The Do's and Don'ts of playing with your toddler

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Let's take it back to play for a minute.  Yes, we are speech therapists, but in order to even start addressing speech and language (spoken and understanding), we need to talk about play.  Kids learn through play-both with parents/teachers and peers.  Do you want some good tips on how to play with your child?  Read on!

1.  Do get on their level.  Sit on the floor, get on your knees beside their kiddie table, lie on the floor with them, sit beside their bed...you get the point.  Getting down to their level allows children to fully engage with you.  You have a better chance of getting eye contact allowing children to see and hear your words.

2.  Don't expect children to pick up on play skills or new vocabulary if you're in the other room.  Yes-children can play independently and we will get to that farther below but in order to teach children new skills, you will want to be in the same room as them.


3.  Do go with your child's lead.  This is just a fancy way of playing with what your child wants to play with OR engaging in your child's idea.  If she wants to use her baby bottle as a gas tank for the car set-go with it!  If he wants to use the car ramp as a grocery conveyor belt, go with it!

4.  Don't always direct your child's play.  Yes-suggest play items or different ideas but play does not have to be rigid.  Letting children explore and have different ideas is how they learn new vocabulary and concepts!

5.  Do repeat key items/words-first in simple terms then in more complex terms.  If you are playing with a car ramp with your toddler, say first "Car goes down" then pause.  Maybe the child takes the same car down again then you could say "Look, there is a green car driving fast down the ramp!"  Children benefit from hearing the same words/concepts several times.

6.  Don't talk too much!  Remember our post about waiting?  Find it here.  Wait 10-30 seconds to let your child have a chance to think of something and form new words.  


7.  Do put down your cell phone or turn off the TV.  Playing with your child as an adult takes effort.  It does.  We don't always want to play as adults because there are a million more things to do:  laundry, cleaning, work, emails, phone calls, preparing food, etc.  BUT teaching a child new skills requires full engagement.


8.  Don't expect your child to learn everything from TV or an iPhone app.  There are TV shows that are great and educational for children in small amounts:  Sesame Street and Daniel Tiger are two of our favorites.  There are some great learning applications for your tablet or phone as well.  The important thing is to make sure you are engaging with your child while using these items: Pausing the show to talk about a concept every 5-10 minutes or using the application with your child and explaining colors, shapes, numbers, letters, or whatever the application targets.  There will be more to come from us regarding how to effectively use technology with your little one soon!

9.  Do choose developmentally appropriate toys.  See our gift guides for one year olds, two year olds, three year olds and four year olds here.  We recommend toys that can be used in various ways and don't include a lot of lights and sounds.

10.  Don't make it too complicated!  Lastly, play should not be complicated.  Children often benefit from play that is very simple with one or two parts or concepts that are repetitive or surround the same idea.  Remember when you played with boxes, toilet paper rolls, sticks and rocks!?!  (Don't let your child play with sharp objects that could hurt them-not advocating for that).  It's OK for children to play by themselves at times too.  When a child can sit up safely and independently, let them play independently with safe toys where you can see them.  As they get older, this time can start to stretch longer, depending on your child.

Happy Playing!