Let’s Play! The Stepping Stones to Verbal Communicators

If you are a parent of a toddler receiving speech and language therapy, you may have noticed your child’s therapist playing games such as peak-a-boo, and wondered to yourself, “What do these games have to do with learning to talk?” While learning to talk is of course the ultimate goal in speech and language therapy, there are actually many skills a child needs to develop before they are ready to start talking. Some of these skills include joint attention, turn-taking, and responding to people and their environment, among others. One of the best ways to support acquisition of these pre-linguistic skills is to engage in social games with your child.

What are social games and why are the important?

Social games are people-based in that they are interactive games between you and your child rather than the use of toys. Examples include peek-a-boo, songs with corresponding actions, hide and seek, tickles, etc. Engaging in social games with your child will help to develop their interaction, communication, and social skills. Through social games, children learn to pay attention to others, anticipate what will happen next, and imitate actions. Additionally, through these games children learn important skills such as how to take turns and connect with others. These pre-linguistic skills are the foundation of verbal language. For example, a child who has difficulty using joint attention, which is shared attention with another person, will not have as many opportunities to learn about their environment from the people around them. Additionally, a child who is not using turn-taking will have difficulty understanding the back and forth nature of conversation. Through acquisition of these pre-linguistic skills a child becomes ready for communication and verbal language use.

How to play and what to look for?

You will want to engage in social games repeatedly so that your child learns the routine. For example, if you play peak-a-boo with your child play it over and over again and look for your child learning the game. You may notice that they have learned the game once they start to smile or laugh in anticipation of you saying, “boo!” Over time, you might see your child’s initiation skills emerging when they cover their eyes with their hands or cover themselves up with a blanket to request playing a peek-a-boo game with you. Eventually, you can try to pause after “peak-a…” and see if your child can fill in the word, “boo!” Once your child has learned the routine they will be able to anticipate what is going to happen next.

When thinking about your child’s language development it is important to remember that there are many steps that come before talking and children must master pre-linguistic skills before they can be successful with verbal language. So, when think you are just “playing” remember that you are actually teaching your child foundational skills to become an active learner and communicator!

Questions or concerns?

If you have questions or concerns about the importance of social games and your child’s language development, please contact us at info@playworkschicago.com or 773-332-9439.

Claire Hacker MS, CCC-SLP
Speech Language Pathologist

Photo Credit: from Pixabay

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