When the weather keeps you indoors with an active toddler the days can seem long. Not everyone has a fully loaded basement or playroom with a trampoline, basketball hoop, climbing structure, slide, etc. Even with all of that great play equipment, how do you find ways to help your little one with talking during all of that excitement? Most active play is an obvious set up for introducing “ready, set…GO” – allowing your little one to fill-in the “go” part. But…then what? He’s jumping and climbing and going crazy and you may be a distant memory.
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Finding play activities that encourage speech and language skills can be a challenge – if your preferred list of activities requires him to sit. I say this because when most people ask friends and family, and maybe even their pediatrician, for advice on teaching a little one to talk the responses are usually:
- just keep talking to him
- read to him
I’ve already written Playing with…BOOKS to encourage active book time rather than sitting and attempting to read to a toddler who doesn’t appear to be paying any attention at all. As with books, Playing with…Flash Cards does not need to require sitting either.
Sensory experiences or “artsy craftsy” stuff can make sitting (or at least remaining in one place) a little more interesting and purposeful. Mystery Boxes and Sensory Bins can make old toys new again. Playing with… PLAYDOUGH may lead to some mess and small dried pieces of dough stuck to your floor, but most toddlers will find it fun! Playing with…art (crayons, markers, stickers, window clings, pudding, shaving cream, magnetic boards, water) is a great way to focus on talking while exploring with your hands.
What about those who need even more movement? Here are some of my favorites:
1. Make an obstacle course – Use the words “in, on, around, under, over, through, out, off, fast, slow, jump, step, march, hop, pull, push” to describe what needs to happen at each obstacle. Use whatever you already have: couch cushions, chairs, pillows, blankets, and empty boxes to turn your living room into a new play area with a starting line and a finish line. If your child isn’t yet using words, try sounds like “oooo” for a darkened tunnel, “ba ba ba” when they march over the bumpy pillows, “whee” when it’s time to move fast, “tada” or “hooray” or just loud cheers and claps upon completion of their first lap! Other great obstacle items to include would be painter’s tape on a non-carpeted floor. Use it to give direction or as a balance beam. Make boxes or squares with it and then jump into the squares like stepping stones. Use it to tape down colored squares of construction paper to practice naming colors too! If you have bubble wrap, place it on the floor for your little one to walk on “pop pop pop”. Colored foam mat squares or discs can also help keep your little one on course.
2. Hide and Seek – This does not need to be elaborate. My daughter hides in the same toy box EVERY. TIME. I count to 10 and then wander all over the house wondering aloud where she could possibly be. This game is perfect for modeling, or demonstrating, to your child how to ask simple repetitive questions: “Are you in here? NO. Are you in the closet? NO. Are you under the bed? NO. Are you under this blanket? NO. Are you in the toy box? YES!” Remember to answer your own questions too. Play this game with stuffed animals – especially if there are no other siblings available. For little ones who aren’t yet mobile, you can still play Peek-A-Boo! The Power of Peekaboo
3. Empty box – In my opinion, a large empty box may be the world’s best toy! If you shop online then you also get these wonderful “toys” shipped to your house for FREE when you purchase toys, diapers and household needs – ha! Check out these posts I’ve already written: Playing with…containers and Playing with…diaper boxes.
4. Flashlight – Turn the lights off, or just dim them, and get out a flashlight! Make shadow puppets if you are so talented or just shine the light around the room and let your child see their toys and familiar surroundings in a whole new way! Name what you find and wonder aloud what you might find next. Tape pictures or flash cards on the wall and place seek-n-find games. Put the light on the floor and have your toddler try to “stomp” on it or give it a “high five” before the light moves away.
5. Dance party – Shake, bounce, sway, do the robot…whatever it takes to get some silliness going! When your toddler imitates your actions, they may be more willing to imitate your sounds as well. Clap and say “clap”, wiggle “fast” and “slow”, wave your arms up “high” and then wave them down “low”. For more ideas about using music to help with speech go to Playing with…MUSIC and SINGING!
6. Road tape – Anyone have a car or train lover? Sure you can buy all the toy garages and train tracks, but for even more movement on an indoor day (or just to change things up a bit) try tape on the floor that looks like a road or train tracks! Heck, make it part of your obstacle course (see #1). For play and language ideas with vehicles check out Indoor CAR WASH and Playing with… CARS.
7. AND 8. The last two activities go together and are possibly my favorite active indoor play ideas for speech and language practice: Scavenger Hunts and Special Deliveries.
Each of these can be expanded or modified (in distance and difficulty) for preschool and school-age children but even toddlers get the basic ideas of 1) matching 2) finding pieces to make a whole and 3) organizing or giving or delivering objects – however you want to describe it. The key with these activities for speech and language practice is to play WITH your child: offer choices during play, wonder aloud about where objects could be or where they should go and use words and sounds at their level. Let’s take a closer look…
Scavenger Hunts – You don’t have to create a fancy color print out of various pictures or objects to go find in your house. Just use any “Memory” game cards as they already come with matches! Hide half of the cards in one room and then set out their matching card in the starting room. Name each object your toddler needs to find/match and, as always, wonder aloud where it could be and then where it was found. For extra points, put the cards in the “starting room” in a box so they get to choose the next picture to go find. Don’t have a matching game? How about a puzzle? Use it the same way. Hide the pieces in one room (or one side of the same room) and place the board at your starting location. Shape sorters also work well. For those who want something that is already made, try “Seek a Boo”. It’s also a nice scavenger hunt/matching game gift idea for those with little ones.
Special Deliveries – With scavenger hunts we collected items, now we’re going to distribute them! Use a shopping cart or a box or bag to carry the “mail”. Use objects that match in color or category. Set up a blue object in one room, red in another, green in another then give your toddler or preschooler the items to deliver (match). Deliver foods to stuffed animals that you’ve set up in different rooms, deliver cars to designated parking spots or put baby dolls to bed on various blankets. With preschoolers, write first letters on cups or paper plates and have them deliver objects with those same first sounds to the corresponding letter.
Here are some more examples of toys that work well for scavenger hunts and special deliveries:
Learning to communicate doesn’t need to be done at a table or while seated. It just needs a purpose. Most toddlers prefer to move so we may as well join them!
Once you can get back outdoors you may be interested in:
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