4 Tips To Help Your Child Play With Their Toys

One of the biggest questions families ask me as a paediatric speech pathologist is ‘why won’t my child play with their toys?’. This is a huge topic and one that has many answers and discussion points. So let’s grab a cuppa, settle in and look at some of the reasons why your child may be having difficulty learning to play – and most importantly, let’s look at solutions for helping your child learn to play with their toys! Let’s dive in:

Why is Play Time So Important?

We often hear that ‘play is the work of childhood’. Far more than just fun and recreation, developing play skills helps your child to explore their environment, foster their interests and build their cognitive, motor, speech, language and social skills (American Academy of Pediatrics, 2007). When your child plays, they are learning to problem solve, analyse the information available to them and build attention skills. As parents, we may expect that our children’s play skills will develop naturally without input from us but the reality is that often, we notice some or all of the following difficulties when our child plays:

Does any of the following sound familiar?

* You spend hours on the internet researching ‘what toys will help my child’ and constantly buy new toys to spark your child’s interest but haven’t been successful?
* Your child/student will look at a toy for a few moments but will quickly lose interest and move onto something else?
* Your child’s play space looks like a hideous bomb site at the end of the day?
* Your child has limited expressive vocabulary and you don’t know how to add words their world?
* You plan exciting, interesting and engaging sessions for your students or clients but find they only remain on the activity for a couple of minutes?

If any of the above sounds familiar, then you are not alone. The reality is that there are several reasons why kiddies may have difficulty developing their play skills and therefore, difficulty playing with toys.

Why Can’t My Child Play With Toys?

  • developmental and cognitive delays, such as Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), Attention Developmental Hyperactivity Disorder or Developmental Learning Disorder
  • speech and language delays, including difficulties developing new vocabulary and difficulties with attention skills
  • social skills difficulties, including turn taking skills, joining in play and waiting skills
  • physical disabilities including mobility, fine motor skills and strength required to use the toys
  • sensory preferences: If your child is uncomfortable touching particular objects, they may have difficulty using and manipulating toys during play time.
  • attention difficulties – in order to develop play skills, children need to attend to and remain on the play activity for an extended period of time
  • other issues

So How Can I Help My Child Play With Toys?

The good news is that there are so many ways that you can help your child or student learn to play with their toys. Here are my top 4 tips:

  1. Model how to play with the toys: Joining in and playing with, or alongside your child is SO valuable! By modelling different ways to play with toys, you are enriching your child’s play experience through showing your child different options for how to play with their toys. This increases the chance that your child will watch, imitate you or even try your ideas themselves.
  2. Repeat, repeat, repeat!: Did you know that most people need to be shown new information on average of 21 times before they commit it to their memory? With this in mind, be sure to repeat your modelling over and over (and over!) again with your child.
  3. Keep sensory preferences in mind – watch your child during play and take note of which toys they seem to enjoy touching and which toys they reject.
  4. Use pictures and visuals: As a speech pathologist, I work with so many children that need help with play skills. What really helped me was creating and implementing these visual supports. These are specific pictures that you can use while you are playing with your child to give them ideas for playing with their toys. The picture below give you a sneak peak of what’s included in the ‘How To Play With Toys’ Visuals Pack’.
Giving your child options for how to play with their toys can help develop their play skills
Step-by-step pictures can show your child to make the most of play time
Add direction and structure to play time with these visuals to enrich your child’s play time

When we are struggling to work out why our child is having difficulty during play time, it is good to know that there are strategies available to help your child develop their play skills while still having fun! After all, that’s what play time is all about! And remember to reach out and chat to a speech pathologist if you continue to notice that your child is having difficulty developing their play skills.

What’s your child’s favourite playtime toys? Share below!