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The Power of Play

Using Play For Speech & Language Development

In recognition of Better Speech & Hearing Month, Wolf’s talented SLP, Kristyn Sequeira shares some thoughts on the power of play and how you can help your child develop their most natural form of expression – play!

As a Speech and Language Therapist working with the youngest population of students at the Wolf School, play is an essential part of each child’s day. I have learned over the years the critical and fundamental value of play and the significance it has in eliciting a child’s success, not just with speech and language skills but in all aspects of life! 

Before we dive into how you can incorporate play into your child’s learning at home, you should have an understanding of why play is so critical. Let’s break down the benefits of play in school and at home. 

Why use play in school and at home?  

  • Play skills are a child’s foundation for the development of higher-level speech and language functions such as problem-solving, conversational turn-taking, and executive functioning
  • Play is fun, engaging, and motivating
  • It’s easy to build on what your child already knows so each time you use play, you’re adding to their knowledge and skills
  • You can teach more complex language through the use of play
  • Play builds on social and executive function skills (something Complex Learners often struggle with!)
  • You can target a wide variety of goals like speech sounds, describing, vocabulary, verbs, pronouns, “wh” questions (who, what, when, where, why), story retelling, and social skills 

When your child is playing, they’re doing so much more than just having a good time! Now that we understand how play ties into a child’s development, you might be wondering how you can incorporate play into your child’s learning. Here are some ideas to ignite your child’s imagination! 

Materials you can use in play: 


Books are one of my favorite objects to use in play because who doesn’t like a great book?! Try encouraging your child to act out the story using props or puppets. 

Some ideas of the types of books you can use:

  • Wordless books: target skills such as making inferences, creating narratives, and answering “wh” questions
  • Flip books: target skills such as verb tenses, articulation, nouns and pronouns, and emotions 
  • Board books: target skills such as vocabulary, sentence formulation, sequencing, colors and nouns  
  • Sing song books: great for getting children engaged because they’re rhythmic, repetitive and allow kids to fill in the blanks. I also love interactive books for completing the picture or acting out the story. 


Games are a motivating way to incorporate speech and language skills without your child even knowing they’re doing any speech and language work!

Some ideas of the types of games you can use: 

  • Pop up: “Pop the Pig” or “Don’t Wake Daddy” are great for working on cause and effect 
  • Cooperative: “Duck Duck Goose” or “Flashlight Tag” encourage self-control, social engagement, and sharing space with others
  • Sensory bins: besides the fine motor aspect, sensory bins encourage joint attention and social engagement and are always a huge motivator for kids! You can put all types of objects inside – the possibilities are endless!
  • Board games: An oldie but goodie…Candyland! You can use this game in a variety of ways to target describing, categories, “wh” questions, following directions, turn taking, and conversational skills. Another favorite is “Guess Who”. This is a great game to work on formulating questions, answering yes/no questions and critical thinking.  If you’re interested in more board games that target a variety of skills, check out this link.
  • Create your own: Here is a resource from PBS that gives children the tools to create their very own board game. Talk about getting the creative juices flowing!
  • Social: “Emotion Charades” is a fun way to help students identify feelings using facial and body cues and get them up and moving. Other favorites include the infamous game of “Telephone” which usually ends up in a laugh amongst friends, and “Social Detective” where one child steps away from the group to change one thing about themselves and the group needs to put their detective hats on to solve the case! 
  • Movement based games: Simon Says, Hide and Seek, outdoor/indoor scavenger hunts, digging for worms or dinosaur fossils are all fun ways to keep your child moving while working on important skills. Obstacle courses are always a crowd pleaser and the added bonus is children are building executive function skills, following directions, developing social skills, and learning sequential and temporal concepts. 

Play Scenes

Play scenes are a great way to ignite your child’s imagination and provide open ended play opportunities. Try encouraging your child to use various objects for different functions, i.e., a cup for a tunnel or toilet paper for a doll’s blanket. You can also have fun dressing up as different characters and role-playing. 

Types of play scenes:

  • Doctor, bakery, pizza shop, farm
  • Don’t be afraid to ask your child what play scene they want to act out!


I particularly love sing-song books because music gets children engaged, and improves joint attention. You and your child can use toy characters or puppets to act out the songs while working on core vocabulary such as “up”, “down”, “go”, “in”, “out”, “want”, “more”, “open”, and “get”.


You can’t go wrong with a craft! There are two ways I like to conduct a craft. If I want to work more on executive function skills such as initiating, sequencing, and planning then I’ll provide the child with a visual checklist of the steps needed to complete the craft. However, I also love to leave a bunch of supplies out and see what children create on their own. This can also be a nice activity done at home after a school day. After working hard all day following instructions, sometimes it’s a nice break to just allow a free craft activity with no rules! It’s always amazing to see their creativity sparkle! Of course it’s an extra bonus that crafts lend themselves nicely to working on s blends like “snip”, “stamp”, and “sticky”, as well as sentence expansion while having the child request what materials they want.

Think Outside the Box:

Who says you can only buy toy items in the toy section?? It’s fun to think outside the box! Look at the seasonal or kitchen section. You may be surprised at what you find!  Instead of blocks, toothpicks and marshmallows are great for building things, instead of using your hands, use tongs for sensory bins, tupperware for a bathtub, or transform a tissue box into an animal that your child can feed. 

Keep it Flexible:

Don’t feel like you need to follow the rules of a game exactly how they’re meant to be followed, or use an object for its primary function. As a parent of a Complex Learner, you know first hand that oftentimes things don’t go exactly by the book. Remember you are your child’s best model for flexibility! Have fun playing and feel free to let your inner child out too! 

Play is something beloved by both children and educators because not only does it give children a space to just be kids but it helps them work on critical skills in a stress free, low pressure environment. And oftentimes, without the child even realizing it! Have a favorite game or activity that you like to do at home with your child? Share it in the comment box below! 

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