By Educational Psychologist Naomi Burgess
We communicate with our children from a young age – we know their smiles, grimaces and gestures – and at some point, their accompanying babble will turn into recognisable sounds and you believe you can hear words (quite an exciting time!).
At first there will be some nouns, as they point to what they want or what they want to share, then you will begin to hear 2 or 3 utterances joined together, and – hey presto! – their spoken language explodes – and with it they seem to have acquired all the syntax or grammar that underlies our language system.
We spontaneously play games that involve sound with our children.
We sing, we dance, we read, we play animals with animal noises of course, listen to music, and many other games too.
While we do all of this naturally, it is also important to know that these games are vital – not only for learning to talk but for language in the broadest sense.
Language underpins so much of our existence. It helps with:
- processing emotion
- sharing excitement
- asking questions
- answering questions
- describing observations
- reading and writing.
And, the more we do of all this, the more our language skills and abilities grow. It’s organic, it’s dynamic and it is one of the best gifts we can give our children.
So let’s have a look at some games we can play with our children to provide a wonderful and rich foundation…
6 sound games to play with toddlers and pre-schoolers…
1. Animal songs – with playing cards and masks
The classic animal song that children from toddlers to older ones really love is Old Macdonald. It has a memorable tune and animal sounds!
And kids love it because it’s repetitive – and they can sing it loud! Check out YouTube if you need a reminder or want a video they can sing along with.
To make it more fun, you could have cards with animals on which you can take it in turns to select for the other (you can use bought or hand-drawn cards).
You can then sing and leave out the name of the animal – like this: ‘Old Macdonald had a farm… and on that farm he had some… with an oink oink here and an oink oink there’ – and then ask your child which animal you were singing about by getting them to point out the correct picture card.
To take it a step further, how about making some animal masks? Little ones could have help putting them on and bigger ones could do it themselves.
With all these variants, your child will be developing so many different skills in addition to simply singing along.
Other animal songs to sing
And don’t forget to have the animals ready to do the actions. You’ll need a baboon with auburn hair, a monkey and an elephant for the second song here!
2. Rhythm games with pots, pans and shakers
Language has rhythm and rhythm is important for music, for dancing, for cadence in speech, for hearing words accurately, and for reading and spelling.
You don’t need to buy anything to play rhythm games. Start simply by filling small containers with items like lentils, beads, dried beans, and items which make soft noises or loud noises.
Initially your child or you can just shake them. You can have 2 the same if you like so they can copy.
As they understand more you can shake the containers as you listen to tunes, or sing or hum your own songs and do the rhythms.
Think of something like Ring A Ring Of Roses, or Here We Go Round The Mulberry Bush, and just hum the tune, and shake your container.
It will come quite naturally. If you want to make it more complicated you can begin shaking the container a bit louder on some beats. Just enjoy it!
When you want to graduate from simple containers, you might want to begin making a little kitchen band.
A couple of pan lids, a wooden spoon on a pan, and before you know it you can be playing together or with different parts. You’ll have a bit of a head start if you are musical already!
3. Nee-nawh, Beep beep! Siren sounds games
Children love the exciting sounds of fire engines, and police cars – and as soon as you put a toy one of these in your child’s hands it’s a sure-fire bet they’ll be making siren noises!
And there are some really nice toys out there that actually make these noises, too – a great example is the LEGO Duplo Play Out Loud range.
They have a fabulous fire kit with people and accessories – all you have to do is press the little siren on the fire engine.
They have a plane and police car as well – add any other vehicles you want to these and your child can invent her own adventure – making all the choo-choo, whooshing and nee-nawh noises she wants to along the way.
4. Sound Bingo
Bingo’s a really fun and simple game that even young children can get the hang of – and you can make a version that’s based around sounds.
This game works best with more than 1 child.
Simply buy or make a bingo set with pictures of vehicles, animals or instruments on – then call out a sound and get your child to stamp or tick the thing on their bingo sheet which makes that noise.
The first person to tick off everything on their sheet first wins.
5. The Gruffalo – on repeat
Children love poems and stories that have repetition. They just seem to do it spontaneously.
Two of the best known ones are Michael Rosen’s Bear Hunt, and Julia Donaldson’s The Gruffalo.
They also love rhyme – and for that you can’t beat any of the Dr Seuss books.
That predictability and the ability for them to hear and manipulate rhyme is crucial to reading.
Choose a book from one we’ve suggested here or find your own. Read it out loud (with as much expression as possible!) and make up some actions as you go.
Get your child to do the actions and join in on the bits that are repeated (“We’re going on a bear hunt, we’re going to catch a BIG one”…. for example).
They’ll become firm favourites that will stick in your child’s mind for a long time to come.
6. Heads, shoulders, knees and….
There are lots of fun action songs, where all you need is your body. The classic one of course is “Head, shoulders, knees and toes”.
As well as getting your child to use the words, it helps her with learning body parts too, and is also great for coordination and repetition.
Don’t forget the silent rounds, too, where you don’t say each body part in turn – starting with head, then shoulders then knees then toes. And just watch as you all get caught out on those!
Other actions songs to do:
- The Wheels On The Bus
- If You’re Happy And You Know it (clap your hands)
These might sound like simple suggestions – but the reason these songs have been popular for so long is because kids love joining in with them.
The words are simple and the tunes are catchy which means your child will pick them up easily – and you can sing them all day….
Educational Psychologist Naomi Burgess is a Registered Practitioner with the Health Professions Council and a Chartered Member of the British Psychological Society
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