Young children have curious minds. Instinctually, they explore their environment like little scientists trying to make sense of their world. Any parent can tell you after the excitement of Christmas morning or a birthday party that they will question their purchases of expensive toys. Most children are more fascinated with the wrapping paper and boxes in which the toys are packaged than the actual toys themselves.

What if all the educational toys for your budding explorer could be found in the cabinets and closets of your home already? What if you could keep your toddler entertained for hours with a few simple items from your kitchen and pantry that won’t cost you a dime? And what’s more, what if these same everyday items could help facilitate your child’s speech and language development?

In this article, we will explore common items in your home that will peak your child’s interest and we will share how you can use these objects to support language development. Your job as a parent is to play the narrator as you model words and phrases for your child. In the beginning, your child will be absorbing all of the language they hear until one day, they speak it spontaneously.

Boxes – Boxes of any shape and size fascinate children. You can have them use these boxes to teach simple concepts such as “in” and “out”. You can have them put their favorite items inside the box and play a game of “peek-a-boo” with your child. The concept of location can be reinforced by asking “where” questions. With a simple, repetitive script such as:

“Where’s the bear?” “There’s the bear!”

You can teach your child the concepts of prepositions and answering wh-questions by using boxes. The possibilities are endless. At first, you will want to model the language for them over and over again. Then after a while, you can pause after you ask the question to see if your child responds. Then, before you know it, your child will be responding to the question spontaneously.

Containers – Why does your child head towards the drawers full of plastic storage containers and insist on emptying it? There is great fun for the young scientist to empty the contents of things whether they be drawers, containers or boxes. Storage containers provide a space for children to place their small favorite toys such as a ball, small toy or snacks. These types of containers have lids and are perfect for teaching the concepts of “open” and “close.” You can also place items in the containers and “shake” them for an instant musical toy. If you don’t have plastic storage containers, you can make your own container out of an empty can of formula or oatmeal.

Plastic Water Bottles – Babies and toddlers are always fascinated by the sights and sounds of half empty water bottles. They crinkle and crunch in your hands. You can shake them like a rattle and teach concepts such as “stop” and “go.”

Paintbrushes and Paper – If you purchase colored construction paper and some brushes from the dollar store, you can give your young child hours of mess-free fun. Your child will be fascinated by the painting they do that disappears. While they are painting you can model words for them such as “You are painting.” You can also reinforce the concepts such as “wet and dry” and comment on the different shapes they paint.

Plastic Cups – Children love playing with plastic cups. They love stacking them and nesting them. You can spend some quality time with your young child on the floor as you take turns building a tower of plastic cups and then knocking them down for fun. You can reinforce the concepts of “tall, up, high, and more” as you build your structure. Then you can say, “Uh oh!” and “They all fell down” as you throw them down.

As you can see the possibilities of using everyday objects in your home to elicit language are endless. You can use your imagination to guide you as you teach your young child language with items found in your home. It is important to note that you are the narrator and will be speaking and modeling much more than your child. Focus on having fun and listen to your child’s language emerge!

By Karin H. Koukeyan, MS, CCC-SLP