Are you looking for ways to boost your toddler’s speech and language skills?
Creating a language-rich play and learning unit for your child isn’t hard at all! Today I am going to give you some tips on how to set one up for yourself, using our s’mores themed activities as an example. So bust out the marshmallows, sit a spell, and learn about choosing language-rich activities for your little one while we show you some fun ways to play and learn with this ooey gooey summer treat.
Choosing Your Theme
I like using themed units for language stimulation because it gives me the opportunity to immerse the children in the targeted vocabulary and concepts through many different types of learning experiences. Language learning occurs best when it happens in a meaningful context; in other words, not through random flashcards or drilling, but through hands-on experiences within the child’s environment. This is why when choosing themes for emerging language it is important to find something that your child has experience with, is interested in, and is likely to have repeated exposure with in the future. At home, we spend a lot of time on animals, insects, and food activities, because that’s what grabs my toddlers’ attention right now.
Also, this may seem obvious, but if you do choose a theme based on something novel to your child, be sure that you include an experience designed to provide exposure to the activity within the unit. For example, doing an entire unit on a visit to the zoo may be lost on a child that has never been. My children had never made s’mores before this week, but I knew that it would be a great theme for them since it involved food and was likely to be repeated throughout their childhood, so I made sure they watched (at a safe distance) while I roasted a marshmallow over a fire and made them their first s’mores the old-fashioned way!
Activity #1- S’mores!
Choosing Your Activities
Now, on to the fun part…choosing your activities! Here is where you can get really creative and try out some of the fun ideas you’ve pinned on Pinterest. The point of doing enrichment activities based on a theme is to provide repetition of core vocabulary and concepts through different types of experiences, which allows children to have plenty of practice and build on their cognitive representations of language concepts through play. The more varied the experiences are, the richer the language opportunities are and the stronger the concepts become. Plus, if you are working on speech sounds, it gives you lots of ways to practice speech production within a meaningful context (there’s that phrase again), which is much more likely to generalize, or “stick,” than just meaningless drilling.
Soooo, what types of activities to include? When brainstorming for a theme, I focus on IMAGINATIVE PLAY, ART, SENSORY PLAY, MUSIC/MOVEMENT, and COOKING. I try to incorporate BOOKS related to the theme and sometimes add Montessori-syle learning activities when I can pull them together. However, I must emphasize that you don’t HAVE to include all of these types of activities in every theme, and some activities you find will cover more than one category (i.e. art and sensory, etc.). Overwhelmed? Confused? Let me show you what came together for our S’mores unit:
Activity #2- Marshmallow Puffy Paint Sculpture
This was a fun activity that we created on a whim that combines ART and SENSORY PLAY into one unforgettable experience. The idea was inspired by this 3-D Cake Art by Fun At Home With Kids– be sure to check out her version if you are planning a birthday theme in the future!
First, I created the bases for our “sculptures” by covering some empty cylindrical food containers (bread crumbs and chopped dates) with white paper. Then, we made a batch of homemade puffy paint (recipe from Happy Hooligans), left out the food coloring, and added some vanilla extract for scent. Then we painted it thickly onto the containers with popsicle sticks and our fingers. After microwaving the sculptures for 30 seconds, we had giant puffy “marshmallows!”
Next, I set out some chocolate paint I made by mixing brown tempera paint with a package of cheap chocolate pudding mix. The paint smelled and felt like chocolate, but luckily neither one of my kids tried to taste it since they knew it contained paint.
The twins added some of the paint to the sculptures, but quickly decided their own bodies were a much better canvas!
Sydney became a collective art piece in human form.
For more details on how to stimulate toddler speech and language through art, read this post: Building Language Through Art.
As you can see, this activity doubled as a sensory play activity. Here a a couple more marshmallow sensory play ideas:
Marshmallow Sensory Play from Fantastic Fun and Learning
Marshmallow Dough from My Buddies and I
You may also want to check out my post Building Language Through Sensory Play for more details on the sensory and language connection and tips and tricks on maximizing language stimulation through sensory activities.
Activity #3: Crispy S’mores Pops
Although we did make “authentic” s’mores for our first activity, I wanted to create a toddler-friendly version with similar ingredients that the twins could help a little more with. After a little brainstorming, I came up with these fun treats. To create them, we first made a batch of Rice Krispy Treats by using the traditional recipe (find it HERE). We flattened the whole batch into an 8X8 glass pan (use wax paper to avoid hot and sticky fingers) to make each treat fairly thick. Once they cooled, I cut them into rectangles and pushed a popsicle stick into each one.
Then I melted some CandyQuick in the microwave and let the twins dip the treats in the chocolate.
Next, we rolled each treat in crushed graham crackers (the twins had previously crushed the crackers in gallon-sized plastic storage bags using my rolling pin) and reluctantly left them to cool. Luckily, the chocolate coating was dry in a fairly short time and we got to taste our masterpieces without too much of a delay. They were delicious!
For details on how to stimulate language through cooking activities with toddlers, check out Building Language on the Kitchen.
B-Inspired Mama has a really great roundup of alternative s’mores recipes for even more s’mores-related options!
Activity #4: Felt S’mores Playset
To encourage IMAGINATIVE PLAY, I made a fun felt play set for the twins to make their own pretend s’mores. This is why it was so important that they see how s’mores are really made- this would have made no sense to them otherwise, and the benefits of symbolic play would have been lost! Since this post is getting impossibly long, I am going to share more details of the play set in a follow up post, but here’s a sneak peek:
Cute, huh? To read more about the benefits of symbolic/imaginative play and how to use them to build language, see my post Building Language with Small World Play.
As you can see, I did not include every single type of activity that I listed in the introduction. I did find a new song about s’mores for the twins to sing…too bad it’s a Barney song 😉 Love him or not, it is a catchy tune with some fun motor movements to accompany it! Click in the link HERE to see for yourself!
I hope you enjoyed our s’mores activities and an introduction to choosing language boosting activities for little ones. For some more fun smore’s/camping ideas, check out this Preschool Camping Theme from Fun-A-Day. She did so many fun things, it makes me wish I was a kid in her class!
Don’t forget to check out my Summer Pinterest Board for more great ideas related to our fun summer themes!
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