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Word Play

Speech pathologist explains the educational aspects of playing with your kids

When you are young, the word PLAY sounds amazing. It’s the best thing in the world. When you are about 30 and just home from work, PLAY isn’t as great it sounds. It’s pretty exhausting actually.

So I got home the other day from a LOOOOOOONGday at work. You know what I’m talking about …It was a Monday (few things go right on a Monday), the beginning of the work week. And my son was off his schedule from a long three-day weekend because his grandparents spoil him.

All my wife and I want to do is get home and lay on the couch. WAIT! I can’t because we have a 2 year old who just wants a little attention. All he wants to do is … eat a snack, wrestle, play the tickle game, go outside, go on a bike-ride, kick the ball, throw the ball, go see the ducks, eat another snack, watch a movie, run up and down the stairs, go on another bike-ride, play hide-n-go seek and wrestle some more. No big deal, we can do this. To think, it’s only MONDAY!! Oh, and someone has to make dinner.

As hectic as that sounds, and believe me it is, it’s worth the time we spend with him. It would be so easy to put an iPad in front of him or even just sit him in front of the TV for a few hours until bedtime. Remember all those activities that my son wants to do? Think about each one and consider the number of vocabulary words and the amount of rich language I would be able to provide him in each of those activities.

It really is endless.

The only way a child will learn words is by hearing words. Wouldn’t it be awesome if we just had a magic wand and anytime we wanted our children to learn a new word, all we had to do was wave it at them, “Abracadaba!” Wave the wand with me two times. My child needs another word, I’m thinking of an animal, so he will say, ‘BIRD”!” There it is, BOOM!! He just improved his vocabulary. That just isn’t the way life works. Believe me, if it was that easy, I wouldn’t have a job as an SLP. The models that my wife and I provide my son Dominic has influenced his language and now he says things like “Where is it?” because we play hide-n-seek. He says “Let’s go!” because he wants to go on a bike-ride.

I recently went to a course where the presenter said that about 90 percent of what young children learn is through play. When you look back, isn’t that what a child’s life should look like? Sleep, play, eat, play, poop and some more play. Their lives revolve around play. At one point, I thought that in order for a child to play, they had to be in a soccer or basketball league, a club or camp, etc. That isn’t true! Play can be anything you make it and you can even play during activities that you are already more than likely doing at home.

1.Bathtime - Get some toys and make them swim, splash, dry them, make them jump.

2. Ball - You can kick, throw, catch, run with it

3. Hide-n-seek- Hide a favorite toy under, on top, in various objects

4. Super Hero Game - use action words(verbs). You can run, jump, roll, throw, etc. Caregivers can even carry their child and make them fly or vice-versa.

These are only a few activities. The best thing to do is go through your day and reflect back on a time or multiple times where you are already interacting with your child doing daily activities. Now think of how you can make the activity into a play activity. Just have FUN!!

Stephen Baker said it best when he said “Of all the toys available, none is better designed than the owner himself. A large multipurpose plaything, its parts can be made to move in almost any direction.It comes completely assembled, and it makes a sound when you jump on it.” We don’t have to buy things to play with our children. All they need is US.

About the author

Jonathan Suarez is a speech pathologist at Cook Children's. Speech/language pathologists focus on oral motor, speech, language and communication skills to enhance development, restore function and to prevent disability from pediatric conditions, illness or injury. 

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