the car is going’’. Next time you can say ‘’wrom wrom the car is fast’’. And next time ‘’oh wow! the car is flying’’ (yes, cars do fly). See your kiddo has heard the word ‘car’ in three different ways already. How fun!
Repetition allows you to establish a routine
Children love routines! They also need them. Think about one of the simplest routines you already established with your child.
Routines are super important because they are predictable. When children know what is going to happen next, they are more confident to take part in the interaction. Because they know what is going to happen next, so they can as well do it themselves. Interesting, isn’t it?
Anything can be a routine: Eating, bathtime, changing clothes (or diaper)…
But you can also create new little routines each time you play a game through repeating certain actions and words.
For instance, if you are playing a game where you clap your hands with your child many times and each time you say ‘’clap clap clap hands’’. This is a routine.
You are splashing water during bath time and you repeat ‘’splash water’’ and add some body parts into this routine.
‘’Splash splash splash water with my hands’’ ‘’splash splash splash water with my arm’’ ‘’splash splash splash water with my feet’’ is a great routine that will make your child familiar with each of the body parts.
Your child is confident about what is going to happen with a pinch of curiosity about what body part comes next. Here we have an exciting routine!
BONUS TIP: USE ‘WAIT TIME’ and be patient to help your child communicate
I do not want to skip this one because I said three tips!
Wait time is a great way of making your child interact. I already talked about establishing routines through repetition. Now, it is the best time to talk about this technique too.
Routines are great but what about when you break one of them?
It wakes you up! It wakes your child up too!
When you established a routine already and your child knows what is going to happen next. But next time you just stop…
Look at your child as if you expect them to say something. Waiting like this activates your child. It may frustrate them temporarily, which is not always a bad thing.
‘’What is happening? The thing I was expecting is not coming! Alright, I think I have to say it myself then!’’
Waiting instead of doing, talking, and moving all the time will allow for some silence. The silence you created can give your child a chance to be more active in communication.
Easy isn’t it!
As I always say, doing less can do more for your child.
So if you are confused about how to play with your child, take a moment to stop and give yourself and child a break during your routines and see what happens!
LET’S WRAP IT UP
Confused and intimidated by playtime? Do you want to improve your child’s communication skills but you don’t want to engage in super fancy play activities that you don’t even know how they work? Try these instead:
- Observe your child
- Imitate your child’s actions
- Repeat repeat and repeat
Alright dear parents, this is all I want to say for now.
Let me know in the comments if any of these simple ideas helped you to play more confidently with your little one. How did it go and what did you find the most interesting? How did your little one react? Did your little one learn something in turn? I hope so!
See you back here soon.
Buket Oztekin has an M.A. in speech and language therapy and a Ph.D. in linguistics. She works with bilingual children and investigates their language development. She coaches parents of bilingual children and connects them with other parents to spread knowledge and experience. Her goal with creating LingoBalance is to turn what the research says into bitesize information and activities for parents to use with their kiddos anytime, anywhere.