Samantha Beck MS, CCC-SLP
My kids HATE being cooped up indoors for too long with each other. I have three year old triplets who are REALLY starting to show their independence and test my nerves and patience! Having built-in besties is great for my kids...until one steals the other’s Barbie doll or smashes the other’s play doh tower...then it turns into an all out screaming session. Uggh. We have to get out of the house for my sanity and to help the kids burn off some energy.
Since this pandemic started, one of the few places my kids and I could go was to local neighborhood parks and playgrounds. I found myself taking my kids to various parks in the area on a DAILY basis. Many moms and dads looked just as relieved as I was to have their kids out of the house running, climbing, and soaking up some sunshine.
I was spending so much time at playgrounds that as a speech therapist, I started to think about all the opportunities there were for language development at the park. We often think about all the physical benefits of outdoor play, but by using a few simple language strategies, or “language boosters” as I like to call them, the playground can be a language powerhouse!
I decided to choose a few playground favorites to focus on today: the swings, slides and sandbox.
SIDE NOTE: I let the kids bring a few toys (doll, cars, etc.) to play with at the park. I think it allows for more language opportunities and creative play. Plus, when you are at the playground as much as we are, you gotta do something to keep things fresh and fun! So, my girls will often let their baby dolls “swing” while they push and my son races his cars down the slide. Again, just something fun to try!
- Offer your child CHOICES. This is a great strategy for helping your child feel more independent in their play and for teaching new vocabulary and concepts.
I may say, “Do you want to go fast or slow?”
“Do you want to go on the tire swing or the blue swing?”
“Do you want the first swing or middle swing?”
“Do you want to face forwards or backwards?”
“Do you want to swing on your belly or bottom?”
Your child then needs to verbalize their choice (or you can model the desired response for your child if they are not yet using words; ie- ‘Oh you want to go on the blue swing!’ when they point to their choice).
- Using WAIT TIME/ WITHHOLDING strategies.
Don’t just put your child in the swing right away. You want to pause and wait for your child to request to be lifted up onto the swing. Your child would then request “up”, “mama up”, “swing”, etc. before you would lift them into the swing. Is your child not using words independently just yet? No problem! This is a great opportunity for you to MODEL what you would like to hear, ie- you would say “swing”, “up”, etc. for your child to hear, learn, and possibly repeat!
Once on the swing, I encourage parents to again WAIT until the child requests a push using the same strategies as described above.
- EXPANSIONS/ MODELING words/phrases/sentences using a “ONE LEVEL UP” strategy
If your child is not yet using words independently, I want you to model single, meaningful words for your child (ie, ‘push’, ‘up’, more’, ‘swing’) as you are playing.
If your child is using single words (ie, ‘push’, ‘help’), you would model a two word phrase (ie, ‘more push’, ‘big push’, ‘mama help’ etc.).
If your child is using two to three word phrases, you would model short sentences (ie, ‘Oh you want a big push!)
“Do you want to go down the bumpy slide or the twisty slide?”
“Do you want to send the car or the baby doll down the slide?”
- USING MODELING/ EXPANSIONS
If you are physically placing your child on the slide, this is another opportunity for your child to have to request it (ie, “mama slide”, “more slide”, “more up”), or again model the request if your child is not yet using words independently. The slide lends itself perfectly to starting a phrase and then pausing/ waiting for your child to finish. So, “Ready, Set…(pause)... GO!” Wait for your child to finish ‘go’ or you can model the whole phrase for them. Kids of all ages LOVE ‘ready, set, go’ play! My kids love to send cars and dolls down the slide too and we can use this wait time technique with toys going down the slide as well.
My kids FAVORITE, plus some great sensory play
We have a bag of sand toys we keep in the wagon (yes, when you have triplets, you need a wagon to transport them and all their snacks, toys, jackets, toddler potty, etc). I just ordered some cheap sand toys off Amazon and they are worth their weight in gold for hours of play.
- MODELING to teach concepts
While filling up a bucket with sand, model “sand IN, sand OUT”. Talk about how the bucket is “EMPTY” or “FULL” or how the sandcastle is “BIG” or “LITTLE”. You can also model more words and phrases using the “one level up” strategy described above:
- PRETEND PLAY with sand tools
I would have never thought of this until my triplets started playing a “cooking” game with the sand and their toys. They fill up buckets with sand, “bake” them in the sand toys bag and then pull them out and “eat” the sand pies with shovels. Aren’t kids imaginative?? Again, lots of great language, sequencing, and social play.
Driving cars in the sand is also always a big hit and is great for modeling environmental car sounds (‘vroom, beep beep’).
I hope you enjoyed reading about these strategies!
I made visuals and videos demonstrating how to use these strategies with my own kids at the playground! To check them out, please follow us on social media:
Sam Beck has three year old triplets and has been a member of FWMoM since 2017. Sam and her family recently moved from Fort Worth, TX to the San Francisco Bay Area. She is a Speech-Language Pathologist and the owner of PepTalk Speech Therapy which provides speech, language, and feeding/swallowing services through teletherapy to clients residing in Texas and California. For more information on therapy or to schedule an appointment, please check her website at www.peptalkspeechtherapy.com