How to Use Games to Develop Social Skills, Speech, and Language

Remember the story of Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer?

As a child I used to love watching the movie—the one where Burl Ives, starring as Sam the Snowman, narrates Rudolph’s journey to the Island of Misfit Toys and back—but I always remember wishing the other reindeer would just let Rudolph join in their games.

My husband and I are avid game players. Card games, board games, silly dice games – we love them! Some games are easier to play, some harder, some require lots of set up, others are perfect for on-the-go. But all the good games have this in common: You need at least two people to play, you have to follow the rules, and you should have FUN while playing!

Some of the children who walk into my therapy room don’t have a ton of experience in playing games with other children. Some have lots of experience in playing games but still struggle with turn taking, or being an encouraging partner, or winning (or losing) gracefully. For some kids, navigating all the social rules of game play is so complex that the fun aspect is lost. I don’t want any of my kiddos to feel left out of all of those fun “reindeer games”, so in my therapy room and beyond, I like to teach my kiddos and their families about the “language of games.”

Maybe your child is nonverbal and uses an AAC device to communicate—not a problem! Teach them how and when to use and access these words on their device and watch them go!

Is your child working on articulation? Playing games is a great time to practice their speech sounds in a natural context.

Does your child struggle to play with his or her peers and maintain a conversation? Games are a great way to reinforce social skills because you have a common topic – the game – right in front of you.

Here are several phrases I like to teach during my sessions that will be helpful to kiddos as they navigate game play with a friend or sibling.

  • “My turn/Your turn” or “I go/You go” Turn taking is an essential skill for cooperative game play.
  • “Spin It/Roll It/Put it on…” Have all the players take turns giving directions during the game. You’ll be working on target speech sounds, fluency or using smooth speech, and building more complex language.
  • “I got four!” “She rolled one.” “Her turn!” If your child doesn’t typically make comments about what’s happening, teaching him or her to comment when a player spins or rolls the dice is a great, real-life way for them to get involved in the conversation.
  • Does your child need extra practice with answering questions? How about practicing during game play? “Whose turn is it?” “How many did you get?” “What color did you land on?” If you need to give your child extra support, give them the answer before you ask the question: “Look, you rolled two. How many did you get?” You can even give them another hint: “Yay! You rolled two. How many did you get? You rolled…” and wait for them to fill in the answer.
  • “Way to go!” “Good game!” “You did awesome!” “Better luck next time.” Practicing empathy and making supportive comments is an important skill in terms of making and maintaining friendships and relationships.

So this holiday season, pull out a game, gather the kids, and enjoy a game together!

Margaret Isaacs, MA, CCC-SLP

Image Courtesy Pixabay

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