Best Pretend Play Themes for Toddlers and Preschoolers

In podcast #436 we discussed the best pretend play themes for toddlers and preschoolers for speech therapy.

One of the things I often say here at teachmetotalk.com is that you can teach language anytime anywhere.

But the truth is… not all play themes lend themselves to pairing play and language.

When we’re choosing play themes, here are 5 factors that help us determine the potential effectiveness for using play to build language in toddlers and preschoolers with language delays:

Factors for Choosing Successful Play Themes

(from Professional Development at Central Institute of the Deaf)

  • Themes that present good play sequences with a beginning, middle, and end. Start simple with familiar activities like eating, sleeping, bathing, and familiar events for toddlers and then add steps to expand.
  • Themes that provide practice for vocabulary development including new nouns, verbs, prepositions, descriptives, and pronouns.
  • Themes that offer prime opportunities to work on language and play together. 
  • Themes that allow specific relationships to provide reasons to communicate and practice!

I added one more… 

  • Themes that can be simplified or expanded based on how a child responds.

Remember that toddlers respond best to familiar activities they do often like eating, sleeping, bathing, followed by activities they see you do often such as cleaning, meal prep, taking care of children and then, to activities they do less frequently such as going to the doctor or to a birthday party. Those same play themes continue to be popular throughout the preschool years as children add more steps, more props, new scenarios, along with the new experiences they encounter.

For a full discussion of these factors, please check out my podcast Best Pretend Play Themes for Toddlers and Preschoolers. In that show, we unpacked this list along with specific details for using these play themes during speech therapy sessions or at home. Here’s a quick list of the toys I use and recommend as props for play to support play and language development:

Best Pretend Play Themes for Toddlers and Preschoolers for Speech Therapy

Toddlers

Begin with activities from a toddler’s everyday routines like eating, sleeping, bathing, playing outside, or going on an outing.

  • Kitchen and Housekeeping

    I love playing all things kitchen with toddlers! Watching mom and dad cook and clean has been one of a baby’s favorite things to do. As a toddler, now it’s time for them to join in! Plastic food for cutting, a microwave for cooking, a sink for cleaning up and perhaps some cleaning tools like mom and dad… and you’re all set!

 

 

  • Baby Dolls 

    Dolls are the ultimate first pretend play choice – for both little girls and little boys! Add basic accessories for pretending such as a bottle and bowl/spoon for feeding, a blanket for sleeping, and for even more pretending, try a bath tub and stroller.




  • House or Playground

Begin pretending with familiar activities from a toddler’s everyday routines – sleeping, eating, bathing, etc..

 

  • Farm

Little boys and little girls love playing with animals. Teach new words and a whole lot more with a great farm set!

 

 

Preschoolers 

Play really “bumps up” to a new developmental level when we provide realistic props to support developing imaginations and language skills. Be sure to add extra sequences (or steps to play), new vocabulary across word categories (not just nouns, but verbs, prepositions, descriptive words, and pronouns), new relationships (or roles in play), and new toys to enhance pretending. Watch this podcast for a full explanation of these factors.

  • Restaurant (pizza, ice cream shop, hot chocolate stand)



Birthday party (or other holidays)

I like making birthday cakes from playdoh. Here are other choices for birthday party play.


  • Apples (orchard, farm)

Just like with toddlers, preschoolers love to play on the farm. Choose larger, more realistic sized toys for picking apples or pumpkins with little friends when peers are joining in your play too.

 

  • Doctor

Kids want to begin to dress up around age 3 so the first set contains a “dr shirt.” All the following sets contain plenty to talk about as you pretend you’re going to the dr.

 

 

  • Pet shop/Vet

Combine themes of animals and doctors, and you’ve got pet shop – always a fun hit for preschoolers. I love the Battat set below as a beginning prop for this play theme.

**Amazon affiliates earn a tiny commission on your purchase. Thank you for supporting my work!**

Laura

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As a retired audiologist with a fabulous and language delayed grandson, I used your podcasts and outstanding publication, The Autism Workbook, to inspire and guide me over the past year.

It works!! He went from barely verbal, no gestures, didn't respond to his name etc etc to a verbal, social, curious, ready to imitate anything, fill in the blanks on familiar "set" speech, generate his own totally appropriate and mostly understandable sentences...not just short phrases anymore... full little paragraphs...about imaginary things, what he did during the day, what he wants. True communication!

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