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This is where to start when the child is making some animal sounds and trying to use some word formations. Imitation or copying skills are important. (Go to Before First Words if you need to strengthen these skills.) I use lots of strategies aimed at how parents talk and interact with their child. It is quite a natural response for parents to use lots of questions with children who aren’t talking. This is a fairly common sense approach to starting up a conversation with someone who is quiet, isn’t it? However, it tends to have the reverse effect on late talkers and so some of the work here is to undo these patterns and set up the child for first word success!

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Use Role play to build children’s vocabulary

Imaginative play is a building block for language. Children need to have lots of practice at pretend play so that they can understand what is going on around them.  Of course, it is also a wonderful way to learn new words!  Through pretend play, toddlers and preschoolers learn to problem solve, to role play and to use objects in the way they were designed (eg stirring with a spoon).  It is also a way of children acting out their emotional development.  There have been many studies which also show the link to literacy and learning to read.

Are you looking for more ideas for pretend play?  We’ve listed 15 easy ideas to refresh your imagination!  Along with each idea are some Prompt Words To Use.  With toddlers, remember to repeat the words many times!  If your toddler copies your words, praise him/her!

1.  Post office

There are many post boxes available to buy.  If you are crafty, you can make one from an old shoe box.  Then gather some envelopes and ‘stamps’ and set up your post office!

Prompt Words –     in,   stamp on,    more letters,    put it in. (Remember to use short sentences with babies and toddlers).

Don’t forget a picture book to reinforce all your play and talking!  Postman Peter or Postman Bear.

2.  Pretend Birthday Party

You can buy a pretend birthday cake – many have the velcro cut and stick pieces for extra fun.  You can also make a cake from playdoh and put some real candles in it.  Also complete the kit with some party hats, party plates and tea set items.  Most of these are available at your local store.  Invite some teddy friends and it’s birthday time!

Prompt Words –  cut,    blow out,     eat the cake,     happy birthday.

Books about birthday parties –  Spot’s Birthday Party , Happy Birthday Peppa,  Happy Birthday!

3.  Teddy Bear’s Picnic

Picnics are easy to set up at home with a blanket on the floor, and some tea set items.  We also like to wash and recycle boxes and bottles for easy recognition of items. (Milk cartons, jam jars, butter containers, yoghurts).  Set up the items for you picnic and again invite some furry friends.

Prompt Words – sit,     eat,     pour drinks,     more toast.

Books about picnics –Lighthouse Keepers Picnic, Having a Picnic.

4.  Pizza Shop

Cut and play pizzas are great fun – 8 pieces which stick together, vegetables to stick on top and a pizza cutter.  The velcro lets you add different toppings for different customers.  Then cut it up and serve it.  You can also make a playdoh pizza with different coloured playdoh toppings.

Prompt Words;   cut       hot       more cheese      eat the pizza

Books about Pizzas – Grandpa and Me.

5.  Doctor Kit or Vet Clinic

A pretend doctor kit is a must in your toy cupboard.  We also like to add real bandaids and bandages. You can make a vet clinic quite easily with stuffed animals or farm animals.  The animals will need to be examined and then treated.

Prompt Words;   ow!       sick dog,       put on bandaid

Books about Vets – Olivia Becomes a Vet,  Doctor Maisy,  Mog and the V.E.T.

6.  Bath Time for Teddy

Bath-time is an excellent pretend play activity to role play as this is a daily experience.  You can use a little wash bowl or plastic tub, a towel, bubbles and some bath toys.  Then bath teddy or dolly with pretend/real water.  Afterwards, dry your teddy and brush his teeth!

Prompt Words to use;  wash ears,      dry hair,         brush your teeth

Books about Bathtime – Maisy Takes a Bath,   In the Bath,   BathTime Peekaboo,  Baby’s Very First BathBook

 7.  Washing Clothes / Laundry

Use a cardboard box or a cupboard as your pretend washing machine.  Then help your toddler put in some old clothes and use a empty soap bottle to add the ‘washing powder’.  Afterwards you can peg out the ‘washing’ onto a clothes line or string. Toddlers love pegs and this is often the most enjoyable part!

Prompt Words;  wash,         soap in,         take them out

Books about Washing Clothes – Doing the Washing,   Washing Line,  Mrs McNosh Hangs up the Wash,  Peppa’s Washing Day.

8.  Fruit & Vegetable Shop

A cash register is a great toy to have at home. You can set up a ‘shop’ on a small table with all your plastic (or real) food on display for sale.  Help your toddler understand how to ‘buy’ or ‘sell’ things in the shop. Use some bottle tops or plastic money and a Eco Shopping bag to put your purchases in.

Prompt Words –     banana,  potato,   I want pear,  pear please,  Here you go,  How much?

(Remember to use short sentences with babies and toddlers).

Don’t forget a picture book to reinforce all your play and talking!  Maisy Goes Shopping,  Going Shopping.

9.  Kitchen Play

Most children love helping in the kitchen, so re-enacting it in their play is ideal for learning.  You can use real or toy pots, pans, wooden spoons, tongs and muffin tins. Ikea have a good range of toy kitchen items.Your toddler will love to ‘mix’ with his wooden spoon and then put out the cooked items on plates to be enjoyed.  You can also extend it with meals you might cook at home – pasta, stir fry, roast, eggs on toast.  The list is endless!

Prompt Words – stir it,  hot, ready,  eat it, more please.

Books –  Spot Bakes a Cake.

10.  Ice Cream Shop

Ice-cream play is great fun!  There are many available to buy.   Set up a table as your shop with all the flavours in different buckets.  Help your toddler to use the scoop to make the icecreams and then give them to the customers (teddy).

Prompt Words – yummy,  big one,  green icecream please.

Books – Wemberly’s Ice-Cream Star, Curious George goes to an Ice-CreamShop.

11. In the Garden

This is a great game to play in the garden or in a sand tub inside.  Put some plastic insects into the sand and dig them around.  You can use a magnifying glass and bug catcher too! Pick up the insects with some tongs and pop them into your bug catcher.  You can also plant some ‘flowers’ into your sand.  Either use artificial flowers or real cut flowers for planting.  Water them with the watering can.

Prompt Words – dig, spider, get the bug,  pick up the flowers,  I’m digging.

Books – Mog in the Garden,  Garden Friends,  Doing the Garden, Mad about Minibeasts

12.  On the farm

Children don’t tend to use small world play (miniatures) until around 3 years of age.  Before that age you can get larger farm animals (either soft/felt or large plastic or wooden animals).  Farm sets are one of our Top Toys as there are many animal noises and playsounds you can make with babies just starting out to talk.  You can check out our Busy Farmer Kitfor more information.

Prompt Words – moo,  baaa, oink,  woof,  big cow,  cow eat grass,  pig in mud.

Books – Noisy Farm,  Busy Farm,  Maisy on the Farm, Buster’s Farm.

13.  In the Ocean

Ocean Play is another small world playscene that is lots of fun.  Get a large tub (or use the bath!) or some blue material and put some plastic sea animals into it.  Make sure you have a good range including a shark, octopus, starfish and crab.  If you have some shells you can put these in too. Talk about your ‘ocean’ and what they are doing.  Maybe a boat will come along and ‘catch’ the fish!

Prompt Words –   fish,  swim,  all wet,  catch the fish,  shark get it.

Books – Hooray For Fish!   Commotion in the Ocean, Octopus Socktopus,

14.  Diggers & Construction

Trucks, sand, diggers, roads….. great fun for boys and girls.  You can use a felt road mat and some vehicles to set up a construction scene.  If you have a sandpit, even better!  Move the sand from one area to another with the vehicles and talk about what you are building.  Move the little people about and help them dig, drive, walk etc.

Prompt Words – drive,  brmmm, dig, big truck,  drive on road. 

15.  Handyman

Extend your diggers and construction play to role play of a handyman or mechanic. There are some toy tool boxes you can buy and you can fix up all those cars which are ‘broken’.  Use a torch and some keys to make it even more exciting!

Prompt Words –  fix,  broken car,  needs new wheel,  chop it, all done!