How can we play with children

Here are several games and activities to do with children to help them learn and interact.

Playing with blocks

  • use language for counting and sorting: How many are there? Shall we put the blue ones here?
  • use positional language: in, on, under, below, behind, next to
  • explore language related to size: big, small, long, short
  • describe what a child is doing while playing: finding, stacking, pulling, pushing, building, pressing, dragging
  • describe shapes and objects the children are making: square, rectangle, tower, house, castle, garden

Dress-ups (and drama)

  • describe the costumes (fairy, princess, pirate, king, clown) and actions for getting dressed: put on, pull up/down, zip up, do the buttons up, unbutton, unzip
  • highlight the relevant parts of the body: put your arms through here, tie this around your waist/wrist, put these on your feet – first your left foot, then your right foot, put this over your head
  • use nursery rhymes and stories to model language for imaginary play
  • develop listening comprehension by encouraging the children act out the rhyme or story in their costumes
  • extend vocabulary associated with role-play: hospital, airport, artist’s studio, garden centre, vet, doctor, routines (breakfast/lunch/dinner/bed time)

Making and decorating (art and craft)

  • name the materials: paint, paintbrush, crayon, felt-tip, marker, card, paper, crepe paper, shiny paper, tissue paper, newspaper, glue, scissors, cotton wool, fabric, sequins, feathers
  • describe properties and textures of materials: runny, thick, smooth, hard, long, short, spiky, rough, shiny
  • experiment with and describe colour
  • use instructions: paint, draw, colour, smudge, blur, blow, copy, pour, make, cut, stick, decorate, hang (it) up
  • art appreciation and describing what the children have made, painted or drawn.

Malleable materials (dough, plasticine, clay)

  • use language of manipulation: push, pull, drop, squeeze, press, bend, twist, roll, stretch, squash, squish, pinch, flatten, poke, scrape, break apart
  • describe length/thickness: longer than, shorter than, the same length as
  • use language related to colour and smells
  • describe texture: soft, hard, squishy, lumpy, grainy, shiny
  • talk about materials that can be added to dough: feathers, sticks, twigs, shells
  • explore language related to shapes

Music and movement activities

  • use language related to actions, position and parts of the body: put your hands up in the air, draw circles in the air, touch your nose, wriggle your fingers, jump, hop, lie face down on the floor, lie on your back, move over there, come closer, curl up into a ball, stretch your arms out as wide as you can, take a nap
  • name musical instruments: shaker, drum, recorder, xylophone, block, triangle, bell, tambourine
  • use language to describe sounds: loud, quiet, soft, high, low, long, short, fast, slow, tap, shake, scrape, knock, tick, hum, howl
  • familiarise children with a range of sounds through onomatopoeia
  • use songs and rhymes to work on pronunciation, rhythm, stress and intonation

Toys and small world play

  • extend vocabulary related to a particular topic: park, zoo, farm, hospital, transport
  • comment on the objects, toys or figurines the children are playing with
  • comment on the settings, scenes, themes or storylines children are developing as they play
  • describe the position of the things the children are playing with: behind, next to, in, on, under

Puzzles

  • describe the pictures and colours on the puzzles
  • comment on the shape of the puzzle pieces: rectangle, square, triangle, circle
  • comment on the position of the puzzle pieces: up/down, here/there
  • encourage the social aspects of using puzzles: take turns, it’s your turn next, share

Sand play and water play

  • use language related to equipment and resources: brush, spade, scoop, spoon, cup, jug, bucket, sieve, cutters, rake, comb, funnel, sponge, soap, bubbles, straw, ladle, tea pot, watering can
  • extend vocabulary related to imaginary play: boats, diggers, bulldozers, tractors, treasure, dinosaurs, pirates, gardens, tea party, firefighter, plumber, dolls
  • use descriptive language: wet, dry, damp, gritty, hard, lumpy, flat, smooth, wavy, sticky, cold, frozen, clean, dirty
  • use language related to size, shape and position
  • describe capacity and quantity: enough, more, less, too much/little, overflowing, how much/many? a pile/cup of…
  • describe actions or what is happening: it’s fallen down, it’s gone, flatten, pour, tip, fill, scoop, cover, stir, splash, leak, drip, float, sink, trickle, spray, wash, dry

Have you got anything else to add to these categories?

Can you think of other activities or areas of childhood development and the related language development opportunities?

Share your comments with us below.

© British Council

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