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Supporting your child’s language development with sand play

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How to play using sand: 

  • Hide toy animals or blocks in the sand tray and encourage your child to use their fingers and hands to explore and dig them out. Build their listening and language skills by naming each animal that they retrieve; you can also imitate the sounds that these animals make. Count how many they find!
  • Make some textured sand paintings. Mix play sand with child-safe liquid finger paints and paint away on cardboard, a rock, or paper.  Mix up a variety of colours, then paint with a brush or your fingers.
  • Draw lines, shapes, letters, words into the sand with a stick.


Strategies to use in this activity:

  • Commenting: When your child is playing and experimenting with sand, comment on their creations. For example, “Building a castle!”
  • Imitate your child: Mimic your child’s sounds and play behaviours to encourage more vocalizing and interaction. For example, you could imitate the child driving their truck on their sand roads and imitate a sound that a truck makes. Imitation promotes turn taking and encourages children to imitate you and your more complex language utterances.
  • Interpret: For example, if your child is pointing to a spade to dig with in their sand trays, he is communicating with you. Scaffold by interpreting what s/he is trying to say. “Spade! You want a spade!”
  • Face-to-face: Face your child and get down to his/her physical level so you are eye to eye when you play.
  • Expansion: When your child uses a short phrase, repeat their phrase, and add another word or two so s/he hears how to make his/her attempts at talking longer, for example child: “pour”, You: “pour the sand”.
  • Repetition: Using the toys over and over again and describing or labelling the toys over and over again is a good thing. For example, “digging” “digging a hole” “dig, dig, dig.”

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