Playing with a dollhouse offers a chance for children to reenact real life moments they experience in their daily lives.This type of play provides parents and caregivers the opportunity to have a dialogue with their children about their feelings and help them understand concepts that may be difficult for them. Courtney T. Gessin, MS, CCC-SLP shares her favorite ways to play:
1. You can use the dollhouse characters to reenact daily routines and teach your child temporal (time) concepts: before and after, first, second, third, next, last, etc. This vocabulary can be woven into the dialogue as you play house. For example, "After dinner the first thing we do is go upstairs and take a bath, then we put on our pajamas, next we get into bed for a story, and the last thing we do is sing a good night song." Ask the doll, "Do you remember what we need to do before bed?" Perhaps your child is having difficulty going to bed— you can work through these emotions together with their dolls.
2. For speech and language development, you can target pronouns such as: he/she, him/her, them/they. For example, "Mommy is tired, she's going to her bed. "Daddy is going to eat his dinner and then watch a show in the living room." You can target location/preposition concepts such as: upstairs/downstairs; inside/outside; above/below; through/ between/next to, near/far, between, etc. while playing all throughout the dollhouse. Dollhouse play affords a great opportunity to target categories. When you are setting up the dollhouse, talk about what type of furniture goes in each room and actions that happen in different places. What kind of pets might a dollhouse have? What goes outside?
3. Dollhouse play is an excellent arena to work on social skills. You can pretend to have a party for someone in the dollhouse family and invite lots of friends over to the house (utilize figurines from tv shows or other characters your kids like—let's invite Peppa Pig and Daniel Tiger to Daddy's birthday party; maybe it's a surprise party!) Practice singing songs through the family characters. Many children get nervous and shy at parties, especially their own! Here is a great opportunity to show them that these feelings are very normal and natural.
4. You can use the dollhouse characters to work on cognitive and academic skills that a child might not be interested in on their own. Trying a new skill, for example, reciting the alphabet, can be less stressful when a child is acting through a character; it takes the pressure off of themselves. You can pretend that little sister doll wants to sing the ABC's! You could write down the alphabet and put it in her room. Perhaps your child is shaky with counting. You can have big brother count all the stairs on the way up to his bedroom. Or perhaps the pet dog needs to count up his bones in the backyard.
The most important thing when it comes to speech and language play is repetition. This ensures your child processes and stores the concepts you're learning together. You can repeat any ideas that your child doesn't seem to have under their belt, in a fun and entertaining way.
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