Toddlers are some of my favorite people—they explore with abandon, imitate pirates and fairies, refuse with gusto, stack, dump and search, communicate with persistence, and give enthusiastic hugs with sloppy kisses. So why would we get in their way? One of the most common mistakes I see parents make with their toddlers is to ask too many questions, which actually inhibits their language.
I arrived at a home this week, to evaluate an 18-month-old boy, whose mom was concerned he was delayed in talking. As our play session progressed, it was apparent that he wasn’t far behind, using many words meaningfully in his little world, like “milk,” “ball,” and “car.” When I watched his mother interact with him, she was questioning him with, “What’s that?” or “Can you say ‘book’?” I gently suggested that when we ask too many questions, especially for the child to perform, it is not natural and many times the child clams up. They are smarter than you think and can feel the pressure.
Rather than questioning, model a word, phrase or sentence related to what your toddler is doing at the time. When we talk about what she is focusing on, she can take in more language since it relates to her experience. When she chooses a book, simply say, “Book. Let’s read our book. This book is about the beach.”
Joining your child’s play, following their lead and talking about what they are playing with can boost their language development. Selecting appropriate toys for learning at this stage engages the child and builds cognitive and language skills. Pretend play begins to emerge at around 1 year of age and progresses as a child imitates the adults around him. At one year of age, a teddy bear, cup, spoon, and blanket can encourage a little story, while a two year-old will enjoy pushing a fire truck into the station.
Look for toys that have a few related props for open-ended play that your child can direct. Playmobil’s 1.2.3 sets are geared for toddlers, providing simpler chunky figures that only take a twist to sit them down, or ride on an animal. The Playmobil 1.2.3. Large Zoo comes with fence sections to enclose the animals, a tractor and detachable trailer to deliver the food, and plenty of people, including mom and baby to chat on a park bench.
Doll play encourages dialogue and imagination as children care for and take their friend out on activities. Corolle‘s premier dolls, geared for age appropriate play from infant and up, has just introduced a new doll that loves the water,
“Bébé Bath & Accessories.” Pack up for a snorkeling adventure in the tub, complete with floaties, flippers and a snorkel mask!
Thinkfun’s “Hello Sunshine” joins their first toddler game, “Roll ‘n Play” which was popular with toddlers and their moms last year. I am more frequently asked for toy suggestions by parents of toddlers than any other age, which might explain why these simple starter games provide more structure for parents and caregivers who appreciate some guidance on where to start their play. Hide the plush Sunshine ball according to picture cards depicting positions such as in a box or on top of your head!
Flexible, multi-use toys are my favorites as HABA’s Arranging Game My Animal Friends can be a flat puzzle of 17 interlocking, brightly colored wooden pieces or a three-dimensional story making houses, bridges, or towers while stars, a fence, bridge and grass provide the backdrop for a cat, dog, mouse, frog, ladybug, and bee to carry on with the storytelling.
WOW Fire Rescue Rory is a parent’ s dream because it has only four pieces but so much potential for creative play. The helicopter is powered by kids, pulling the trigger, activating the friction motors to fly to the rescue. A casted figure slips into the stretcher to be scooped up by Rory thanks to a magnet system. Kids love to transport the injured person and release him to a doctor’s care. The story is totally up to the child as they add on doctors, hospitals and helpers.
Finally, an excellent resource for parents is “My Toddler Talks, Strategies and Activities to Promote Your Child’s Language Development” by Kimberly Scanlon, MA, CCC-SLP.
So come along side your toddlers and enter into her play, following her lead as she builds a town for her ladybug and bee, feeds the zoo animals, goes for a swim, searches for an injured friend, or delights in finding a little sunshine.
The opinions expressed are solely those of the author. The above products were provided by their companies for review.
Sherry Y. Artemenko MA, CCC-SLP, has worked with children for more than 35 years to improve their speech and language, serving as a speech language pathologist in both the public and private school systems and private practice.