Social language development starts early, and includes important components like joint attention, turn taking, and cooperative play.
Joint attention: is the ability for your child and their communication partner to engage through shared focus on an item. If your child looks towards an item in the play kitchen such as a bowl or spoon, you can reward their communication attempt by directing your attention towards that item as well and verbalizing “that’s a spoon,” or “you found the spoon.” Make eye contact when applicable by meeting their gaze and showing them you are rewarding their earliest communication attempts. Turn taking can also be targeted with modeling actions back and forth such as “my turn to stir” or “your turn” to stir. This can also help us bridge the gap from a child playing independently into cooperative play where your child and their communication partner are engaging in cooperative tasks.
Vocabulary: is a vast area of language development that can be overwhelming at times. My suggestion is to start with the basics while playing with your child in the kitchen. Although labeling is important, try focusing on one or two items (depending on your child's abilities) per play session. Even if your child already knows what a cup is, continue to talk about the cup in different contexts to assist with expanding their vocabulary. Use the known vocabulary item (in this instance, the cup) to target concepts like action words. Once your child engages with an item, demonstrate the functional use of that item. Model the correct action of using the spoon and pair it with language that describes your actions: “Let’s stir,” or “we use the spoon to stir”. Use the known item (the cup) to introduce basic concepts such as prepositions. “Put the cup on the table”. “Take the cup off the table.” Be silly and put the cup on your head to move into asking questions.
Asking and answering questions: is an important part of reciprocal conversation and you can ask simple questions such as, “where is the cup?” or “who has the cup?”. Model these questions for your child and play a game of hiding the items to be silly and encourage them to begin asking you the questions. Asking where questions will also target receptive identification of new vocabulary items. “Where is the spoon?” “Where is the knife?” You can begin working on describing items by attributes by giving your child a choice of whether they want the big/little spoon. Then you chose an item for yourself to model the use of the targeted attribute in a sentence, “I want the big spoon.” This can assist in increasing your child’s length of utterance when requesting items. If the child requests “want spoon” expand that sentence by modeling “I want spoon”. Then move on to “I want the spoon,” and finally “I want the big spoon”.
Following directions: is a great concept to work on with your child in a play based context such as a play kitchen. Start at the basics with one single step commands with a known vocabulary item and pair it with gestures if needed, “give me spoon.” Once they are successful, move on to one step directions without giving any gestural cues. Next, you can move on to two step related instructions, “find the spoon and bring it to me”. You can expand from there into two step and multi step directions as your child’s abilities increase.
The list of linguistic concepts targeted through play is limitless! I hope you have found this starting point helpful on your journey towards expanding your child’s language development. At the end of the day, just remember the great things you are encouraging through engaging and playing with your child. Many of these concepts will fall into place naturally as you play, and you won’t even realize all the amazing things you are doing to facilitate your child’s development. Have fun!!