Pretend Play Toy Kitchen

Support Speech and Language Development During Pretend Play

Support Speech and Language Development During Pretend Play

Kelly from Bridging Child Development

Hi!  I’m Kelly.  I’m a speech language pathologist with 15 years experience and the last decade has been dedicated to early intervention.  I coach parents and caregivers on how to use speech and language strategies right in the typical parts of their day.  This gives parents, just like you, the skills and confidence they need to get their child communicating.  It’s also where Bridging Child Development was born.  After almost every session with a family, they would say to me, "I wish I had known this with my first child!" and "Why did no one ever tell us this?" It is these families that inspired me to bridge my knowledge to you.  No more “wait and see,” long private therapy wait lists, or wondering, “Am I doing this right?” Everyone should have the tools needed to get their child communicating starting at birth!  I’m also a wife and mom of 2 girls so I know all the feels of raising littles.  I’m so thankful to be on this journey with you! 

Support Speech and Language Development During Pretend Play - 5 Tips from a Pediatric Speech Language Pathologist

By: Kelly Goldberg; M.S., CCC-SLP

Pretend play is not only fun for your little one but also a great time to build their speech and language skills! 

Pretend Play Child Driving Cardboard Box Car

Here are 5 research backed and parent approved tips you can use when playing with your little that supports their speech and language development:

  1. Create Opportunities for Real Life Play Schemas

Littles learn from watching, and who are they watching the most?  YOU!  Your child will want to imitate what you do so make sure you give lots of opportunities and have objects available they can use to pretend to be just like you!  This also gives your child opportunities to hear words you use during your daily routines as well as in their play.  When littles hear new words across multiple contexts they are more likely to learn and remember those words! (Graf Estes, et. al, 2007)                                                     

  1. Follow Their Lead

Take a second to watch what your child is doing during play.  Are they playing kitchen by cooking breakfast for grandma?  Are they lining up cars for a car wash?  Once you know their play plan, follow along with what they are doing!  Avoid jumping in and redirecting the play to something you would rather do with the toys.  Parents who followed their child’s lead had children that talked more and learned words sooner (Berk, 2018)!

Pretend Play Child Being A Scientist

  1. Have A Conversation

Conversations are back and forth, like a ping-pong volley- I say something-my child says something in return and the volley continues.  Make sure to wait 5-10 seconds after you say something to give your child an opportunity to “return the serve”.  Having a conversation with your child is linked to both language and brain development (Romeo, 2018). Now, sometimes parents hear “have a conversation” and immediately start asking their child question after question, which brings us to our next tip…

  1. Prioritize Comments Over Questions

Do you want to be quizzed about what, how, and why you are doing something?  Of course not!  And either does your child.  So instead of asking questions like, “Did you get the car?” “What color is that?” “Where are you driving?” Just flip those questions to a comment!  “You have the car!” “That’s a blue car.” “You’re driving on the road.”

By making more comments and asking less questions, your child

  • hears more complex language models
  • has an opportunity to repeat the language model you provided
  • does not feel pressure to talk while playing
  1. Expand on What They Said

When your child says something during play, repeat back what they said with an extra detail.  So, if they say, “Here’s the pizza” while playing kitchen, repeat back, “Here’s the pizza.  It has hot gooey cheese!”  This provides your child an opportunity to hear higher level vocabulary and sentence structures. 

 Toy Cars for Pretend Play

By incorporating these quick and easy language tips during pretend play you are supporting your child’s speech and language development while also keeping the play fun and engaging! 

Want to learn more about speech and language development?

✅Follow Kelly @bridgingchilddevelopment on Instagram and youtube for more tips and tricks to get your child talking or talking more! 

✅You can also learn more at



Berk, L. (2018). Child Development (10th Ed.). Pearson.

Graf Estes, K., Evans, J., Alibali, M. &Saffran, J. (2007). Can Infants Map Meaning to Newly Segmented Words? Statstical Segmentation and Word Learning. Psychological Science, 18(3)., 254-260.

Romeo, R., Segaran, J., Leonard, J., Robinson, S., West, M., Mackey, A., Yendiki, A., Rowe, M., & Gabrieli, J. (2018). Language Exposure Relates to Structural Neural Connectivity in Childhood. Journal of Neuroscience, 38(36), 7870-7877. DOI: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.0484-18.2018