Winter activities to develop language - I CAN

As the nights draw in and the weather gets colder, it can seem difficult to find things to occupy our little ones. Kate Freeman describes activities to keep them entertained and to link with their all-important speech, language and communication development. Check out the wellie walks and cosy story time suggestions here.

Inspiration is sometimes hard when the weather is cold and wet, the evenings are dark and opportunities for getting out are limited. This has an impact on your frame of mind which directly impacts on your child. I’m sure you have noticed how they tend to be more fractious when you are finding the day more difficult.

The onset of winter comes at a time when a recent Ofsted report suggests that children’s development (especially in speech and language) has been affected by the recent coronavirus restrictions. So, this is, in fact, a perfect time for looking for enjoyable things to do that also boost your child’s speech, language and communication skills.

Going outside can be fun when you are both dressed in warm and waterproof clothing.  Let your child jump in the puddles closest to home when you are coming back so that they can get warm and dry as soon as you get inside. Talk about what you are doing, using words like ‘splash’ and ‘jump’, or for older children look for the bubbles that the splashing creates.

On your walk, look out for things around you and talk about what you see. Make sure that you leave plenty of gaps to hear what your child is interested in, or to follow their finger as they point to things. You could also build your child’s listening and attention skills (fundamental to developing good communication) by listening to the noises that you hear around you both. Tell your child ‘ We’re going to listen…’ and then name what you can hear. It might be a bus, a bird or people chatting – focusing on sounds is vital for your child’s development.  

For older children out on a walk with you, see if you can find things of a certain colour and talk about what you see. Remember to use sentences that are only one word longer than your child usually uses: Short, simple sentences help a child to develop their understanding of words and also provide a model for the development of your child’s  expressive language. If you collect things on your walk, bring them home and make a collage – this provides an opportunity to reflect back on what you have been doing together and also expands the activity to an indoor one too!

There is also plenty to do indoors, that provides a useful alternative to screentime: Interestingly, the World Health Organisation recommends no more than one hour screen time per day for children between two and five years old and none at all for children under the age of two.   

Cutting out pictures from catalogues, magazines or newspapers and sticking them on to a piece of paper can give an insight into what your child’s interests are.  They are likely to need help with the scissors and the glue, and remember this is their picture, not yours.  This activity also provides another opportunity to talk about what is in front of you both.  When you are talking about what you see, add action words, or words for more developed concepts (for older children), concepts such as colour, size, shape and number.

Story time or book sharing is another great way of spending special time with your child.  If you were put off reading aloud by your own school experience, just talk about the pictures together or make up your own story. Perhaps you and your child can make ‘puppets’ out of old envelopes to act out the story together. What other adventures might the puppets have? This is an opportunity to let your child’s imagination run wild, no matter how old they are.

There are lots and lots of free ideas for entertaining your child, as well as building fundamental skills. Try the BBC’s Tiny Happy People website, or Hungry Little Minds.  These websites also have fascinating information about your developing child and links to support you as a parent. You can also access lots of ideas through Facebook groups like ‘Play to learn - activities to try at home with your child’ or ‘Bored toddler and children’s activities’.

Enjoy the winter activities that you and your child do together and watch them develop as well as have fun.

How do you and your child fill your days when the weather and darkness are against you? 

There is plenty to do to entertain them and also support their all-important speech, language and communication skills.  And did you know that it’s the way that you interact with your child that makes the most difference in them learning to understand what you say, and to talk, themselves.   

Top tips

  • Follow your child’s interests when talking together, - talk about what you can both see in front of you
  • use short, simple sentences – one word longer than the typical sentences your child uses
  • listen more than you talk
  • give your child plenty of time to think about what they are going to say next
  • develop their listening and attention skills (fundamental to learning to talk)
  • limit screentime where possible
  • have fun together, we all learn best when we are enjoying ourselves!

About the author

A qualified and experienced Speech and Language Therapist, Kate has worked in speech and language support and service development for much of her career.  Recently having worked as a Director for the Children’s Communication Charity, I CAN, Kate now provides Consultancy work, as well as being I CAN’s Professional Lead for the EYSEND Partnership project focusing on speech, language and communication needs in early years settings.

Kate is also a mother and particularly enjoys spending time with her grandson in her spare time.