Ideas for Using a Stuffed Santa, Bear, or Any Other Holiday Character


Do you ever need an idea for what you could do with a holiday character like Santa, reindeer, snowman, or another stuffed animal? Here are some WINNERS to target a variety of early language skills.

Therapist who work in a clinical or school setting probably choose to forego stuffed animals for obvious (germy) reasons, but for those of us who see kids at home, ideas like this can be a lifesaver when a child is already playing with this kind of toy.

In addition to the character, grab yourself a few everyday items such as a spoon, cup, blanket, wash cloth or wipe, etc… A small box with lid or a bucket will also be fun.

Suggested Goals:

  1. The child will exhibit joint attention for longer periods of time.
  2. The child will respond to a simple “Give me” request with fewer cues over time.
  3. The child will imitate familiar actions during play.
  4. The child will follow one step directions with familiar actions during play.
  5. The child will begin to sequence actions during play.
  6. The child will request a new turn using nonverbal gestures, signs, or words.
  7. The child will begin to use words to complete automatic speech tasks in verbal routines during play.
  8. The child will imitate easy vocalizations during play such as animal sounds and exclamatory words.
  9. The child will imitate and use a variety of single words during play
  10. The child will identify objects by function.

Begin by introducing the character. A hiding game or playing peek-a-boo with the character can provide an opportunity to “call” the character and establish the character’s name. Call the character’s name many, many times. Place your hands around your mouth as if you’re yelling as you “call” the character. Help a toddler imitate this gesture with this activity.

If a child doesn’t usually follow commands, begin with simple requests. Tell the child, “Give me Santa.” If necessary, help the child place the toy in your open hand with your other hand.

Try other simple actions for a child to imitate and then perform on request. Excitedly model the action many times as you narrate what you’re doing. Begin with simple actions such as saying “Pat Santa” or “Kisses!” as you complete the action. Other easy actions to try are tickle, hug, rock, and “Give Santa 5.”

Once a child is completing a few of those routines with you, move to other routines with objects. In the video I modeled what I would say to teach familiar actions like eating, drinking, and sleeping.  Your goal is for the child to imitate your actions and begin to try to repeat the easy play sounds you’re modeling.

Introduce other objects for your character to use and model what you want the child to do. Use simple language to explain the action and establish a verbal routine. For example, for a hair brush say, “Brush! Let’s brush Santa’s hair. Brush, brush, brush. Brush hair.”

After you’ve played with the toys in this way for a while, ask the child to complete the task such as, “Santa is thirsty! Give him a drink.”

Other slightly more difficult directions to try include: washing Santa with a wipe, putting glasses on Santa, covering Santa with a blanket, putting a band aid on Santa, brushing Santa’s teeth with a toothbrush, etc…  These steps are an important part in learning to sequence actions in play. Feed Santa and then wash his mouth. Rock Santa and then put him down to sleep.

You can also target verbs or action words with Santa by making him walk, jump, dance, run, fall or climb.

By introducing a box or bucket, you can help a child understand and use prepositions or location words such as in, out, off, on, up, down and under.

Don’t just bark out commands, “Put Santa in,” but include the request and action as a part of play.  Say, “Let’s hide Santa. Where could we hide Santa? Ooooh – let’s put Santa in. In the box. Santa’s in the box.”  Then play Peek a Boo or sing, “Where oh where is Santa?”

Expand this activity by using more than one character. If you’ve played with Santa, add a snowman or reindeer and do the same activities. When giving directions and working on comprehension, you’ll add another level of complexity by performing the same actions with a new character.

If a child is beginning to do some pretend play on his own, you can expand this further by cooking for Santa in a pretend kitchen using plastic foods. This step is also critical in helping a child learn to sequence actions in play. The child can select a food, pretend to cook it, and then feed it to Santa. Introduce surprises into play routines. Have Santa refuse the food or ask for something other than what the child offered.

When you’re putting Santa away, try this song, “Bye bye Santa. Bye bye Santa. Bye bye Santa. It’s time to say bye bye.” Model the gesture for waving too and for blowing kisses.

If a child is already imitating single words as you play, use this activity to elicit requests for Santa, another character, or the other objects needed to complete play routines.

To target object functions, ask a child things such as, “What will Santa need to drink?” or “Reindeer has hurt his leg. He’s bleeding! What does he need?”

Remember after Christmas time to transition these same play routines to other toys like baby dolls, a stuffed animal like a bear, another plush toy like Elmo, or even Thomas the train. If a child is a little older, you could use a super hero such as Batman or Barbie.

If a child does not complete your requests after you model and teach the action several times, provide physical assistance by helping the child imitate your action.

If you fail to elicit any attempts to follow directions, then the child is likely exhibiting a receptive language delay and perhaps social delays as well. Don’t be fooled into thinking that a child is choosing not to participate or doesn’t like the activity. You’ll have to do even more to help a child like this begin to link meanings with words so that he can understand and then follow your commands.

For more therapy ideas, check out my therapy manuals which explain step-by-step instructions for play routines that target language.

Let’s Talk About Talking

Teach Me To Talk: The Therapy Manual

Building Verbal Imitation Skills in Toddlers



Leave a Comment

Sign Up for your Free eBook

Something went wrong. Please check your entries and try again.

Subscribe to the Podcast in iTunes

Browse Products

Featured Product

Recent Posts

Teach Me To Talk Testimonials

Happy Therapists, Teachers, Parents & Children

"I just received Teach Me to Play With You, and it is ALREADY WORKING! WOW!

Girl…my son is 3 years old, and he NEVER asks for something using words. We were playing “Get Your Belly” (from Teach Me to Play WITH You), and after several times, he laughed and screamed "BEWIEEE!!!"  It was a hoot. And I can't believe he said it! I have played with him like this before, but this time I took your advice and acted CRAZY!! I will act like a total lunatic if it will get him to talk to me!  Now I can give him "the look" from across the room, and he will say it. That manual is so amazingly practical, and it is a GODSEND right now! Thank you SO MUCH!”

"I wanted to send you a quick email to say thank you. I started watching your videos/podcasts about 4 months ago. My son has gone from losing words he previously used, only having about 7 words at his 2 year check up in August (assessed at a blended 10 month language level) -- to now having so many words, increased social engagement, following commands, spontaneously requesting things, and naming letters & numbers (not in order) as well as colors. We had our monthly meeting with our SLP through the state infants & toddlers program and it felt like we were just bragging the whole time, but I knew in the back of my head it was because I have been using strategies you taught me.

We still have so much work to do with our sweet boy, but I know in my heart he would not have succeeded without the education you provided. I will continue to read your emails & watch videos as we go along this journey and face challenges, but credit is due to you, Laura.

Thank you so much, endlessly."


"I just want to tell how fortunate I feel to have found your website and you!! I became a special instructor in EI almost a year ago and I started with hardly any applicable training. I felt so lost and confused as how to help the kids I work with learn how to use words and play. Honestly, I didn't even understand the importance of play, although I always played with my kids. But, once I started to watch your podcasts and get some of your manuals I felt a weight had been lifted off my shoulders and that I could finally teach these kids and their families something of value from a real therapist and based on research!. Thank you so much for seeing the need to help other EI service providers and providing a forum to share your knowledge and years of valuable experience. I'm sure you get a lot of these emails every week if not every day, but I wanted to make I could add to those notes of gratitude!! THANK YOU again!!"


"Just wanted to say a HUGE thank you for these emails and your books, I have them all and they have seriously saved and improved my sessions with my kiddos. Huge thank you."


"I was very frustrated with how speech therapy was going for my child. I would take him and drop him off and not hear much of anything from his therapist and teachers other than, "He had a good (or a bad!) day." Your materials were invaluable for us because I learned how to work with him on his speech. I learned how to teach him to talk and play. I learned how to pay attention to his cues and work with him to teach him to communicate. Without it, I have no doubt he still wouldn’t talk."


"Hi! I just wanted to say (from an SLT perspective) how incredibly useful I am finding absolutely all of your articles, blogs and resources - I only discovered your site last month and have just received all your books which I feel I am learning more than on my entire university training course!! But also the way in which you give specific, realistic, fun, encouraging ideas for working with parents is really just fantastic, I only wish I have your site sooner! Thanks so much from the UK! Kind regards."


"I just wanted to reach out to say thank you for making things a little easier to manage for me this year. I made the transition from school SLP to private therapist about a year ago. While the change was welcome, it was a lot, and I was just getting my footing in the clinic when I began teletherapy full time. Your website has been a huge lifeline in helping me work with late talkers and coach their parents in an accessible but effective way, even remotely. I look forward to getting your emails each week. I am floored by the amount of valuable, free information that your website provides, and I’m looking forward to investing in your workbooks soon. A sincere thank you for all you do!"


"You are an inspiration! I am truly grateful for the way you put into words and writing how to do what we do as SLPs. At this time in my 13 years of practicing, I find your encouragement keeps me going. As a single mom, I find it a stretch to buy materials these days and I am so thankful for the freebies you so generously share that help me teach my families. I don’t have much time to put together lists or quick references for parents!! Much gratitude!!"