When I see new toys I am always thinking of how I can use them in therapy. I love looking in the supermarkets and toy shops to see what is on offer! You can use nearly any toy in therapy, you just need to know what you are targeting.
So today I am going to talk about using toy animals. These can be soft cuddly ones or the plastic ones; whichever you can find!
For younger children:
- Animal noises: Before children start to use words, or when they just have a few, you can practise animal noises. Be aware that some are easier than others. ‘moo’ and ‘baa’ are easier than ‘quack ‘and I’m still never sure what noise a giraffe makes! You could put all your animals in a bag and get your child to pull one out and make the noise together. Also songs such as ‘Old Macdonald had a farm’ is another great way to practise animal noises.
- Naming: To move on from making animal noises, you can start naming the animals. Now I don’t mean calling the frog Freddy! I just mean saying what the animals are. Try not to use big long sentences. You should aim for one or two words. For example ‘elephant’……’big elephant’. If you use the words, your child should start to copy.
- Verbs. Verbs or doing words, are an important step in moving children from single words to sentences. At first they learn to name objects and then we need to encourage them to think about what the objects are doing. So with your animals you can show your child that the cow is ‘eating’ or the elephant is ‘sleeping’. Have fun moving the toys and using the verbs over and over. Repetition is very important.
- Simple play sequences: As an extension of the verb activity, you can put two or three actions together into a sequence. So cow eats some food, walks home and goes to sleep. Again, it works best if you show your child first and then encourage them to try.
- Concepts: If you can find some different sized animals you can practise ‘big’ and ‘little’. You may need to check that your child understands the concept first. Show them a big and little animal and ask for the big one. If your child understands the concept, they should reach for or show you the big one. You may need to practise this a few times and change between asking for the big or little one. Then you can move on to using the words. So if you child says ‘elephant eat’ you could respond ‘yes the big elephant is eating’.
For older children (depending on your child, you may want to change your toys for pictures at some point. Some older children like using toys, but some are too grown up for toys and prefer pictures!)
- Syllables. These are the claps or beats in a word. So elephant has three syllables e…le…phant. If you are practising syllables there are lots of great longer animal names – rhinoceros, crocodile, kangaroo etc. Remember to include some short ones as well – dog, bat – as children often find identifying one syllable words tricky.
- Adjectives: These are describing words and are important to help develop a child’s literacy skills. You can talk about how the animals might feel if you touched them – would they be soft or furry, feathery or scaly? Many children can use size and colour words to describe but need help to extend this. You can describe how the animal might act – would they be friendly or fierce?
- Semantics: This refers to the links between words and helps us learn and remember new vocabulary. You could find ways to link all your animals. How many animals can you find/ think of with four legs? What about animals with tails? Or animals that live in the arctic/ cold?
I worked with one young man who loved animals. So we also worked in some description and cause and effect skills. The shark has sharp teeth because (they bite their food)……. Penguins wings look more like flippers because (they swim and can’t fly). This does depend on the child’s knowledge about animals though!