#283 11 Skills Toddlers Must Use BEFORE Words Emerge #5 Early Play Skills (continued)


After completing the podcast last week, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about what I didn’t get to cover about developing early play skills.

So… because it’s my show and I get to decide what I talk about, we’re going to extend the topic of Early Play Skills one more week. Developing early play is the 5th skill in my list of 11 skills toddlers must use before a child begins to talk. Listen by clicking the player below. (You can see a list of ALL of my shows and listen by clicking the iTunes icon on the right side of this page.)

Today we’re going to talk about a very successful strategy for helping toddlers develop early play skills and explore and begin to use toys. It’s called…


It can be such a surprise for parents and for therapists when a child doesn’t play with toys. Isn’t that what kids are supposed to do? As we’ve discussed in previous shows, sometimes parents (and therapists!) mistake what’s really going on in this situation.

A parent may look at a child who doesn’t play and think… he doesn’t like this toy (or any toys!).

Many times the problem isn’t that the child doesn’t like toys, it’s that he doesn’t know how to play. Children who don’t play miss out on critical opportunities for learning and especially for learning language.

But it’s hard to make a child begin to play when there seems to be little interest. While it can be an issue with motivation – meaning the toy doesn’t naturally spark a child’s curiosity. There are many things you can do to address that issue, but in this show, we’re talking about something completely different.

We’re going to discuss a very specific way we can teach a toddler to begin to play with toys and it may seem a little counter-intuitive to you, but once you’ve learned this strategy and have achieved success, you’ll be able to use it over and over to introduce a new toy or a new kind of play when this isn’t coming naturally for a toddler or preschooler.

This strategy is called deconstruction and it’s appropriate to use with many, many early toys for toddlers.

What do I mean by that term deconstruction?

It means – instead of beginning with building or putting pieces together, we start by purposefully teaching a child to take the toy apart. By doing this, we’re helping a child begin to explore the toy, to understand a little bit more about how the toy works, and we’re starting at a point where he can be successful, which is always important.

This kind of play is instinctive for young children, but you may have discouraged it in the past not understanding that it’s a critical first step in learning to play. For example, what’s a toddler’s very favorite thing to do with blocks – you may say building or stacking, but that’s not really true. It’s knocking the tower down, right? It’s what they love the most! That’s what keeps them playing with the blocks over and over again – that’s what makes them want to stack, so they can knock it down.

So let’s take this same concept – deconstruction – and figure out how we can use this natural inclination to help a child learn to play with several kinds of toys and develop early play skills. In the show I’m giving you lots of examples, so listen in for guidance!

If you’d like to watch a short video with more tips for Deconstruction, check out this Therapy Tip of the Week.

We also talked about the next step beyond deconstruction which is –


Here you want to help the child learn to do ONE single action that’s easy to do to begin to play. Just one action. This makes all the difference for some children who need help to develop early play skills. Listen to the show for practical ideas!

If you’ve missed the previous show about play – listen here:

#282 –  Developing Early Play Skills (part one)

Ready for more? Go to the next show

Or start at the beginning of this series 11 Skills Toddlers Must Use Before Words Emerge –

#275 Introduction Show – Why These Skills are Important

#276 Overview of Skills 1 – 5

#277 Overview of Skills 6 – 11

#278 Responds to Things in the Environment

#279 Responds to People

#280 Building an Attention Span

#281 Developing Joint Attention



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