Playing together

Christmas is coming and soon most children will be lucky enough to receive new toys to play with. A few weeks ago we looked to the "Hanen program" for some ideas about getting the most out of sharing books with your child. Today we will look to Hanen again for some ways to get the most out of all those new Christmas toys that will arrive very soon. The most important part of playing with your child is having fun together. When you are having fun together, you are helping your child develop their communication skills

Play is one of the most important ways that your child learns about the world. From playing with adults and children, your child learns how to interact and get along with others. Play also helps develop your child’s problem-solving skills. By experimenting with toys, your child will make interesting discoveries (e.g. which toys float in the bath). Playing with materials like paper, glue, playdough, paint and sand helps develop creativity and imagination.

The best thing about play is that it helps your child learn many, many words and important ideas about the world. Your child will learn that they go up the stairs and down the slide. Your child will discover that block is too big to fit into a little cup, and your child may pretend that the soup they have just made for you is too hot. Once your child understands these words and ideas, they may be ready to try saying them. It is easy to see that play skills and communication skills develop hand in hand.

Get Involved in the Play

A successful play activity begins with you and your child interacting and having fun. To get things going, keep in mind these three strategies:

1. Join in the play

Find a way to join in with what your child is doing. If your child doesn’t play with the toys the way you expect them to, just ‘go with the flow’. Let them explore and enjoy the toys in their own way and see where they play takes you. The communication between you doesn’t have to be about anything in particular. What is important is simply that you and your child are communicating.

2. Create opportunities for your child to take turns

If your child doesn’t include you in their play even when you join in, you will have to find another way in. One way to get involved in the play is by creating opportunities for your child to take turns in the interaction. You can do this by making sure that your child needs to communicate with you to get what you want. For example, choose a toy that they can’t operate on their own, or hold on to pieces they need to operate the toy.

3. Use play routines to SPARK an interaction

Start the same way each time

Plan your child’s turn

Adjust the routine so your child can take their turn

Repeat the same actions, sounds and words each time

Keep the end the same

Go With Games

Games can help your child to:

  • Learn actions and sounds
  • Practice taking turns
  • Practice taking chances
  • Discover pretending
  • Learn to get along with others

Playing Games

Allow your child to lead by thinking like a child.

Remember to:

  • Play face to face
  • Imitate your child to help them copy you
  • Interpret: say what your child would say if she could talk
  • Watch for your child taking a turn and help them extend this

Add new experiences and words by:

  • Using gestures
  • Making important words stand out
  • Adding a word or action
  • Repeat, repeat, repeat
  • Building on what your child knows

Ideas for Games

Babies & Toddlers


School Age

Patter cake, peek a boo and hiding Pots and pans

Nursery rhymes

Games with blocks

Games with balls

Simple card games and puzzles

Simple pretend play and dress ups

Cars, trucks and trains Dolls, puppets and fluffy animals

Blocks with farm animals

Card games

Simple board games

Dressing up and pretending

Tea sets, cooking and cleaning sets

More complex card and board gamesPretending with more complex props

For more ideas on play and communication just for your child's age check the "what to expect" part of Our website. There are also lots of great ideas on our Pinterest page. If you have some fun playing with your child's new toys why not share it on our Facebook page.

This information has been compiled using the Hanen books “It Takes Two to Talk” by Jan Pepper and Elaine Weitzman (2004), and “You Make the Difference In Helping Your Child Learn” by Ayala Manolson, Barbara Ward, and Nancy Dodington (2007).

Talking Matters wishes all our families, friends and colleagues a safe and happy Christmas.

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