I have a lot of farm toys in my office. Sometimes I bring them with me during Early Intervention sessions in the child’s home, so they are also in my car. I have big squeaky farm animals and tiny miniatures. There’s a farm house with animals. I have pictures of farm animals, magnets of animals, songs with animals, and of course books with animals. Families often have farm animal stuffed animals. Clearly I find these useful toys for speech!
I like to use farm animals and toys with my young children and late talkers. Check out my post here on late talkers for more information on that topic. Here are some helpful goals and strategies to get the most fun and speech/language boost for your play time.
Moo! Moo! Baa! Meow! Animal sounds are what I start with first for my young children. They are “fun” sounds to use when we are just learning how to imitate. They are mostly elongated vowels, which is what I like to target first. Good clear vowels are important for intelligibility. Vowels are also less complicated than consonants. I use the farm animal toys to work on animals sounds, but I also use books with animals and songs. “Old MacDonald Had a Farm” is a well-loved song that provided multiple opportunities for imitating animals sounds.
Farm animals create an opportunity to teach new vocabulary. This works with farm animal toys and books. You can talk about the colors of the animals. You can talk about where the animal is on the farm which targets spacial concepts, especially if you have a barn to go with the animals. “The cow goes in the barn” is a typical phrase I would use to teach the concept of “in.” When reading a book, you can talk about different things you see the animal doing on the page like eating, sleeping, barking, swimming, or running. That will work on increases the verbs in your child’s vocabulary. If you have animals of different sizes, you can work on “big” and “little.”
Having a barn and animals can help you work on giving short directions to your child. “Give me the pig,” “put the cow behind the fence” or “open the door” are sample phrases you can use to work on following directions in fun and natural way. Using play to work on directions decreases the power struggle that may happen when giving directions to “put on your shoes.” Once your child gets good at one directions, you can increase to two steps (i.e., put the cow in the barn and give me the pig.”
Pretend play is an important developmental milestone in play. Check out this post here on play categories for more information on types of play. Pretend play comes naturally with farm animals. Bring in some play food, and you can give the animals a feast. The animals can go to sleep as you sing them lullabies. I work on the “sh” sounds when the animals sleep, and “wake up” when the naps is all done.
As your toddler gets older and turns into a preschooler, farm animals are still fun for playing. I use farm animals for answering simple questions with my preschoolers. Simple “what” questions like “What does the cow say” works on answering questions. As the child gets older and learns more about the world around them, you can ask harder questions like “what does a cow make.”