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Sensory Activities to Help Build Language Skills

Play is the most optimal way to work on speech and language skills with our little ones. Play is how children learn about their interests and their environment. They develop skills through play, including cognitive, speech/language, motor, adaptive, and social/emotional skills. And, play helps kids become excited about learning. Speech Language Pathologist’s use play as an avenue to target specific speech and language needs in an enjoyable environment for the child! One of my favorite ways to engage children in play, and to build their language skills, is through sensory play.

What is sensory play?

Sensory play is any activity that stimulates one or more of our senses. These activities help the brain be able to focus, self-regulate, and retain information. Sensory activities offer learning opportunities in a really fun way! It is engaging and keeps a child’s interest while allowing them to make meaningful connections to new material they are learning.

Child playing with water beads in bucket | Talk Time Blog Sensory Activities to Help Build Language Skills

Sensory play

One easy way to incorporate sensory play is through a sensory table or sensory box. You can fill it with just about anything (see below), then add some toys, pictures, or articulation cards to support speech and language. Kids love to search through bins to discover the materials hidden inside. Here are a few of my favorite items for sensory play:

  • Water or water beads

  • Slime

  • Dry rice

  • Pasta (dry or wet)

  • Dry beans

  • Kinetic sand

  • Shaving cream

  • Food! You could try pudding, yogurt, or veggie purées, just to name a few

Insect-themed sensory bucket | Talk Time Blog Sensory Activities to Help Build Language Skills

There are so many ways to improve speech and language skills during sensory play:

  • Articulation/Phonology: Toss in some pictures, articulation cards, or toys (I love using mini objects) and target the child’s sounds within words, phrases, or sentences. You could grab some shaving cream and work on phonics, letter identification, or letter formation.

  • Introducing new vocabulary, including basic concepts, actions, and academic concepts: I love adding seasonal/holiday vocabulary or themed vocabulary to model or reinforce vocabulary. This could include numbers, colors, and letters too, but I prefer to work on core vocabulary, which is the vocabulary that makes up the majority of our language, such as “open” or “in” (try tossing in a mini-book or little bucket). This is also a great opportunity to work on verbs, rather than just labeling nouns! Model and talk about actions such as scooping, mixing, or digging. You can help your child learn more about each item by describing what things look like, how they feel, their category, and where they are found.

  • Following directions: Meet your child where they’re at, and then try to increase the level of difficulty by just a little bit! If they can follow a one-step direction, try adding in a modifier (e.g., a color, shape, size, or function). If they’re ready for it, you can try working on two-step directions too!

  • Increasing length of utterance and grammar: Similar to following directions, meet your child where they’re at, and then add on more! If they’re using 2-word utterances, model 3-word utterances. If they’re using 3-word utterances, model 4-word utterances. Your child does not have to repeat the longer utterance; they benefit from your models!

  • Social skills: Hop in and join them! You can work on conversational turn-taking (and turn-taking when searching for items), staying on topic about the items or topic cards, and more.

Sensory play doesn’t just have to be sensory boxes/tables. It’s just about anything you can touch. You may try using bubbles, and talking about the bubbles as they float and pop. In addition to targeting and modeling language, activities such as bubbles support skills such as joint attention (shared engagement). You can also try finger painting with paint, shaving cream, or food purees (see above) to teach colors or shapes, or experiment with mixing colors. All in all, sensory play is a great way to engage your child and build their speech and language skills!

Do you have concerns about your child's speech and language? Or do they have sensory aversions that is impacting activities they participate in? We can help! A speech language pathologist can complete a comprehensive evaluation and help develop and individualized treatment plan to address your child's specific needs. Contact us for more information.

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