Going to the park is a favorite summer pastime and it’s a primetime to not only get your child’s body moving, but to get their language moving as well! Sian Beilock, professor of psychology at the University of Chicago, stated that, “We understand language in a richer, fuller way if we can connect it to the actions we perform.” Since your child will be in full action mode, take this opportunity to give them the language that matches their actions for a full mind-body learning experience!
For example, it may take dozens of fleeting exposures to the word wobbly in books or movies for children to really learn this word. However, if your child is playing on the wobbly bridge at the park, experiencing the sway of the bridge and the unstable feeling in their feet, they are fully primed to learn the word wobbly so use this opportunity to say something like “Wow, that bridge is so wobbly! It keeps moving and makes it hard to stand up!” This is called experience-based learning and it is extremely effective for teaching language.
Try these 5 tips for bringing your child’s receptive and expressive language development into full swing while they’re playing at the park:
1. Following directions.
As you make your way to the park, talk about how to get there. Focus on words and phrases that we often use when giving directions to a place like, “Go straight,” “Turn left,” “Take the second right,” and “The park is across from…”. Practice this type of directional language each time you go to the park. Maybe even get creative and draw a map to the park that includes landmarks to prompt the direction queues - and don’t an X to mark the spot!
While your child is running around exploring the park, try teaching them action words (verbs) because nouns are not enough to form sentences. One of the easiest ways to do this is by describing what your child is doing at that exact moment. Hop into the role of sports commentator and use as many verbs as you can think of as they move around. You can literally stand there, coffee in hand, saying things like: “Wow, look at you run,” “Don’t climb too high,” “That girl is skipping,” and “Ready, set, jump!” Want to take it up a notch? Try using harder verbs like twist, leap, or grip.
While you’re at it, try throwing in some descriptive words for a double dose of language learning. For example, say things like “You’re digging a deep hole,” “You climbed all the way to the top,” and “Do you want me to push you really high?” Kids LOVE it when we talk about what they’re doing and experiencing. It’s like making them the star of the show and the center of your world—all without having to break a sweat.
4. Expressive language.
Children often need help at the park: a push on the swing, a lift to reach the zip line, or a steady hand as they walk across the wobbly bridge. This is the perfect time to help them use the words and phrases that will get them what they want. Functional language meets motivational activity! Every time they ask for help, model the word(s) applicable to the situation and then ask them to imitate you. Reduce your models as time goes on until they can say it all themselves.
Social Language. Kids love to play with other kids. That said, they may need a little help when it comes to initiating play with a peer, taking turns, suggesting play ideas, or negotiating any disputes. It may help to practice some common opening lines at home before heading to the park. Teach them some simple ice breakers such as, “Can I play?” or “What’s your name?” Generally, it’s best to let kids play freely because kids do, in fact, teach each other a lot of language. But if/when things start to fall apart, make sure to pop in and help them state the problem, understand each other’s perspectives, and suggest some solutions.
5. Conversational language.
On the way home, take a walk down memory lane and recall all the fun things your child did and saw at the park. Do you hear them using any of the new words you modelled for them? If not, take this opportunity to repeat the target words because some children need to hear new words as many as 100 times before they begin to use them. This is also a great time to see how well they are able to talk about things in the past by adding an /ed/ marker (walked, climbed) or changing the whole word for irregular past tense verbs (ran, dug, slid). Being able to talk about past events in a clear manner is a very useful language skill and one we use in conversations all the time.
Every moment we have with our children is an opportunity to grow their receptive and expressive language skills. With that said, some moments are more likely to create deep connections between words and concepts within their rapidly developing brains. Playing at the park is an optimal time to work on your child’s language development because they will be actively involved in the process. Take advantage of the science behind experience-based learning and start kicking your child’s language development into high gear during physical activities. When we educate ourselves about the most efficient ways to teach our kids, then we can work smarter—not harder. And remember, developing language acquisition is like a marathon with a few sprints along the way. The most important part is having fun with your child and taking advantage of the teachable moments.
Have you noticed a difference in teaching your child language while they are being physically active versus when they are stationary? Have you practiced using directions with your child while you are in the process of going somewhere together? We would love to keep the conversation going—please comment below!