5 Tricks to Get Kids Talking During Play Time

Enrichment Therapies

October 30, 2018

By Kaitlin Flynn, MHS, CCC-SLP

We all know how much kids like to play. But when it comes to structured activities, kids don’t always want to participate. Kids want to do what they want to do, right? So how can we build language skills while keeping things fun? PLAY! Playtime is a perfect time to work on building speech and language skills. Why? Because of the natural environment.  When kids are in the unstructured setting of playtime, they feel like they are calling the shots. What they don’t know is there are some tricks up your sleeve that will help them with their communication.

Parallel Talk

Parallel talk simply means to talk about what your child is doing. If the child is rolling a car around on the floor, you may say something like, “the car goes fast!” or if the child puts an animal in the car you may say something like, “Dinosaur in the car” or “dinosaur is driving.” This language-building strategy helps children to understand that their actions have words that go with them. Soon, they may start talking about what they are doing while playing.

Unexpected Events

Do a little prep work by setting up the playroom so that there are some unexpected things happening. Maybe a toy is “broken” or maybe it doesn’t work (because you took the batteries out of it). This will surprise the child to see a desired toy that doesn’t work. The child will be likely to have a reaction to that. They may ask for help, which would be great. But what’s more likely is that the child will become frustrated. DING! DING! Language building opportunity:  Teach your child the appropriate way to communicate in this instance. “Oh, you need help, don’t you?” You can say, ‘Mommy, help!’”. Make sure to emphasize the words you are trying to teach your child (“help” in this example). Take this strategy a step further and put some desired toys out of reach, or in a hard-to-open box/bag. This would create another opportunity for the child to request your help.


After you communicate something to your child, resist the urge to say or do something else before giving your child an opportunity to respond. Children take a longer time to process language as they are learning it. By providing wait time, you are giving your child an opportunity to respond and react. In the example above, you wouldn’t want to fix the broken toy right away after giving your child the tools to request help. Wait 30 seconds and see what your child does. They may just surprise you!

Following your child’s lead

This strategy is all about helping your child to be engaged and interested in the activity. The best way to do that is to let them choose and you follow along. If the child is interested and having fun, they are more likely to make connections with the language skills you are working on than if you chose an activity they aren’t very interested in. If your child has a difficult time choosing an activity, give them a choice between a few different activities or games.

Don’t ask too many questions

This is more of a “what not to do” during play, and it’s a tricky one to stick to, even for speech pathologists. What requires a response? A question, of course. Initially, that may seem like a perfect strategy to get a child talking. But this again comes back to helping the child to feel in control. By asking a question, you are demanding a response, which puts pressure on the child. This may cause the child to talk less if they are unsure of what to say. Instead of asking your child a question, go ahead and provide the answer. For example, instead of asking, “What does a cow say?” tell them, “a cow says Moooooo.” Then use the waiting strategy and see how your child responds.

BONUS:  always try to incorporate turn-taking while playing. This helps children in many ways. Learning to take turns during games and playtime helps children learn how to take turns while communicating as well. Turn-taking also promotes sharing, patience, and self-regulation.

All of these strategies will help your children to build their speech and language skills. The best part? They don’t know it’s happening! More fun and memorable experience will help the child to build associations better than if the child was learning the same skills in a structured task, such as a worksheet. It’s important to remember that using these tricks will have an effect in the long run, but you may not see immediate changes. For example, if you are modeling pairing a noun and verb together through parallel talk, don’t necessarily expect your child to start pairing nouns and verbs together that day. In the future during play, you may see your child demonstrate something you were working on last week or even last month. The strategies you use today will have a big impact on the language your child uses in the future.

Enrichment Therapy & Learning Center has locations in the Iowa City, IA area and Des Moines, IA area. We provide individual speech-language therapy and tutoring as well as offering small group academic programs.  At Enrichment Therapy & Learning Center our passion is to help kids achieve effective communication skills and gain academic success.  Contact us for more information on how we can help your child succeed.


740 Community Drive, Unit A

North Liberty, IA 52317



5530 West Pkwy, Suite 300

Johnston, IA 50131


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