“Is there a game or toy you recommend for working on comprehension of language with a four year old?``

YES, wind-up toys!  You are probably thinking, “Wow, that wasn’t the response I was expecting!” but would you believe that there are endless amounts of language activities you can incorporate into play with wind-up toys?  They are an inexpensive, fun, versatile and useful language toy that can be used with children of all ages.  I’ve used them in therapy with 2 year olds as well as 10 year olds.  They can be found in random places (e.g., toy stores, grocery stores, pharmacies, dollar stores).  If you find one, buy it and start your own collection.  Wind-up toys can target both receptive language (that which your child comprehends) and expressive language (that which your child verbally communicates).  

  1. Vocabulary/Word Finding – Put 3+ different wind-up toys on the table in front of your child and have them find the stated toy to improve their receptive vocabulary (2 year old task).  Then ask them to label it to improve their expressive vocabulary.  For older children, hide a toy in your hands and describe the toy to your child.  Then have him guess what is it to improve listening comprehension and word finding (3+ year old task).
  2. Categorizing – Have your child categorize the toys based on color, type of toy (animal/vehicle/insect), location (farm animal/zoo animal/ocean animal), or object function (something we wear, eat, ride).  Put them in different piles to see which pile has the most/least (quantity concepts).
  3. Expressive language – Ask your child to “be the teacher” and choose a toy to describe to you.  This will encourage use of complete, grammatically and semantically correct sentences.  Make sure they tell you the category name (e.g., animal, vehicle, clothing), the size, color, location, or attribute about the hidden toy.  This will keep their thoughts and descriptions organized, which is needed for story telling as they get older.
  4. Verbs – Two and three year olds need to use VERBS to be able to combine words into sentences.  Many wind-up toys are animals that move differently.  Use these toys to ask, “What is the ___ doing?” Encourage use of a verb + “ing” (e.g., jumping, running, hopping, walking).
  5. Comprehension of location terminology – Hide and seek is fun with any toy but especially fun with wind-up toys because they are smaller and easier to hide in tricky spots.  Hide a wind-up toy and give your child clues about where it is to encourage comprehension of location words. For example: It’s in the living room, behind something we sit on.   When they find the toy, reward them by letting them wind it up and play with it.  

Have fun and remember to keep language activities short and simple to keep the child’s attention and enjoyment throughout the task!