Using ‘People Games’ to Boost your Child’s Language Development

by Olivia Taylor & Adina Levy

Many parents ask me to recommend games and toys that will help encourage their child’s communication development. One of my favourite categories of games is ‘people games’ – that is, activities, songs and play where YOU are the toy!

‘People games’ are a great way to improve your child’s attention, social interaction, and communication skills – and the best thing is, they’re free! 

Read on for more information about ‘people games’, and how you can use them with your child to help build fun, joyful and language-boosting interactions!

Mum and toddler playing peeka boo

What are ‘People Games’?

People games are simple, repetitive games involving at least two people.  They are social games that use people instead of toys.


Common ‘people games’ include:

  • Peek-a-boo
  • Hide-and-seek
  • Tag or chasing games
  • Horsey rides on your back or bouncing on your knee
  • Finger games like “Round and Round the Garden” or “This Little Piggy”
  • Simple songs and nursery rhymes with actions like “Ring-a-Ring-a-Rosie” and “Row, Row Your Boat”
  • Rough play and tickles 
  • Many families even have their own unique people games!

‘People games’ are fantastic because they are free and portable – you can use them anywhere and anytime! They are perfect for entertaining your child on the bus, or while you are waiting for an appointment. Most importantly, ‘people games’ help you and your child to build language and social interactions together in a fun, natural way!

mum and son playing hide and seek around a tree

How do ‘people games’ help children to learn about language and interactions?

  • It is easy for your child to focus on you during ‘people games’ because they do not have to switch their attention back and forth between you and a toy
  • It is also easier for you to focus on your child, which can help you notice subtle communication attempts you might have otherwise missed
  • Repetitive ‘people games’ help your children to learn the routine, and to know how and when they can participate and take a turn
  • Babies and children who are not yet using words can still participate in ‘people games’ by using sounds, looking, facial expressions, or gestures
  • ‘People games’ are fun, which helps to capture your child’s attention. They often match children’s natural sensory preferences!

parents playing with toddler on couch and laughing

Tips for ‘people games’

  • Remember to start the game the same way each time to make it predictable for your child. Over time, you can build on the game routine, but try to keep the game quite repetitive and predictable
  • Once your child knows the game, pause expectantly at the “high point” of the game (this is the most exciting bit!) and wait for your child to take a turn. This gives your child a chance to join in the game using words, sounds, gestures, body movements, eye contact (note: it’s not necessary!), or facial expressions.
  • Choose ‘people games’ that appeal to your child’s sensory preferences.  For example, if your child likes to run you can try chasing games, and if your child likes music you can try nursery rhymes and songs with actions.

Here’s an example…

Liam enjoys movement and music.  He loves when his mum sings “Zoom, Zoom, Zoom” – especially when she picks him up and swings him around at the end!  He has played this game many times and he knows the routine.  His mum sings the song to him:

“Zoom, zoom, zoom, we’re going to the moon.

Zoom, zoom, zoom, we’re leaving very soon.

If you want to take a trip, climb onboard the rocket ship.

Zoom, zoom, zoom, we’re going to the moon.

5, 4, 3, 2, 1…”

Liam’s mum pauses expectantly and waits at the “high point” – the most exciting part!  She waits for Liam to take his turn.  Liam laughs and puts his arms up to tell her that he wants to be picked up.

 His mum says “Blast off!” and picks Liam up to swing him around in a circle.

Then they start again!

girl frozen pretend play dolls

If you’ve found this helpful and you’d like more ideas for supporting your preschool-aged child’s communication skills, check out my online course Connect & Grow! Over 6 x half-hour recorded sessions, I guide you through a neurodiversity affirming approach to supporting & understanding your child’s behaviour, communication, and interaction skills.

Whether you have an autstic child, a child with communication delays, or a child whose brain type you’re not sure about yet, this course will help you connect with your child, so you can help them grow, with more confidence!

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