Play With a Purpose: Incorporating Language Into Play

The holidays are over and the presents are unwrapped. Now… how do you get the most “bang for your buck” when it comes to building speech, language, and listening skills through play?

Here are some tips from The New Language of Toys by Sue Schwartz Ph.D., a great resource for parents on how to incorporate language into play for children with communication disorders:

  • The book opens with a parent-friendly discussion of children’s language development — for both typical kids and those with a variety of special needs.  In a clear and jargon-free format, the author explains possible causes of language delay, types of speech and language problems, the assessment and treatment process, and the theory behind using toys to assist children with special needs to develop the communication skills necessary to lead a happy and successful life.


  • The book contains advice on how to grow children’s communication abilities through play for children from birth to age six.  Each section discusses toys and techniques for a specific age (remember, go by your child’s DEVELOPMENTAL age, not their actual chronological age) with an emphasis of developmental appropriateness and safety.  Each age-related chapter also includes a general overview of the developmental tasks and expectations for that age group along with parenting and discipline tips.


  • Each section contains common toys and how to use them to best facilitate children’s speech, language, and listening skills.  There are also suggestions for homemade toys for children at every age level that are made from common, inexpensive materials that you may already have at home.


  • The book’s appendices are full of helpful information — lists of children’s books, toy manufacturers, and organizations that serve children with special needs and their families.


  • Each section of the book contains a simple chart of language, physical, and cognitive milestones for children in the age range discussed in the preceeding chapter.  These easy-to-read checklists can help you to monitor your child’s growth and development, and may help you formulate a list of questions or concerns about your child’s progess to discuss with the appropriate professionals on your treatment team.


  • For some parents, eliciting language through play comes naturally, but for many, goal-directed play is a foreign, and often difficult, concept — don’t worry, you’ll get there!  Like any new skill, it takes practice, and this book helps parents begin the process of “playing with a purpose” by providing sample parent-child dialogues to go along with each toy and/or concept discussed.  If you’re stuck on how to teach a concept or even lost as to how to begin playing with your child, refer to these natural dialogues to get yourself started on the right path.


  • In this over-saturated electronic age, this book focuses on simple, (generally) inexpensive, and classic toys, a welcome change!


  • The book goes beyond play and discusses how to use these same language learning techniques in other daily activities and routines in a child’s life.

I highly recommend purchasing your own copy of this book if at all possible.  Because it covers a six year range, you’ll want to come back to it often as your child grows.  It’s easy to read and full of information that will help you teach through play.  Remember, play IS a child’s most important work — it’s how they learn about their world and experiment to achieve important developmental tasks.


Many parents struggle with incorporating therapy into play, feeling that sometimes “kids should just be kids”… BUT remember that Auditory-Verbal is a LIFESTYLE, not an isolated set of principles or techniques.  By incorporating A-V methodology into your family’s life, it becomes a natural part of everyday routines — even play.  There will be plenty of times when you’re simply not available to play with your child.  During those times, allow their play to be as undirected as they desire.  But when you have the time and energy to play with your child, make it really count.  “Learning” and “fun” are not mutually exclusive concepts.  My philosophy is, if you’re not having FUN, you’re doing it wrong!

So, let’s play!

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