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How to Build Amazing Speech and Language Skills Through Play [Your Questions Answered]


In working with toddlers, I get this question all the time: “what are some good apps I can download for my child’s learning?”
Boy, are they always surprised with my answer: NONE. Try functional play instead.

“Play is often talked about as if it were a relief of serious learning. But for children, play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood.”    -Fred Rogers

Mr. Rogers sure was a smart man– I couldn’t have said it better! Functional, or proper, play is essential to learning, language development, and future learning skills.
That begs the question: what is functional play?

1. What is functional play? 

Functional play is defined as the typical or “correct” form of play. For example, a child would be expected to play with cars by rolling them on the floor, as opposed to lining them up or piling them on top of each other.

2. How do children learn speech and language through play? 

Children begin to watch facial expressions and listen to words and tone of voice as soon as they are born. So when they begin to explore their environment and manipulate toys, your child continues to watch and listen to what is modeled for them. When you put a block on a tower and say “block on”, they are learning the word for “on”. When you put a block in a basket and say “block in”, they are learning the word for “in”.

3. How is listening involved? 

While listening helps build a child’s receptive language, or understanding of language, it also helps to build the child’s expressive language. Initially your child may just watch you play or imitate your actions, but eventually they will begin to imitate the words and sounds they hear while playing, such as car and animal sounds, or simple words.
With early functional play, your child begins to use objects the way they are meant to be used. For example, your child may begin to push cars, stack blocks, use a washcloth to wash things, or hold a toy phone up to their ear.

4. How do I encourage my child?

To encourage play development, provide objects and toys appropriate to your child’s level of play. The toys or objects should allow your child to complete the actions (which typically means: the less batteries, the better!).  Setting up your child with some open-ended play schemes is a great way to help develop their language skills and introduce a variety of vocabulary and concepts.  For example, you can set up a track with cars or trains, play food with bowls and utensils, a pretend grocery store or restaurant, or a baby doll with bottles, diapers, and wipes.

5. Be involved!

Finally, get down on the floor and be present with your child when playing. Children watch, listen, explore, imitate, and eventually start to use their own language skills based on what they learn while playing!

Ashley Hagge, SLP
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Patient Reviews

LLA Therapy

Patient Reviews

Crystal Scheibe

Great place, glad we found them. Been going to Medina over 2 months now and he loves Lauryn and Kyler. Wish they had more ABA therapy places available... live in Wooster and long drive everyday.

Karrie Swan LaRock

My 11 year old son has dyslexia and has made noticeable gains in working At LLA THERAPY. Katie is strong in her approach toward him and also keeps him comfortable enough to perform well. We will continue visiting both the Fairlawn and Hudson offices and recommend them highly.

Ron Monroe

My 9 year old just completed about 9 months of weekly speech sessions (due to his stuttering) with Matt Hagge at LLA and we are thrilled with the experience and results. What I thought might be a negative (what kid really wants to go to speech class?) was made very positive by Matt, and my son never hesitated or complained when we talked about class. He really enjoyed it and really took what Matt taught him to heart. His speech has been greatly improved and we definitely recommend LLA. Thank you so much!

Heather Dougherty-Pantoja

My son’s Occupational Therapist, Jess, is an amazing OT! She gives practical tips on working with my son at home and school!

Terri Apgar

I cannot say enough good things about LLA Therapy. My daughter was a client of Teal Simmons’ for approximately 2 years and was just released from speech therapy! She was diagnosed with Apraxia in 2015 and worked with Teal twice a week. Through Teal’s application of PROMPT therapy, my daughter had age-appropriate speech after one year. All of the staff we interacted with at LLA were absolutely wonderful. They really care about what they do and making sure your child achieves their goals.

Kelli Geisler Davisson

LLA Therapy has been an excellent experience for my son as well as my family! My son always asks, "When can I go see Ms. Jeannine again, is it Monday??" He has also made huge gains in only 5 months! I would highly recommend LLA and have already shared my experience with friends looking for services!

Victoria Hansford-Price

We are so grateful for our Speech Therapist Ms.Teal. We have seen a great improvement with our sons confidence and communication abilities since we have started "Prompt" therapy. What we love the most about LLA and Ms. Teal is that Kohl feels comfortable and relaxed which has played a critical role in his progress. Thank you Ms. Teal for all you have done.

Laura Lee Hogsett

They have helped in numerous ways. Speech, OT and behavioral. I've had numerous compliments on my son's progress thanks in very large part to LLA. I would recommend LLA before I recommend our local children's hospitals, though they are good, they don't have the staff that LLA does.

Amy Furukawa

We had a great experience with Matt Hagge at LLA! Our Middle School age son was becoming very conscious of his voice, which is nasal due to a cleft palate. Matt helped him to better form his sounds and project his voice in a way that makes the unavoidable nasality less noticeable.Our son is more confident and outgoing & even took on a speaking role in the church play. Matt has the perfect personality to relate with our son, and we would recommend him to anyone needing speech therapy services!

Jessica Havalotti

LLA Therapy has been an excellent experience for our daughter. I would highly recommend LLA. Miss Grace was so amazing and I can't believe how quickly our daughter showed improvement. Thank you!
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