5 outdoor, language-building toys (that you probably already have)

Michigan residents cling to summer weather like velcro. We only get about 4 months of sunshine, so we spend all the time we can outside during the summer. The outdoors can be a great place to work on building your child’s language skills (as we already know). They’re doing activities they love, so you already have their attention. You’d might as well try to get some sneaky speech in there.

Take a look at these ideas and see if you can incorporate any of them into your outdoor play!

Note: You can work on articulation (speech sounds) in ANY of these activities. Model the sounds, have your kids practice words with their sounds specific to these activities, or monitor your kiddo’s speech and help (gently) correct them. Speech sounds are flexible!

Bikes, scooters, skateboards, roller-skates, etc.

  • Verbs: Think of all the great verbs that go into using toys with wheels! “Stop” and “go” come to mind right away, but also model the use of words like “pedal,” “skate,” and “brake.” Model the vocabulary so that your kiddos will continue using it long after the activity is done.
  • Synonyms/antonyms: Odds are that your kids know the words “fast” and “slow,” but what other words can they brainstorm instead of those?
  • Following directions: Challenge your kiddos to a race. Throw in some obstacles. For example, “Make a circle on your bike, do a zig zag, and ride to the tree!” See if they can do it! You might need to model, and that’s ok.
  • Cause/effect: I always like to think of riding through puddles on bikes. I don’t know why. Make predictions about what might happen if ______. For example, “If we ride really slow through the puddle, what will happen? What will happen if we ride fast through it?” Then, test it out!
  • AAC core words: go, stop, more, see, fast, slow

Swing sets (at home or at the park)

  • Verbs: “Swing” is a great verb, but what else can you model? “Spin,” “push,” and “pump your legs!” relate to swinging as well. Model, model, model!
  • Cause/effect: When you were a kid, did you twist the swings to see what would happen? Or see how high you could go? What happened? Help your child make those same discoveries!
  • Songs: Really, you could do this in any activity. I just think of it as a “swing-based” activity because, when I was little, my mom would come out to the swing set with me and my sister and sing songs. There are so many great rhyme building songs – hello, Down by the Bay!
  • AAC core words: go, stop, more, up, down

child being pushed in a swing by adult

Water (sprinkler, pool, water table, bowls of water)

  • Verbs: This will kind of depend on the activity you’re doing, but model verbally and PHYSICALLY some of these – “jump,” “dive,” “swim,” “paddle,” “pour,” “dip,” and the list goes on and on. Physically seeing the modeling of the action is helpful for retaining the meaning of the word.
  • Imaginary play: Imaginary play is so great for language learning. It helps develop a child’s ability to use narrative, or story-telling language.
  • Following directions: If you’re using bowls/cups/other vessels to hold water, try dropping some food coloring into them. Ask your kids to pour one color into another in order. Or, “Pour the red cup into the big bowl.”
  • Cause/effect: If you are using colored water, ask them to make predictions as to what will happen when you mix two colors. Or, have them predict what will happen if they leave the cup outside on a hot, summer day. See what happens!
  • AAC core words: More, in, out, open, want, more


  • Verbs: Wowza! There are many verbs you can model verbally and physically – “kick,” “bounce,” “throw,” “toss,” “hit,” and “spin” are just a few. Can you think of any more?
  • Cause/effect: Find out what happens when you kick different balls – soccer, tennis, baseball, rubber, etc.
  • Structured games: Structured games are a wonderful tool for learning specific skills (turn taking, following directions, social interaction). It’s also a good socioemotional learning activity (losing is OK!). Plus it gives you an opportunity to talk about…
  • Vocabulary: …vocabulary specific to structured games! Playing baseball? Talk about “bases,” or “pitchers” or  “foul balls.”
  • AAC core words: More, get, want, play, in, out


Side note: In my experience, I have found that there are very few activities that make kids happier than dang ol’ bubbles. 

  • Verbs: These verbs are so interactive – “blow” and “pop” are great, but can you also model “catch?”
  • Requesting: Kids want more bubbles, and they want them now! Use this as an opportunity to model requesting. Have your kids ask for more! Say it, sign it, anything – just add this to the mix!
  • Turn-taking: Have your kiddo blow bubbles, and then you take a turn blowing bubbles. Enforce the turn-taking. This helps learn the back-and-forth of conversation and also helps with attention!
  • Cause/effect: The ability to pop a bubble is the best and most joyful cause/effect relationship.
  • AAC core words: More, want, big, little, get, please

michigan outdoors language building toys

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