Using Games to Promote Early Communication

By Roxane Bélanger and Janice Mervyn, Speech Language Pathologists at the First Words Preschool Speech and Language Program of Ottawa

The first few years of a child's life are critical to the development of speech, language and communication skills. During this time children benefit from social interaction and play activities that allow them to observe, manipulate objects, listen and attend. Games provide a great way to stimulate and support a child's developing communication.

"peek a boo" ,"pat-a-cake", "go fish",

"1,2,3...ready or not here I come..."  "TAG, you're it"

These phrases trigger memories of games played when I was young. To play games I had to be able to seek out a playmate, follow a set of rules, negotiate, take turns, cooperate with another and accept an outcome at the end.   Upon closer look these skills depend on good communication. Watching a group of youngsters at play in any school yard is a study in good and sometimes not-so-good communication.

It is never too soon to start playing games with your child.  Games teach infants and toddlers communication skills even before they can speak. Children benefit greatly from the interaction and the repetition of games promotes brain development.  And best of all it is fun!

Watch / Listen

Listening and attention skills are building blocks of speech and language. Some children find these skills more difficult to master than others. There are lots of ways to enhance your children's listening and attention skills, not least by turning off the television and spending some quality time face-to-face with them. Playing the classic peek-a-boo game is a great way to encourage the development of eye contact and visual attention in young children.


The cause and effect nature of early games helps children develop imitation and responsiveness.    Research shows that infants begin to imitate play actions in games such as pat-a-cake around 9 months of age. The emergence of imitation and interest in people over objects is an important developmental milestone.


With time toddlers start to appreciate that their actions cause reactions. When they clap their hands together it is a signal to us that they want the pat-a-cake game to continue.   Initiation skills are critical in communication. Research has shown that initiation can only develop from interaction with other people not toys or animated objects.

Turn Taking

Communication is a two way process and the back and forth rhythm of games helps children learn how to use language socially.  As children mature their interest in more sophisticated games leads to the use of important pronouns such as "my turn", "your turn" during games like rolling balls back and forth or building block towers together. Not only does this help children solidify their understanding of these critical language concepts, it develops the readiness skills for more sophisticated games such as Go Fish.

Following rules

Once children have mastered the simple game format they are then ready to explore the vast world of early preschool games. Most often games that involve objects to manipulate are the best place to start.  Sharing turns, following some basic rules and being a good sport are all integral to a positive experience for them.

Let the games begin!

Remember there are lots of simple games you can play to support your child's growing communication skills.

Most importantly spending time with your child facilitates speech and language. Playing games face to face will help get your child off to a good start on the road to great communication.

  • Infant Games:  Peek-A-Boo, SoooBig,  Pat-a-Cake
  • ToddlerGames:ChaseMe,I Spywith My Eye,Hide and Seek
  • PreschoolersGames:MemoryorMatchUp; GoFish;DuckDuckGoose; PopUpPirate, GuessWho...andmanymore.

Are you concerned or have questions about your child's speech and language development?

  • First Words communication Checkup :  Check  if your child is meeting speech and language milestones with the free online First Words Communication Checkup  tool.  It is presently available in French and English.  Soon, it will also be available in simplified Chinese and Arabic.  You can come back every 6 months to check your child's speech and language milestones. 
  • Refer early ! If your child is not meeting these milestones, access services early.   Approximately 1 in every 10 children will need speech therapy to help develop their speech and language.  The earlier we can support your child, the faster they can build the necessary skills to communicate with those around them and ensure that they are ready to learn when they start school
  • Get help! Speak with a Public Health Nurse. Call the Ottawa Public Health Info Line (OPHIL) at 613-580-6744 (TTY: 613-580-9656) or email Ottawa Public Health at  You can also connect with a Public Health Nurse and other parents on the Parenting in Ottawa Facebook page.

Curious to know more on how play builds social and communication skills :

  • Watch our Power of play webinar:  a webinar for parents of preschoolers, 2 ½ to 4 years of age, focused on the importance of play to help a child understand and use communication, the different types of play and social interaction during play, gender differences, and strategies to support speech and language development.
  •  Read our wonderful fact sheet Using play to promote language .
  • Visit the First Words website:  to access other Resources and  webinars in our Learning Tools to help you build your child's language skills.  

Remember, play builds early communication. As they grow and play, children learn many skills: they seek out a playmate, follow a set of rules, negotiate, take turns, cooperate and accept an outcome at the end.  All those skills are closely linked to social and communication skills.  It is never too soon to start playing with your child.  

Remember:  early intervention is the best approach!

Visit the First Words website.

Concerned about your child' communication development? Complete our online screening tool, First Words Communication Checkup or call the Ottawa Public Health Information at (613) 580-6744.



Contact Us