Playing with a purpose: Guest blog with Emily Cohen, Speech Therapist, Tandem Speech Therapy

Do you notice your child watching you while you move through the home? Do they sometimes cling to your leg like a barnacle on the bottom of a boat? Young children often like being with adults because they have a lot to learn and gain when interacting with us. Maria Montessori taught us that children are keen observers. They learn a great deal through watching adults and mimicking our behaviors, activities, and sounds.  While it may not seem like it to you, all of this is play to your child.  


In my Playing With Purpose series, I explore how to convert play (and elements of everyday life) into something that is both fun and beneficial for your child. Play can be a catalyst for learning and connection. With minor tweaks to the play time and the everyday routines you are already engaging in, you can increase opportunities for speech and language development in your child. The best part is it’s not a lot of extra work for you as a caregiver!


One of my clients recently shared her experience in successfully turning dinner prep into Playing With Purpose  This mother happened to love to cook, and her daughter noticed. The 3-year old, little girl started to adore her play kitchen, just like her mom loved time in her kitchen!  


The mom realized this and wanted to grow this new behavior into a learning and connection opportunity. Turning what is often a solitary time for both into an opportunity for meaningful connection only took one small adjustment. Mom moved her daughter’s play kitchen out of the playroom and placed it near the actual kitchen.


This transition facilitated so much growth for the family. 


The shared experience of “cooking together” allows for the two to create a deeper connection where they could both watch, interact, and learn about each other.  It sets the stage for a more grown-up version of cooking together in a few years where the child helps mom with the real food.  


The daughter became part of the cooking experience with her mother. She could take pride in her responsibilities/support.


The mother is able pay attention to her cooking without having to check on her daughter in another room. This has made dinner prep much easier!


Finally, and most importantly, the mother could have a happily-playing child while she took her time to make healthy meals for their family and do something she enjoyed as well.


Playing With Purpose does not have to be hard. Small adjustments to your day-to-day life can have a significant impact. The story above is just one example of successful, intentional play.


Follow these suggestions to start integrating more purposeful play into your home:


During your daily routine, allow for time face-to-face with your child. This is an excellent opportunity to demonstrate basic conversation skills and gives your child a clear view of your mouth which will encourage speech.


Provide activities for your child that mimic what you’re doing in the house. For example, put some of your child’s favorite books near the spot where you like to sit to read.


Reduce the number of toys your child has access to at any one time and think about where in your house the toys are located. This decreases clutter or mess for you to clean up and decreases over-stimulation for your kids. It will encourage your child to spend more time playing with toys and free up some time for you to do the things you love.


Talk to your child all the time by narrating your day and activities. Talk out-loud about what you are hearing, seeing, doing, or feeling when your child is nearby. Be sure to use slow, clear, simple words and short phrases. This will provide lots of language stimulation and vocabulary.


Still seems overwhelming, don’t worry, take one step at a time. I am here to help you add new, sustainable routines into your daily lives. Contact Emily to learn more about selecting toys to promote development and to learn about organizing your child’s play environment.


Emily Cohen, MA, CCC-SLP received her Master’s of Speech-Language Pathology in 2008 from Eastern Michigan University. She is a Hanen certified SLP specializing in woking with children with early childhood language delays. Emily owns a private practice in Austin, TX called Tandem Speech Therapy. You can read more about Playing With Purpose and topics related to speech and language development on her blog.
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