Back to Basics-How to elicit language from toys

Last month I posted a top ten list of basic toys that children love to play with.   This week’s blog targets how to use those toys to elicit language.   Chances are that as long as you are not silent while your child, student or client is playing with these toys, then you are eliciting and modeling language.  Here are some good tips that you can use with any of the items that were on the list.  This list is primarily for eliciting language for toddlers.

1. Follow the child’s lead-Many times I have gone into a session with a toddler with this great activity.  The child took one look at it, got up and started playing with another toy.  “Great!”  I thought, “What am I going to do now?”

I have learned over the years to not go into a session with a specific plan. Instead  I go into each session with a concept that I want to target and incorporate it into whatever they want to play with.  I do not put out too many options for them to play with.  Maybe the train set, farm animals and legos.  I ask them which one they would like to play with (see how I made it seem like they were making the choices?).  In order for them to play with one they have to make a sound/word approximate, had me a picture or say the word.  If they point  (unless they are just at the gesturing/pointing phrase of treatment), I do not let them play with the toy until I get some sort of response.  Now, this may lead to yelling, crying, flopping or even hitting but if you can just wait it out and keep stating the expectation most of the time you will get an appropriate response.

2. Pick one thing that you want to target.  I will go into a session knwoing that I want to accomplish one or two concepts per session and get as many trials as I can.  For example, lets say I am targeting colors + object and the child choses Legos.  I will hold the bag and give the child one lego at a time the color that they requested.  Then when they get five or ten (depending on the attention to task of the child) I will then give them the whole bag and they can build what they like.  As the child is building I will try to elicit other language so that there is not a moment wasted, however, I am not talking to them in a structured way. Just make conversation!  I will ask, for example, “What are you going to build?”  “Where should I put this one?”  “Is it going to be tall?”

3.  Cleaning up is a great oppurtunity. For example, if I am working with the blocks I will have the bag and the student has to say: “Open bag.”  and/or “Block in.”  Sometimes we pick a number and then we make a quick game of picking up that number.  Pick up legos and then say “Open bag.” I also will say, “Give me all the red legos.”

4.  Here is a list of phrases/concepts that I try to use with different toys:

A. Farm animals, and a vehicle (at least one)
  • Ask the child what each farm animal says.  If he/she answers it correctly they get the animal.  I have also told the child that the secret password to open the barn door (or fence door) is what each animal says.
  • Put all the animals in the barn.  The child has to say open door to take one animal out.  I usually have kids say, “Open the door and let the horse out.”
  • Split up the animals/vehicles.  Have the child tell you where he/she is going to put them, “The pig goes in the mud.” You model it as well, for example, “The horse goes under the tree.”
  • These are great things to do to start but then follow the child’s lead and enter into their play scheme instead of the other way around.
legos.02B. Duplo Legos – if possible find a set that also has some people/animals/vehicles in it (vehicles to build are usually the favorite for kids – planes/trains)
  • Target sequencing skills.  Pick an object to build and have the child follow your direction.  For example, “First, put the small blue lego on the big red lego.”  Once the object is built, ask the child what did we do first?
  • Ask these questions: “Where is the train going to go?” “Who drives a train?”  “Who else is going to go in the train?” “Is the train going to go fast or slow?”
C. Train set, preferable with some kind of scenery such as a tunnel or hill
  • Target prepositions.  This is great for working on “under” and “over.”  Have the train go under the hill.  Make the train go over the bridge.  Then you can ask, “Where did the train go?”
  • If you are getting props with the train set ask the child, “Where should I put the tree? Next to the bridge or next to the tunnel?”   This is another way you can target prepositions.
  • In past therapy sessions I have taken pictures of different lengths of trains you can make from this set and also different color patterns.  I have the child pick which one they are going to build at the start of the activity.  “Do you want to make a LONG train or a SHORT train today?”
  • Great activity for following directions.  “Lets set the table.  Can you put the cup above the plate?”
  • Vocabulary/Categories: “Are we eating breakfast, lunch or dinner?”  “Is this a fruit or a vegetable?” “What are we having to drink?” “What are we going to eat?” “Can you give me something that is orange?”
  • Cleaning up is a great time to work on prepositions.  “Put the plate in the sink.”  “Put the teapot on the stove.”  “Put the food in the fridge.” “Put the cereal box on top of the fridge.”
  • Verbs– “Put the baby to sleep (by putting blanket over it).”  “The baby wants to go for a walk, let’s put her in the stroller.” “Give the baby something to drink.”
  • Ask questions to work on using verbs.  “The baby is tired, what should we do?”   “The baby is hungry, what should we do?”
  • Imaginative play – the child pretends he/she is the doctor or the patient.
  • Great way to work on body parts.   Have your child check your knee and your heart (beat).
  • Imitation-ask your child to follow simple tasks (you do them first and have them copy) for example, “Blink your eyes two times.” “Stomp your feet.” “Wiggle your fingers.”
  • Problem solving/pretend play.  “I have a cut on my finger, what should I do?”  (The child puts a band-aid on your finger.)
G. Marble tower (for all ages, highly motivating activity)
  • Colors – Have the child request a color marble, “What color marble would you like?”
  • When building the tower, have the child request the color piece they want next or describe it (the big one, the square one, the piece with the wheel on it).
  • Hold your hand over the top hole of the tower, until the child signs, says or gives you a picture for you to move your hand.  I usually, depending on their level/age, except the child to say “Go down.”  Once they communicate appropriately, I move my hand and have them put the marble in.
  • My students and I usually guess which one is going to win (mine or theirs).  If your marble wins then you keep it and at the end you can ask, “Who has the most marbles?” “Who has the least marbles?”
  • Depending on the kind you get you can work on colors as well as positional words top/bottom. (What color is on the bottom?)
  • Count the number of cups in your tower. Discuss how many blocks/cups you are going to use to build the tower.
  • If your cups or blocks go biggest to smallest then you can work on size.
  • If they are the Melissa and Doug wooden puzzles I use them for vocabulary.  I have the child request which animal they would like.  We also work on what do you think the animal says.
  • Once a puzzle is complete you can ask the child a variety of questions: “Who/what is the picture of?” “What is (preposition) the _________?”  For example, if the puzzle is a picture of an apple tree with clouds above the tree, you can ask, “What is above the tree?”
  • Ask the child to pick what color they would like to play with.
  • Pretend play:  What are you going to make?
  • Read a book and then have the child make a character/object from the book.  For example, I just read a three year old a book about pizza. We then took out the playdough and made our favorite pizza.   We had lots of time for language because we talked about: what pizza we like, what are our other favorite foods, if we eat pizza with our hands or with a fork and knife, what goes on a pizza, how do you make your pizza.
  • Student has to request the accessories they want to go along with the play dough.  For example,  scissors, knife, specific cookie cutter
  • Sing “Patty-cake Patty-cake” and do the motions to go with it (“roll it out”)
After taking such a long time to write this blog post, I wondered if anyone else had written on this topic.   I googled it and found that one of my favorite website had a similar post: Check it out at: Playing with Words 365 .
I had fun writing this blog and hopefully provided some new ideas to parents and educators.
*graphics from All Things Clipart-

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