So how do we make the most of play opportunities? Regardless of your child’s age, the following strategies are beneficial, not only for building the foundation skills for language, but for building your relationship with your child:
- Get face to face. Get down to your child’s level, so that you can see their face and they can see yours. Watch what your child is interested in. With babies, this is often you. By getting face to face, you can watch each other’s facial expressions. You can also follow your child’s gaze to see what they are interested in.
- Follow their lead. This follows on from getting face to face. Watch what your child is interested in and then join in. Copy their actions and facial expressions, and then watch to see how they respond.
- Wait. Pausing in activities gives you a chance to see what your child will do next. It also gives your baby an opportunity to communicate with you – to ask for more if they want it. As children get older, they will learn words like “more” and “again”, but even before this, children will use their facial expressions, body language and actions to let you know what they want. Interpret these actions and respond to their communication as if they were using words.
- Give language. Model words that your child might like to use when they are ready. The general rule for the number of words we use is one more than the child is already using. If your child isn’t talking yet, model single words. If they are using single words, you can either model new words or add on to what they are saying. For example, if your child says “again”, you can say “play again?”. There is no need for your child to repeat what you’ve said – you are just giving them exposure to new words that they can use when they are ready.
Toys and objects have their place in play, but how nice is it to go back to basics and remember that play starts with people? It is such a gorgeous way to build language and learning and to develop your relationship with your child.
Donna Heather has a Bachelor of Speech Pathology and has been working as a speech and language therapist in Australia, the UK and NZ over the last 20 years. After years of working in community services and education, Donna started WordPlay Speech and Language Therapy in June 2019. WordPlay is a mobile speech and language therapy service, helping families to build speech and language skills for their child (especially through play). For more information, visit www.wordplay.nz or follow on Facebook or Instagram.