One of the best things about working on speech is that you can do it just about anywhere!
That being said one of the biggest challenges of therapy outings is that they generally aren’t part of a daily routine. This is important because young children learn best through repetition and routines. Most families go to the park sometimes; some may even go multiple times each week, but most families don’t go every day! This deviation from a child’s routine isn’t a bad thing, as we want our children to learn to communicate in many different settings. We just need to stay mindful of the fact that our little one isn’t in his or her comfort zone anymore, and provide a little extra support and encouragement.
So while I wouldn’t expect a young child to be super chatty during a trip to the park, I do have a few tips and tricks to help elicit language use!
When you first arrive, let your little one choose the activity. If they’re anything like Van, they might initially just look at their feet in the mulch. That is 100% okay! Go with with it! Smile and tell them “That’s mulch. Your feet are in the mulch“. Odds are good that your child will move on to something else within a couple of minutes.
Narrate! Once toddlers warm up, the park tends to be a very mobile spot! Instead of trying to force your baby or toddler to focus on you and say “Mama”, narrate what he or she is doing and join in when possible. Always keep your language simple and provide pauses and repetition to help them take it in! For example, you might say “You’re climbing up the steps! Up, up, up”. Even if your little one is just watching another child play, narrate it (“she’s going down the slide. Whee! Slide.”)! There’s so much sensory stimulation at the park, and narrating will help give your little one a word for what he or she is seeing and experiencing.
Offer choices. Okay, so while we want to follow the child’s lead, oftentimes our toddlers are leading us somewhere they shouldn’t be going! Try redirecting your little one by offering choices. Van is currently interested in garbage cans and putting everything he can find in the “trash”. My response: “all done trash. Bye bye. Look…we can swing or slide (pointing at each)! Swing? Or slide?” You’ll probably have to repeat the “all done” and the choices again, but with a little luck your toddler will move on, and may even try to verbalize his or her choice!
When in doubt, hit the swings! The swings are my all-time favorite place to work on expressive language at the park! Usually just pushing the swing for a minute and then stopping it is enough to get a child to make eye contact with you and maybe even vocalize. Once I have eye contact, I simply model the language I want the child to use (I did “push” with Van today, but “more”, “swing”, or anything similar would work) then continue pushing. And remember- babies and toddlers LOVE anticipation, so the more build up you can get, the better! A good, long “Ready?…PUSH!” can go a long way!
Whatever you do, please do not demand your child imitate you! This will likely just lead to frustration for you and your child! Remember the park provides different sensory input and increased physical demands for your little one. Just be patient, model the appropriate language, and provide some pauses so the child has opportunities to speak up. And if your little one isn’t that chatty today, rest assured that he or she just got a huge vocabulary lesson, and will be better prepared for your next park trip together!
Hope y’all have fun on your next trip to the park! Let me know how it goes by liking this page or posting a comment!