Tea Party Play

The tea party set is a regular toy found in my speech and language therapy bag. There are so many skills we can practice with this type of play and it is universally popular with the kids I meet.

In this video I share several ideas for making the most of tea party play to build language and communication skills.

Talking tips for tea party play

Action words are a great thing to focus on within food play. When your child learns more action words, it’s easier for them to start joining words together. You might model words like chop, squish, stir, or social action words like help and share.

You can also model simple phrases about what we’re doing, which helps children learn simple instructions, like ‘Let’s give an apple to teddy’.

Play food is also useful to practice sorting. Understanding how items can be grouped and organised is helpful for developing a child’s semantic network, their internal word bank. You could try sorting things into sweet and savoury, or hard and squishy food.

We can also practise social exchanges within tea party, e.g. please and thank you, would you like one, let’s share, let’s give one to…

We can also practise problem-solving within tea party. If we introduce a problem we can talk together about how we might fix it, e.g. ‘We only have one strawberry but teddy and cat both want some… What shall we do?!’

Tea party play can also be all about banging stuff together! That exploratory play is really valuable for learning and development too.

If you and your little one enjoy play food and tea parties, then check out my video on making playdough cupcakes.

Managing transitions

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It’s hard to leave behind the things we love, or deal with the disappointment of something being finished. For me, it’s tearing myself away from a good book or realising that I’ve polished off that big bag of crisps.

For toddlers, it’s saying goodbye to the park. Or no more crisps.

If your toddler has big feelings about things being over, you’re definitely not alone.  In response to a few questions from parents recently about how to deal with this, I went to the local park to shoot you a video…

What to do when they won't leave the park: how to help toddler transitions

Acknowledge the feelings. When young children express big feelings it’s because it really feels like that big of a deal to them! It can be helpful to start by acknowledging that, with tone of voice and simple phrases like ‘I know,’ ‘I’m sorry’.

Show, don’t tell. When we’re moving towards a change it’s easy for us adults to start doing lots of talking. Often, it’s more useful to say less and to model the simple steps towards the next activity. This helps children to learn from what you’re doing, rather than adding the additional load of lots of language.

Talk less. Even if your child is understanding spoken language, if they’re having an emotional moment they’re definitely understanding less than usual. Allow lots of quiet time for them to process what you’ve said. Use short and simple phrases.

Consider sensory needs. If your child is loving the swing or the slide and simply never wants to get off, perhaps they need more of that kind of sensory feedback. Are there ways you can plan in more of that movement across their week?

Finally, be kind to yourself. We’ve all had tricky moments where we feel like we’re not managing it well. And there will always be people judging from the sidelines. Shrug them off and give yourself a kind word to acknowledge just how much you are doing.

Found this useful? You might like my video with strategies for teaching turn-taking.

How to help your child with joint attention

Joint attention is a valuable part of your child’s learning and development. Once the two of you have established attention on the same thing then you can talk about it and develop ideas together. In this video I share a few top tips for getting started in helping your child establish joint attention.

How to help your child with joint attention

First: notice faces. Where someone is looking is often a big indicator of what they’re thinking about. If you can get down at eye level with your child, it will be easier for you to notice what they’re paying attention to and to join in with that. If you’re at eye level it’s also easier for your child to notice what you’re looking at.

Second: always respond! If your child looks at something and then looks at you, then this is a big step towards joint attention. When you respond warmly to this, you’re showing your child the power of this simple act. So, you might respond by saying, ‘Ooh cool truck!’ Or, you could point to the thing that they just looked at ‘Oh wow!’ When you respond in this way you’re showing them how we can pay attention to the same thing, that I’m seeing what you’re seeing, I’m thinking about what you’re thinking about; That’s joint attention.

As your child gets older they’ll also start learning to attend to what you’re paying attention to, which is another valuable learning step. The bucket is a strategy introduced by Gina Davies, intended to develop attention for an adult-led acftivity. It’s based on finding something super exciting to show your child and being an inextricable part of that.

It’s important to remember that attention is a two way thing. This is not all about getting your kiddo to pay attention to you. You help them learn attention by also paying attention to them. Shape joint attention by noticing your child and responding to them.

I’m always saying – to get attention you need to give attention. Remember – a huge part of how you teach your child good attention is by modelling quality attention to them. It’s not about using their name and prompting them to listen to you. It’s about responding to what your child is paying attention to so that you start creating more experiences of joint attention.

I hope this gives you a simple starter for thinking about opportunities for joint attention with your little one. However fleeting that moment of attention, it’s a valuable step. And we all know, every tiny step we take together is a step in the right direction.

Interested in developing your child’s attention for adult-led activities? Here’s one of my favourite activity ideas.

Using bubbles for speech and language play

Probably the guaranteed-number-one item in every paediatric speech therapist’s bag… a pot of bubbles! Bubbles are a great item for grabbing attention and modelling some simple, motivating vocabulary. There’s lots of reasons why bubbles are useful for encouraging communication and there’s a few simple tweaks you can make to really seize those opportunities. Find out more in this video…

BUBBLES for SPEECH and LANGUAGE development
  1. Hold the pot right by your face, so that your child can easily see what you’re doing with your face, whilst they pay attention to the bubbles.
  2. Put the lid back on the pot after every bubble blow. This gives you more opportunities to model ‘more’, ‘again’ and ‘open’ as your child returns for another blow of bubbles.
  3. Think about what other useful action words you can model, such as ‘blow’ ‘pop’ ‘pull [out the wand]’
  4. We can start to introduce some simple descriptive vocabulary, such as ‘big’ or ‘small’ bubbles
  5. We can model some early speech sounds with bubbles, including ‘p’ and ‘b’, ‘h’ and ‘w’

If your child loves bubbles, they probably love sandcastles too. Check out this post for some ways that you can use sandcastles to build attention and vocabulary.

Teach your toddler to join words together

It is often quite the leap for kids to go from using a bunch of single words to making simple phrases. So, it’s no surprise that I’m regularly asked by parents how to help children at this stage of development. Being able to use that big jumble of words to construct phrases is a key part of language development and one that we can help children with, using a few simple tips.

In this video I share a simple game that you can play with your child to model two word phrases and support them in having a go themselves.

Teach your toddler to join words together

One of the key considerations is word type. We need both object and action words to be able to build simple phrases. Heading out on a walk is a great opportunity to focus on some key action words to support your child’s learning. Once you’ve focused on some action words, you can build these into simple ‘magic instructions’ to ask people to do different things. In the video you’ll spot examples like: ‘Tom hop,’ ‘Bryony spin,’ and ‘Rolo jump’.

If your little one is at this stage in their communication journey, then I encourage you to head outdoors, find a magic wand (aka stick!) and get practising those simple phrases. Have fun!

For more activity ideas, check out this simple listening game and these ideas for what to do with a cardboard box.

How to teach turn-taking

Often in pre-school visits I hear adults having to step in and tell a child to ‘share nicely’. But sharing is such an abstract concept. It can be hard for all of us to share at times, not least when you’re three years old and fully absorbed in your play!

In the early years, it can be a tall order to expect a child to share toys and take turns with others. It’s also an important skill for learning within a group. When I received a question about this from a learning support assistant, I was glad to give some suggestions to help us proactively teach turn-taking, rather than only intervene when it all goes wrong.

In this video I share a simple, structured approach to helping your child learn to take turns.

How to teach taking turns

Avoid trying to get your child to give you the toy first. There’s lots of steps before handing over a toy that can help a child learn about sharing and taking turns.

Let’s start with some simple turn-taking games in a 1:1 situation, then build up to taking turns with our own objects, then taking turns with one object between us, all before we try introducing the idea of sharing with another child.

I hope you have fun with these game suggestions!

PS. Did you like this? Check out my post on sharing books to build language right here.

Peppa Pig speech and language activity

Peppa is a sure-fire win in my speech and language therapy sessions. Most of my children absolutely adore Peppa and friends! So, I’ll often make the most of this natural interest to create an exploratory play activity where we can practise some key vocabulary together.

Here’s a simple water play activity that includes Peppa and friends.

Speech and Language Therapy activity with Peppa Pig

I love the challenge of creating inviting play opportunities from the toys that children love. So, if your child has a particular interest or favourite character, do let me know and I’ll do my best to create a game out of it.

Liked this idea? Then do check out my suggestions for sandcastle play.

Things to do with a cardboard box

For young children, a big empty cardboard box is one of the best invitations to play. There’s so many creative things we can do with a box and there’s plenty of ways to squeeze in some language activities while we play. Whether your child is learning their first words, starting to use simple phrases or having full-blown conversations with you, this video will give you some ideas to support them along the way.

Speech & Language ideas: things to do with a cardboard box

First word learners: Model simple phrases that match the activity, for example ‘put it in’ or ‘pull it out’. Or, name each object. A big expectant pause is a useful way to give your child the opportunity to name something, without putting them ‘on the spot’ with a direct question.

Phrase talkers: If your child is starting to use simple phrases, then it’s a great time to model positional language (e.g. in/on/under). Remember to sit next to your child if you use ‘behind’ or ‘next to’, because perspective matters with these more complex position words.

Conversationalists: As your child becomes more confident in chatting with you, it’s a great time to start developing their ability to use more descriptive vocabulary. The ‘clues game’ is a great excuse to practice this. Take turns to give each other clues to guess what’s in the box. You can use some key questions to help you: What do you do with it? Where would you find it? What are its parts? Can you describe it?

Sometimes, the simplest toys are the ones that give us the greatest excuse for conversation. I hope you have fun with these ideas!

Using sketchnotes to help language processing

When I first qualified as a Speech and Language Therapist, my clinical supervisor told me that his favourite therapy resource was paper and a stack of felt tip pens. I was baffled at the time, still lugging around board games, picture books and every other resource I could get my hands on; still spending my evenings printing, cutting and laminating…

But over the years I’ve come to see what a fantastically powerful and flexible resource a pen and paper can be, to support communication at every stage. From team meetings, to conversations with teenagers, to negotiating plans with pre-schoolers, putting our ideas on paper is hugely helpful.

In this video I share with you how I use Sketchnoting in my therapy sessions to support attention, comprehension and memory.

SKETCHNOTES to help language processing

Whether you’re a teacher, therapist, parent or team leader, I encourage you to get doodling and explore its potential for improving communication.

You can find out more about Mike Rohde, the inventor of Sketchnoting on his website. I can also heartily recommend his book, the Sketchnote Handbook.

For more visual learning ideas, check out my blog post on Thinking Maps.