5 Toys to Talk About: Talking About Play

Teaching language through play with preschoolers

When working with preschoolers with a language delay, it is important to remember that the work of preschoolers is ——- PLAY. So, no surprise that the best way to work on developing expressive language is by playing with the child; modeling how to play, modeling what language to use about both what you are doing and what he/she is doing.

Teaching language through play with preschoolers

Teaching language through play with preschoolers

While playing, talk about what you are doing and what you have done. Talk about what the student is doing, and what they have done. Name the objects and actions involved, as well as additional concepts, when appropriate; like colors, shapes, locations.

Expand the language the student uses. Repeat what he says, adding another word or two to make a slightly more complex utterance – just 1 step above the language e is using. And model back to the student anything they have said incorrectly, providing the correct version.

Use books, too. Look at and read books the student is interested in. Talk about what is in the pictures, and what is happening in the story. Name items and actions in the story and ask simple questions.

Here are 5 of my favorite toys to use with children in building language:

Bubbles: an all time favorite with most kids (and some adults). There are good opportunities here for using verbs and adjectives, which are important words; blow, pop, catch, big, little, as well as more and all gone. And social routines; like my turn, your turn, as well as questions: What? Where?

Bert & Ernie Giggle Ball: I hope they still make these. I have a few, so haven’t had to look for one in a while. In addition to the usual language of ball play with a little one (roll, push, catch, fast, get it! oh no! Where? my turn/your turn) there is the added bonus of push/squeeze (to make one of the characters laugh), he’s funny, I got him (comment), Who? (question). There’s also an Elmo & Cookie Monster version. I have them both. I once even had a little girl like it some much she hid it under her bed so that I wouldn’t pack it up and take it with me.

Toy cars & trucks: Another all time favorite, usually with boys. Again, you have the basic verbs and adjectives that can be expanded into phrases and sentences; such as Make it go fast! Push it here. Drive slowly! Crash!! You can also add directions and questions; such as “Where is it going?” and “Turn around,” or “Stop at the corner.” I find that sentences that include fast and crash get the biggest reactions.

Tea Party sets: This one is for the girls, most of the time (as long as we’re using stereotypes here). There is lots of opportunity for requesting (i.e. I want that one. I want some more. I need a napkin. More cake, please.), commenting (Yum. I like that. That’s good. Yucky. Don’t like it. I spilled it. It’s wet.). You can also use the opportunity to build social conversational skills that you might use at a tea party, like “How are you today?” and “What have you been doing?”

Play Dough: Another universal toy, and very versatile. There are so many different things you can do and make with play dough. The basic verbs are used a lot (push, pound, roll, squish, squeeze), color concepts (play dough comes in and can be made with many many colors), shapes and sizes, and the vocabulary appropriate to whatever you are making. I’ve made everything from animals to food to sea creatures.

Throughout the play, follow the student’s lead to keep their attention and interest, and don’t forget to give them the opportunity to speak. If you ask a question, wait for them to respond. Don’t be too quick to jump in and answer if they don’t respond right away. When I was first starting out as an SLP someone told me, “If someone listening to your session hears your voice the most, then you’re doing something wrong. Let the child talk.”

Have fun with your preschoolers. And keep on talking.

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kids learn language

kids learn language

About Susan Berkowitz
I have been a SLP for more than 35 years, working predominantly with nonverbal children, children with autism, but also with children with significant language disabilities. I own a private practice where I primarily perform AAC evaluations and do consultation, staff training, workshops. I also own Language Learning Apps, LLC, and sell curriculum materials on TPT


  1. That was great advice you got! It is so important to know when to stop talking and let your students show what they have learned!

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