Play spaces for communication

Today, I put on a workshop session for parents to show how we can create play spaces at home, inside or outside, for little effort and cost, to encourage communication from birth.  It's part of a series of workshops we are putting on for parents with 0-3 year olds called Talking Together, and this one was called Chatter and Play.  A big part of our inspiring talk and communication initiative is the use of stories in play and extending children's learning by taking stories into other areas of their learning.

I set up a selection of play spaces around the hall at school - I'll go in to how and what in a minute...  Families came along and we all sat down on the floor together to talk a bit about why we are doing this.

Children need to communicate in order to :
  • learn
  • make friends
  • make their needs known
  • know how to behave, and
  • make the most of life.
Communication (passing on and receiving messages) can be verbal or non-verbal, made up of gestures, noises, words or signs, and consists of the developing ability to listen, pay attention and talk.

Communication skills are built from a base of attachment to carers, listening and attention.  Then babies, toddlers and small children go on to use play to learn communication skills, begin to understand what people around them are saying by hearing words used in context, interact with other people and their friends and babble or talk, beginning to use words, and finally beginning to form words using speech sounds, and expressing themselves through speech.  There are some really good resources about this from The Communication Trust here.

Chatter and play as a workshop was about how we can set up simple play spaces at home to promote listening, attention and talk.  It's loosely based on Elizabeth Jarman's Communication Friendly Spaces approach which you can find out more about here.  However this workshop, was specifically designed to show families how to set up these sorts of play spaces easily, cheaply and at home.  Play spaces like this are made up of three elements:
  • Resources - what "toys" or objects we select
  • Environment - what it is like where the play is taking place - calm, few visual distractions, no TV
  • People - an adult or play partner to respond, listen, comment and model play to the child
  • and one of the most important things to bear in mind - look at your resources from the child's perspective - get down on the floor, at their level, and share their play...
So I set up 9 play spaces for families to try out, and took a picture of each before the parents, babies and toddlers started to play:
  1. Build a den - clothes airer, throw, pegs, books and a few toys
  2. What's in the box - shoe boxes containing objects to investigate (pine cones, scarves, wooden trains, kitchen roll tubes and a magnifying glass)
  3. Teddy bear's (or dollies) picnic - teddy bears, enough plates for the adult, child and teddy bears, cups, play food (or you could use real fruit)
  4. Crawling obstacle course - a runner with pillows and cushions and a basket of scarves to investigate at the end
  5. Story den - pop up tent with blanket, cushion, books, torch
  6. sensory crawl - bubble wrap taped to the floor (or you could try a survival blanket from the pound shop), a mug tree and some teething rings to hang on the mug tree
  7. A mark making space with chalk, children's magazines for inspiration and a surface to draw on
  8. A mirror crawl and play - mirror, rug, a few toys
  9. Treasure basket - the big treasure basket filled with lots of natural treasures to explore and talk about
At the end we read a story - "Honk!" by Mick Inkpen - Kipper finds a little gosling and manages to work out just what he wants even though the gosling only says "Honk".

If you want to know more about this, I've put together a list of resources and websites, not exhaustive by any means but each of these will lead to other useful stuff.  You can download it here.

For more ideas and inspiration please go to:

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