We have previously mentioned the importance of play in our blog, and this time we’ll be adding some new research about the important relationship it has with language acquisition.

Your little one will start forming simple sentences and using pronouns when she is around 24-36 months old; you’ll hear a lot of sentences that begin with “I” or “you”. In this article we want to give you some tips so you can work on a different aspect of language: the use of the third person.

The University of Illinois has recently proposed a new technique to improve your little one’s use of language based on toys. They call it “toy talk”. It mainly consists of modeling language through play. This intervention is divided into two strategies: naming the toys and talking about them. So, the first thing you have to do is name the object. For example, let’s imagine your little one chooses a teddy bear she has long loved, and calls it “Penny”. What can we do with Penny?

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  • Pretend play: We have talked about pretend play before and the valuable use of imagination. In this case, pretend play will take place with the company of Penny. You can play in your daughter’s room and imagine a whole tea party, where you can both discuss Penny’s likes and dislikes. First, model the use of third person for her, for example, “Penny is getting the most beautiful cup”. Afterwards, ask questions to your little one to start a conversation, like “Is Penny thirsty?”, so that you give her a chance to use the third person herself. At the same time, you are also encouraging her to use her imagination and develop empathy.
  • Construction play: This type of play refers to building or stacking activities. You can sit next to your little one and talk about what she is building. Help her and describe the action you are taking. Afterwards, ask her questions that will help her use the third person when referring to what she is building. To make it more fun, you can even involve another toy, perhaps bring Penny over and ask questions about her too!
  • Games and routines: Include her favorite toy in your routines. For example, if you have Penny with you during bath time, ask her questions about Penny and the steps she should follow during bath time. This can also help you establish everyday routines with your daughter, while modeling and practicing language skills.
  • Books: Don’t just read, look at the pictures together, ask your child to point at pictures and then describe them using the third person. For example, say “The dancer is flying high. Can you see her?” or even make up a story together. As you did before, model the use of the third person and then give her a chance to try!

Including your child’s favorite toy into her learning experience can go a long way! Don’t hesitate to do it, and if you need to vary your usual choices, some speech specialists also recommend the use of puzzles, magnets, dress up clothes, and all kinds of vehicles when working with language skills. It will sure give you a lot to talk about.

You can use toy talk in all kinds of activities! For it to work better, take into account your little one’s taste and what she finds interesting. Allow her to choose the toy and go with the flow. The most important thing is for you two to have fun. Over time you’ll be using toy talk strategies all day long without even noticing it!

More on The University of Illinois research.