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  • Writer's pictureRachel Pessah

FUN FRIDAY - Use ANY Puzzle to Build Language

So often parents/caregivers fall into the trap of believing that they need to have more toys or specific toys to build language, while the truth is that the interaction between a child and their parent/caregiver is key to building language! My goal for "Fun Fridays" is to give examples of everyday toys/activities that you can use to build language at home.

Parents often worry about playing with a toy "the right way." What I teach parents is to let go of what they think "the right way" is, and start by playing your child's way. When you follow your child's interests they are much more likely to engage and interact with you and once they are interacting that is when we can begin to work on communication.

Here are 15 ways that a puzzle can be used to support your child's speech or language goals:

1. Communication Temptations

Put puzzles in hard to open containers or on high shelves to encourage them to communicate to request the puzzle or ask you for help.

2. Big/Little

Find 2 different puzzles and ask your child whether they want a "big" piece or a "little" piece. Hold up each piece when you say each word and have them chose which piece they want.

3. Prepositions (in, on, under, beside)

Put puzzle pieces under or on top of a cup or box and ask your child, "Where is the puzzle piece?" If they don't get the answer after you have waited a few seconds, you can model the answer and repeat the word several times (e.g., "it is UNDER the bin, it is ON TOP of the bin").

You can target the word, "beside," every time you guide them where to put a puzzle piece (e.g., "put it beside the butterfly").

You can target "in" when putting away the puzzle pieces. Each time your child puts a puzzle piece into the box you can say "in," after several times, wait and see if your child will try the word (or a gesture). You can make this extra fun by holding the box up high or far away and having your child try to throw the piece "in."

4. Put target words or pictures under each puzzle piece

You can stick target goals (e.g., words that start with /k/, words that rhyme, letters, etc.) under each puzzle piece and have your child practice their word, sound, or letter, before they take their turn (a speech-language pathologist can help you select goals for your child).

5. Create a puzzle piece trail

For kids that are less interested in doing the puzzle, you can make the experience more interactive by creating a puzzle trail for them to follow. You can pair this with idea #4.

You could also target words like, "jump" or "step," each time they follow the puzzle trail.

6. Pronouns (he/she/they)

Find a boy and girl barbie, lego people, doll, or stuffed animal. If you don't have any of these, you can draw a picture of a boy, a girl, and a group of people. You can work on their understanding of these words first (e.g., "she wants the piece" and then the child gives the piece to the girl). Next, you could work on your child using these words by saying, "who wants the puzzle piece?" If they don't answer, you could give a choice to help them (e.g., "he does" or "she does"). I typically work on "he" and "she" first and then work on "they" afterwards as it is a more difficult pronoun to learn.

7. Sequencing (first, next, then, last)

You can target this goal by telling your child to find the corners "first," the flat edges, "next," and find the middle pieces "last." Or you could decide to work on certain parts of the puzzle by saying, "First we will find all the pieces for the cupcake, then we will find all the pieces for the grass, and last we will find all the pieces for the sky"

8. Eye Contact

For children that struggle with using eye contact, the first, most important step, is to be "face-to-face" with your child. By being at eye level with your child it is much easier for them to shift their attention to you. You can also hold the puzzle piece up near your eyes to direct them to look at you. The moment that they make eye contact you should give them the puzzle piece to help them build the connection between making eye contact and getting what they wanted.

9. Increasing phrase length

To work on short phrases, I often start with "I want ___." Make sure that you are the "holder of the pieces." You can model this each time your child asks for another puzzle piece. Making requests is often easier for children than making comments. Once children can say "I want ____," you could begin talking about the puzzle by modelling "I see ___" comments (e.g., "I see a bird," "I see a sky piece," etc.).

You can also EXPAND on what your child is able to say. For example, if they say 1 word (e.g., "more"), you can model 2 words (e.g., "more pieces"). Likewise, if they say 2 words, you can model 3 words (think of one upping your child).

10. Turn Taking

If your child struggles with taking turns, you can start by allowing your child to take several turns before you get a turn. You may have to give physical, visual, or verbal prompting (e.g., stopping their hand, pointing to yourself, or saying "no it's my turn"). You also would start with taking a short turn and then gradually increasing the length of your turn and the frequency of your turns. Be sure to use consistent language, such as "my turn" and "your turn" to help your child understand whose turn it is.

11. Commenting

For children that often ask for things that they want or tell you things that they don't want, commenting can be a more difficult skill. As parents, we can model commenting by turning questions into comments. For example, instead of saying "what's that?" you could say "that's a bear!" Some great comments you could add, include "that's a ___," "look a ___," "I see a ____," "I like the ___."

12. Labelling/Basic Vocabulary

For children that are learning to name pictures, you can point out pictures in your puzzle and talk about what you see. Be sure to keep your language simple and at your child's language level (e.g., "fish," "blue," "big piece," "funny shape," etc.)

13. Pointing

If your child is learning to point to pictures or actions, you can start by modelling pointing to pictures on the box. Over-exaggerate the point to make it easier for your child to notice and follow your point. Saying "look" when pointing may also help your child to notice the point. The more you model pointing the more your child will begin to understand that they can also use pointing to request or comment. It is easiest for children to begin pointing by touching the picture/object with their finger. Later they can increase the distance between their finger and the object/picture.

14. Choice Making

You can hold up 2 pieces and have them pick which one they want. Make sure that you are far enough a way that your child has to reach (especially at first). Make sure that you say the word when you show each choice (e.g., "blue piece (show) or purple piece (show)"). You can model pointing if you are targeting goal #13. Whichever your child choses, give them the piece they picked and model the associated word, even if you don't believe it was what they meant to pick.

15. Be the "Pieces Holder"

By holding the box, or keeping the pieces you create many more opportunities for your child to request more pieces. It also encourages your child to interact with you. Make sure that you are face to face with your child to make it easiest for them to ask you using non-verbal communication.

Hope you have a great weekend! Happy Puzzling :)

~Ms. Racheel

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