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Let's Play: the speech and language way

Speech and language therapy ideas for playing at home

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Some books are better left unread

Some books are funny, some books teach important social skills, some books are perfect for helping with early literacy skills, some books are more like songs when you read them… there are many reasons to read a book to a child.  However, there are some books that don’t need to be read at all!

Hidden picture books or “Look and Find” or “I spy” books are some of my favorite non-reading books for little ones.  Yes, there are often a few sentences written on the top of the page but who cares!?  Picture books are great for learning language and INTERACTING – so, if you have a little one who doesn’t sit long for books then skip the passive listening expectation and go straight to the fun!

(Disclosure: This article contains Amazon affiliate links which means I may receive a small portion of earnings from qualifying sales.)

Sure, you can ask your little ones to find all of the pictures listed, but that only requires them to point.  How do we get them to talk?

Here are some ideas for using hidden picture books to encourage talking:

  • Pretend to not be able to find the picture.  Yes, the large red apple may be front and center on the page but if you pretend you can’t see it, then your child has the opportunity to help you!  “Apple?  apple? hmmmm…I can’t find it.”  You may want to ask “Is this it?” as you point to a banana.  Your child may want to tell you “no” or say “banana” or just look at you like your crazy, but either way, at least you have his attention.
  • Wave to all of the people in the pictures.  Of course, you are supposed to go through the given list of pictures to find, but maybe it’s fun to just wave to Elmo!  Find Elmo on every page (even if he isn’t listed as a picture to find) and just enthusiastically wave “Hiiiii”.  Maybe even blow him a kiss if you haven’t seen him in a long time.  Blowing kisses is great for imitation and silly mouth play “mmmwah”.
  • Use playdough.  What?  In a book?  Yes.  Many times these “Look and Find” books for toddlers and preschoolers have wipeable pages.  Use playdough to cover the entire picture list and then just peel a section away to reveal the next picture to find.  OR, allow the child to cover the hidden picture with playdough once it’s found.
  • Describe the picture instead of naming it.  “Ok, next let’s find something that you eat and it’s red.”  You can even think aloud… “No, not a banana because that’s yellow.  No, not a car because I don’t eat that….” Give your little one time to figure out you’re talking about the apple!  If they just point to it, you can start the sentence but let her finish “yes, we can find the …. (apple)… next!”
  • Help your little one find the hidden picture with location clues.  It’s under the rock, it’s on top of the boat, it’s next to the tree, it’s at the top of the page… Once it’s been found you can announce “Hooray!” or “Tada!” or “Woot woot!” or whatever other excited sound you prefer.  Exclaim it 2 or 3 times then give your child an open-eyed expectant look and see if they shout “Yippee” also!
  • Make it active.  Take a photo of the list of pictures to find.  Print it out and cut it into cards.  Place the cards on the opposite side of the room or in a Mystery Box and then he has to go to one location to find the picture of what he is supposed to search for and then run to the other side of the room to find that picture in the scene.  Repeat.
  • Ask “wh” questions.  Just because there is a picture list, you don’t have to be limited to finding hidden pictures.  I like to ask about the larger scene: “where is this?”  Help your child see the whole picture and figure out if it’s in a kitchen or at a playground or at a school, etc.  Offering choices might be helpful.  “Maybe it’s a park or a bedroom”… hmmm.  I also ask “Who wants to turn the page?”  They can decide if the answer will be “me” or “you”.
  • Sound play.   If you have a little one, use the sound that a car or animal or person might make instead of asking questions or using long sentences.  Want to find the dog?  Just point to it and bark!  Then think loudly while looking “hmmmmm”.  When you find it, just bark again!  Your little one might do the same.  If you have a preschooler, think about the first letter sound of the pictures you want to find.  “Let’s find something that starts with the sound “d”.

One of the most important things to remember when interacting with books is to follow your child’s interests.  This may mean sitting across from her so that you can watch her eyes and only comment on the pictures that SHE is interested in.  When you make a noise for the dog that she is looking at, there is a better chance she will associate the barking with the dog.  She may even think it’s funny and try it herself.  Even if you are making the most amazing train noises, but she is looking at the person in the car, your efforts may not fully be appreciated or replicated.

The good news is that these books come in various levels of difficulty so your toddler through school-age kids (and even adults) can join in the search.  You can also find books with just about any princess, superhero, or TV show theme!

Here are some of my favorite books for finding things:

Another type of book to NOT read would be books without words (or just a few words).  You get to create your own story for your child’s interest and level of understanding, use your own meaningful sounds, or let your child make up their own ideas and tell YOU…

For a book that will help you learn how to make books fun and silly and NOT read to your little one…but really help your little one with noise making and talking… I highly recommend this book:


If you would like to print out FREE handouts of some of the more popular posts I’ve written for early speech and language learning check out: FREE Handouts

Other posts you may be interested in:

Where’s the speech in speech therapy?

Playing with…BOOKS!

Top 5 NON-toy Toys

Toys That Do Nothing

 

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Top 5 NON-toy Toys

Children love toys.  Don’t they?  We give them so many colorful, musical, pretty toys… then our toddlers completely ignore those and play with diaper wipes, dog toys and empty shoe boxes.

Sometimes the best toys are not toys at all.  They did not come from a toy store, did not come wrapped in pretty packaging, and did not promise any kind of “educational” benefit to your toddler.  These “non-toys” are sometimes what your child will play with for a much longer period of time, use in more creative ways, and cost you much less money!  These are the toys that allow your child to explore and be curious.  (Read: Toys that do nothing)

Engaging your child using their interests is the best way to teach early communication skills.  The “toy” in the play can be anything – including YOU!  Your child may be interested in blocks, cars, dolls, the ceiling fan, food, sticks, or empty boxes.  Those interests are the objects or activities that we can use to teach things like problem solving, turn taking, imitation, sharing enjoyment with others, watching how others react, requesting objects and actions, learning to communicate…. THOSE ARE THE GOALS of play.

The toy is not the goal.  It’s just the tool we use to teach.

Since the toy can be anything, here is my TOP 5 LIST OF NON-TOY TOYS (in no particular order):

(Disclosure: I am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.)

*Plastic cups:  best non toysStack it, decorate it, use it for target practice with bean bags, or wear it as a hat… the plastic cup could be your favorite non-toy toy.

  • Use it as a pull toy – Punch a hole in the bottom, pull a string through that hold and tie it up in a big knot so it doesn’t come back out.  For extra noise making fun, fasten a small bell to the knot inside the cup and you have instant pull toy your little one can create noise with all over your house!  Ready, set, GO!
  • Hearing your own voice as an echo is pretty fun and can be motivating for little ones to practice lots of sounds when they hear their own voice – amplified!  Sure, you can buy a microphone, but a plastic cup gives you the same effect and you just had to grab one out of your pantry that was leftover from a birthday party or cookout or your every day casual dining – ha!

*Empty boxes and containers of all sorts:  non toys are best for toddlersFavorite toys for one and two year olds?  Anything you can push, pull, fill and dump.   Empty boxes and containers fulfill ALL of these requirements.  Think food storage containers, diaper boxes, wipes boxes, tissue boxes, parmesan cheese containers, zippered bags, water bottles and plastic bins of any sort.  If you shop on Amazon you get a box delivered straight to your house every time – BONUS!  What to put in the boxes? Your little one will figure that out!  Try puzzle pieces, toy cars, play food, shoes, socks…the possibilities are endless.  For more ideas go to Playing with…containersPurposeful Packaging, and Mystery Boxes and Sensory Bins.best toys are boxes

*Paper towel, toilet paper, and gift wrap tubes:  20180415_135643What might just be items for the recycling bin can FIRST be: binoculars, a megaphone, logs for a campfire, ramps and tunnels for small balls and cars, AND tapping sticks for a marching band.  Attach a few paper towel rolls together for golf clubs, baseball bats, and sticks to knock over the plastic cup towers.  Use them as oars in your empty box boats or attach them to the back of the “boat” and make a sail or flagpole.

*Colorful foam mat: Ok, so this one may not be an everyday kind of item, but it is just SO much more than a mat!  Of course the colored squares are perfect for learning colors but take the mat apart for:

  • Stepping Stones for “hot lava” games
  • Helping little ones follow the path of an obstacle course
  • Sitting spots for a pretend picnic
  • Matching same colored objects
  • Jumping targets
  • Bean bag toss targets
  • Smacking the squares together like cymbals in a marching band
  • Line up matching colors so you can walk down the “red path” and the “blue path” to see what treasure awaits

If you get the colored square mat pictured above and resist the temptation to get the alphabet mats and the mats with edge pieces then you can construct small houses, stack them up and knock them down, build “chairs” for stuffed animals, and have longer trails to walk on!

*Flashlights: 20180412_170505 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 play 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.


HONORABLE MENTIONS: There are so many non-toys that could have made this list, but here are a few more that are not only interesting to many toddlers, but also allow plenty of opportunities for practicing communication skills:

  1. Bucket with a handle – for collecting stuff (any stuff) while you’re at a park or playground and hauling around treasures at a beach or just to the next room.
  2. Couch cushions and pillows – for soft landing zones when your toddler needs to run and jump or for obstacle courses or for fort building.
  3. Blankets, towels – endless hours of Peekaboo or pretend play with stuffed animals.
  4. Junk mail – cut out pictures of interest, cover with contact paper if it is especially interesting, then use as decoration or practice delivering mail or use as flash cards.20180412_170239
  5. Laundry baskets – This may seem like a repeat of the empty boxes and containers, but a laundry basket (or plastic bin) may also serve as a sled!  Wheeee!

DSC03081


Whatever object or “toy” is the interest, keep your child engaged and learning by:

  1. Imitate what THEY do with it
  2. After you imitate their idea, try something a little different to see if they will imitate your idea
  3. Add a sound (or word or short phrase) to what you are doing (read: Where are the WORDS?)
  4. Offer help, but then wait – don’t actually help unless they truly want it (read: Help!)
  5. Take turns with it
  6. Pretend that your object doesn’t quite work like theirs and act confused
  7. Hide it or pretend you can’t find it – then call out to it while searching
  8. Pretend that a stuffed animal or puppet is doing the same thing with the object

Complete the following sentence in the picture below and you’ll find what your child truly wants to play with (and talk about!)

nontoys

Remember when it comes to early communication – YOU are the best toy above all!

Be sure to follow my Facebook page for all of my tips and strategies for communication.  If you like to print things out or want parent-friendly handout versions of my blog posts go to: FREE handouts.


Final note:  While non-toys may be awesome for your own children, others might not think it’s neat to receive paper towel tubes as a gift!  If you need to give a gift to a young child, here are some ideas…Best toys and gifts: a speech therapist’s list!

Traveling with kids: the speech and language way

Road trips and plane rides… with little ones.  It’s a whole new world of travel.  Remember being a child and not having electronics when going on vacation?  What did we do…?

We played car games:  The Alphabet Game, The License Plate Game, I Spy, Auto Bingo, Rhyme Time…and a word spelling game called “ghost” – that I’m not sure if my Grandma made up.

What else?  We sang songs, we created stories out of what the clouds looked like, we ate snacks, we read books, we pretended our siblings were robots and positioned their arms and legs in awkward poses, we got on each other’s nerves, we asked “are we there yet?”… but we TALKED to each other.

Now, I’m no expert on parenting or traveling with little ones but I do know that a travel bag for little ones doesn’t need to require batteries or recharging – especially if the trip isn’t too long.  So, what do you put in a travel bag to help pass the travel time?  This, of course, depends on the ages of your children but here are some non-electronic travel bag ideas: 20180401_131550.jpg

(Disclosure: I am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.)

When my kids were younger, the travel bag was mostly books, snacks, magnetic doodle boards, a few toy cars and stuffed animals.  One of my favorite stuffed animals was the turtle with a bunch of buckles on it!  This was great on the airplane (not as much in a car) as it did require frequent help to unlatch the buckles.  More opportunities to ask for help = more opportunities to practice communication.

Dropping the toys with no way to retrieve them while driving was definitely an issue so we did LOTS and LOTS of music – music, not videos.  Keeping the playlist familiar but with a few new songs helped tremendously.

Now that my kids can do activities with less adult help, stickers are a huge favorite!  We go through SHEETS and SHEETS of stickers on trips.  Alphabet stickers are great!  I write a list of their favorite words and they cover up the letters with the matching letter sticker.  They will use the letter sticker to write out their names, things they see outside, the first letter of whatever word I call out… or just put the whole alphabet on the piece of paper.  Reusable stickers scenes are great too.

Folders with activities such as mazes, connect the dots, and scavenger hunt type activities (I just printed out a grid of cars and trucks then colored them red, blue, black, gray, green, etc to make car bingo a little easier and not require such a long attention span when you JUST can’t find that railroad crossing sign that is in so many pre-made auto bingo cards – ha!)  One side of my folder has activities for my older son and the other side has mostly blank paper for my younger daughter.

It’s not all about coloring and books.  Remember to sing lots of songs!  Play those interactive car games from your childhood, and of course, snack away as needed.  Those are all great opportunities to practice sounds and words!  Think about how many opportunities there are to point out passing cars or airplanes overhead, request help, request more, request pit stops, request a break, request food and activities and objects… Remember to offer choices to help with speech and also reduce frustration.  When you arrive at your destination “Hooray!”

Here is a visual list of ideas (although your local Dollar Store is also a great option):
    

 

Traveling with little ones isn’t easy, I get it, but it can also be an opportunity to teach them how to travel and not just how to survive it.  Lots of concepts to think about with traveling – independent play, imagination, maps/directions, the concept of “one minute”, and patience.  Yes, lots of patience!

What’s in your travel bag?

Thank you for reading and sharing!  I’d love to hear what works for you.


Other articles you may be interested in:

Toddler Speech: unraveling the mystery

Playing with…BOOKS!

Where are the WORDS?

 

 

 

Indoor play with an active toddler

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.

(Disclosure: I am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.)

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:

  1. just keep talking to him
  2. 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. IMG_20170901_091818 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

lp-boxes3.  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 IMG_20180104_124603638– 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:

Playing in the… SNOW!

Talking… at the Playground!

After the rain…PUDDLES!


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Purposeful Packaging

The excitement of a new toy often leads to hurried package opening with the paper or bag or box tossed aside.  Do you know how many communication opportunities may have just been missed?

Zipper bags (like those that are used for Mega Bloks) are a communication tool! (Which is why I keep all of my puzzles pieces in ziploc bags – Playing with… PUZZLES!)

For little ones who can’t quite pull the zipper on their own, you can show them how the zipper moves when you make the “zzzzzzz” sound but it stops when your sound stops too!  Then offer them a turn.  Here’s an opportunity for you to see if they need help.  Ask with a single word “help?” and even use the sign to go with it for bonus points.  Once the zipper moves again, here comes that “zzzz” sound!  Once the bag is finally open… “HOORAY!” or “TADA!” or  “You did it!”  Then zip it back up and do it again – ha!

Keep the bag open but when your little one reaches to take a block out, you can playfully pretend the newly opened bag is now a mouth and will nibble on their hand “yum yum yum”.   If that gets the giggles going then keep it up!  Tell the mouth “no, no, no” or “oooopen” or “stop”.   Heck, zip the “mouth” back up when he’s full and can’t eat anymore then start the game all over.  You may never even get the blocks out of the bag or you might get the blocks out just so that you can “feed” the bag.  Who cares?  You might’ve just had more communication and interaction by playing with the bag then you will once the child dumps all the blocks out and then leaves the room.

The packaging that a toy (or food or object) comes in can be part of the game so look for opportunities to make it purposeful beyond just storage.  My mother reused plastic food containers for just about everything and I’m fairly certain she has never actually purchased a true food storage container in her life.  We constantly washed out and re-purposed yogurt, cottage cheese, cool whip containers, etc.  My sister’s favorite pull toy was an empty thread spool on a long piece of string!

Some of my other favorite packaging comes with blankets and bedding – almost always a transparent zippered bag.

Anyone buy bulk pretzels or animal crackers that come in huge plastic tubs?  Perfect for communication (and toy storage and as a drum and as a water play tub)!  Playing with…containerscontainer

How about the plastic container that stores baby wipes?  I love to see what a little one can do with that slot at the top and what they can fit inside.

Even the banana peel is a communication opportunity.  Hand the peeled banana to your little one and see what happens.  Do they just try to eat it anyway or look at you for help?  Any foods that have wrappers work just as well.

Anyone have Magic Tracks at their house?  The box it comes in makes a perfect tunnel!magic track

magic track tunnel

NOTE:  Of course, please do not give plastic bags to small children as they are not toys.  Also please do not hand young children unopened food items if they are just as likely to eat the box or wrapper.

Below are pictures to Amazon (affiliate links) to items that come with PURPOSEFUL PACKAGING!  Also, it’ll be shipped to your home which means you’ll get a cardboard box at no extra cost – BONUS!

Be sure to follow me on Facebook for all my latest play ideas!

Mystery Boxes and Sensory Bins

A box.  Such an intriguing object.  What could possibly be in there?  Knock on it.  Shake it.  Listen.  The anticipation is building… It could be ANYthing!

Using a “mystery box” in play can make old toys new again and increase your child’s engagement in an activity – all while building language skills for matching, describing and predicting.  Question words and words/sounds of surprise and accomplishment will also be important for mystery box play.

What goes in a mystery box?  Parts and pieces that, when found, will help achieve a task.

  • Puzzle pieces IMG_20170831_130523
    • Let the child say “bye bye” as you name all the pieces to hide in the box then we can try to guess what will be next with an enthusiastic “no” or “yes” once the puzzle piece is revealed.  For more puzzle play, go to Playing with… PUZZLES!
  • Potatohead body parts and accessories
    • Find the missing body parts by trying to feel which part might be in your hand before you reveal what you’ve found!
  • Balls from a game or ball tower pound-a-ball
  • Magnets to stick on a refrigerator
    • Sometimes just having another spot to put the objects you find is enough to create a purpose to the activity.  Give your little one plenty of opportunities to ask for “more”.
  • Half of the cards from a memory/matching game
    • Playing memory/matching games is fun for preschoolers, but sometimes too hard for toddlers.  Just leave 8-10 cards face up on the floor and put the matches in the mystery box.  Take turns just as you would in any game.
  • Cars, Dinosaurs, Figurines, Farm animals, etc.
    • Once found they can take their place in the parking lot or jungle or house or barn or whatever makes sense.  Use a repetitive phrase for your little one to chant or sing or fill-in the blank (think “ready, set, go” chant but use “the CAR goes IN the SPOT” or “the COW goes IN the BARN”)
  • Flash cards lp-flashcards
    • The mystery box just became a mailbox!  Pull out a card (piece of mail) and see what Grandma (or other friend or family member) sent to your toddler.  Remember to thank that person for your mail “Thank YOU”.  For more ideas with flash cards go to, Playing with…flash cards

A mystery box can be as simple as a diaper box (tape it up then cut out a hole for their hand to reach in) or a wipes box (might want to widen the slit at the top).  However, there are also some super cute toys that serve this purpose and might make a better gift than a used wipes container!

Disclaimer:  This post contains affiliate links.

Just because the toys pictured above come with specific toys, don’t limit your play to those items!  Use whatever fits inside and would be motivating or interesting to your little one.

Sensory bins can also be mystery boxes.  Google and Pinterest will give you LOTS of ideas for sensory bins, but the basic idea is for kids to use their senses to explore and learn (touch it, smell it, see it, hear it, taste it).  Sensory bins can be super messy, but they don’t have to be.  When I want to use a sensory bin as a mystery box, I usually need to hide toys that might not be easy to clean (wooden puzzle pieces or flash cards).  In that case, use dry materials such as rice, uncooked pasta, or beans.  Grass, leaves, and other outdoor treasures are great for dry sensory bins too!  Depending on the size of your sensory bin and the toys you hide inside, you might want to add tools to help scoop and dig out the toys.

Here are links to items you may want to hide in your mystery box or sensory bin:

         

 

Want more play ideas?  Check out Best toys and gifts: a speech therapist’s list!

 

Be sure to “like” and follow my Facebook page for all my posts and for information about play classes and parent workshops to help little ones learn to talk!

Magical Moments

A pointed finger.  Such a powerful and meaningful form of communication.  In this photo, he has just created an amazing opportunity for an adult to say something…anything…about whatever has caught his interest.  What will have the most impact?  How should we respond?  This is a magical moment.

Learning to talk is a process.  Some children pick it up fairly quickly and seemingly without much effort.  Many others have at least some frustration about learning to communicate and the question of time is a concern of parents.  How much time should be spent working on speech and language skills?  How much time should parents spend playing with their little ones?  How long is this going to take?  I often respond with this:

It’s not the minutes, it’s the moments.

As a speech therapist in a clinical setting I typically spent 30 minutes weekly with a child.  With the little ones, especially, 30 minutes of therapy rarely meant 30 minutes of a child demonstrating their best communication skills.  In that time there would be moments of greatness.  Those were the moments I would capitalize on their efforts.  Sometimes I would get lots of these moments in a session; other days we’d be happy with one.  I get that children often have different agendas.  This is why the magical moments are so important and why we have to be ready to respond whenever these moments happen.

In the photo above, a common response might be:

  • What do you see?
  • What’s that?
  • What color is that?
  • What do you want?
  • Who’s up there?

If that’s our response, we may have just missed our opportunity.  The toddler needs a word and we just asked a question.

The toddler who is learning to talk needs lots and lots of repetition.  They need to hear words many, many times.  Questions don’t give them the words they want to say.  Questions ask them to recall words they may not remember in that moment or require them to say words they have never said before.  Questions may feel like we are testing them.  No one likes pop quizzes.

Instead, follow their eye gaze.  Name their interest.  Give them simple words, sounds, or phrases to describe their interest or request.  Use their words.  In the picture above we could’ve said “hi” to the person at the top of the slide or named the person for him.  He was pointing to the next person but he didn’t know his name.  Rather than say “wait your turn” or “move away and let him come down” or “who’s that”… just say “hi, Luke”.  Your toddler will thank you, possibly by attempting to repeat you.

To take advantage of these magical moments think about reasons for communication.  Your toddler might want to:

  • request something (use object name or “more” or “help”)
  • protest something (“no”, “stop”, “don’t”)
  • ask something (“where”)
  • show emotion (“tada!” “yea!” “hooray!” “uh-oh!” “oh no!”
  • give a command (“go”, “mine”)

If you use the right word at the right time, there is a much better chance that your toddler will repeat it or at least attempt to say it.  You’ll know you guessed correctly because they might smile at you or point at it again or even tell you “yes”.

Here’s an example of a magical moment:

Toddler attempts to open the door to the backyard and whines or otherwise makes noise while looking at you.  Parent tries a few questions/ words before finally hitting on the right word.  When you say what the toddler wants to say, that’s the magic:

  • Parent: “do you want help?”
  • Toddler grunts
  • Parent:  “open the door?”
  • More grunting, louder now
  • Parent: “open?  say open”
  • On the verge of a major meltdown
  • Parent:  “outside?”
  • Toddler calms, smiles, and jumps up and down, says “ow hi”

Toddler desperately trying to close a door that is difficult to push but then achieves his goal!

  • Parent: “push!”
  • Toddler grunts and pushes
  • Parent: “puuuuuussssshhhhh”
  • Toddler grunts some more then gets the door closed
  • Parent: “TADA!”
  • Toddler turns, puts hands in the air “tada!”

Sometimes we just have to give them the right words.

Look for some of these potentially magical moments in your day:

  • Toddler playing with older sibling and reaches for a toy that sister is holding
  • Toddler attempting to open a closed container with his favorite snack inside
  • Toddler pointing to a toy that is out of his reach
  • Toddler giggles after watching you do something funny
  • Toddler makes excited sounds after watching a car go by

For a FREE, printable (condensed) version of this post, go to: FREE Handouts you can print out


For more ideas about encouraging speech at home check out:

Where are the WORDS?

For play ideas using toys to encourage talking at home check out:

Playing with…BOOKS!

Playing with…pop toobs

Best toys and gifts: a speech therapist’s list!


Be sure to “like” and follow my Facebook page for all the latest information regarding my play classes, parent workshops, and in-home play sessions.  Send me a message with any questions.

 

 

 

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