It’s been so much fun to extend our conversations from basic wants and needs to likes/dislikes to recalling past experiences and predicting future events. It’s always exciting when you realize you can have a “real” conversation with your child whether those first conversations happen when you’d expect or a little later if your child has a developmental delay. One way that we work on practicing conversations in play is with puppets.
Why do I like puppets to practice conversations? There are many reasons. The first is that puppets don’t know everything about your child, like you do. Children are smart and understand that you know things like their names, ages, birthdates ect. But, a puppet doesn’t know those things about your child and children are great at pretending, so using puppets to practice greetings and personal information questions are great.
I also like puppets to work on question formulation and responding to questions. While having a tea party with a puppet you might work on asking “can I” questions (i.e. “Can I have the sugar please?”). The puppet is a great model for this and then your child will also have a chance to practice while asking for items. Or, you can work on “Do you like” questions (i.e. “Do you like cookies?”). These are always fun with puppets because you can throw in an unexpected surprise. For example, respond “no” to the cookie question. If your child still tries to feed the puppet a cookie—have the puppet spit it out. This always gets a laugh and encourages children to try again. In this way, your child can get lots of practice asking questions while having fun. Once you master these questions with your puppet, try to work on formulating some “what” questions (i.e. “What’s your favorite snack?”). Again, with a puppet you can give new and surprising answers to keep it fun.
Puppets aren’t only good for conversational skills (expressive language); they can also help with listening skills (receptive language). While playing with a puppet you can lay a few items in front of you. Work on asking your child to give you an item. If they give you the wrong item, have the puppet shake his head and refuse to accept it. If they give the puppet the right item the puppet can high-five, or pretend to eat the item, or play with the item. Big reactions from the puppet are fun and encourage more participation. Expand this game by working on requesting an item by its function (i.e. “give me something you can throw”) or by an attribute (i.e. “give me something that’s little”).
Another language skill I like to work on with puppets is pronouns. One of the easiest ways of doing this is by having two puppets, a boy and a girl, start out by having your child point to the puppet you describe (i.e. “she is spinning”). Once your child is doing this reliably ask them to describe what your puppet is doing (i.e. make one puppet eat then ask “what is he doing?”). If your child confuses the pronouns just give them the correct model while emphasizing the pronoun (i.e. “ HE is eating”). Remember to keep it fun and offer lots of models. Also, we can expand the identification game by giving items to the correct puppet using pronouns in the directions (i.e. “Give herthe cookie.” “Give himthe hat.”). Again, if your child gets confused playfully redirect with the puppet (i.e. Girl puppet: “That’s not my hat. That’s HIS.” Say this while making a big gesture toward the boy puppet).
Most of these activities I’ve offered have the parent/caregiver using a puppet, which is a great, was to start puppet play. You can start early before conversations and expand games like peek-a-boo or tickles which will help expand social interaction. You can also go beyond the parent using the puppet and work with your child on expanding their imaginative play and story telling while you and your child both use puppets. As always, remember to keep it playful and fun, learning takes time and a lot of repetition.
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Randi is wife and mother to three kids aged 12, 10 and 4. She was born and raised in West Bloomfield where she is currently a stay-at-home mom to provide language rich activities for her youngest, who has Autism. Prior to making the switch to full time mommy, Randi was a pediatric speech pathologist for the past 15 years.