A Visit to the Park is a Brain Booster for Developmentally Delayed Toddlers

Children love to be outside, and the research is undeniable that physical activity is so important for them.  For my little guy, Barclay, physical activity is imperative!  He has profound ADHD, in addition to a speech delay and Autism Spectrum Disorder, so if I don’t take the time to help him get the urge to move out, then it’s going to come out regardless!  But physical activity for children with developmental delays does more than giving them an outlet to release energy. It is a prime environment for learning!

Movement promotes brain function more than any sedentary activity. So when you take your little one to the park, don’t sit on the bench!  They need you to interact and be engaging and use this experience as a brain booster!

Today Barclay and I walked to the park. On the way, we stopped under a tree to listen to birds. We talked to a mailman and discussed the color of his mail truck.  We counted cracks in the sidewalk.  We practiced walking fast, then slow.  We practiced staying on the sidewalk and not wandering into the street.  We collected acorns and kept a running tally of how many we found.  We chased a lizard.  All of this interaction, and we hadn’t even gotten to the park yet!

Once we got to the park, I let Barclay punch in the gate code.  He LOVES numbers, so I use that interest as a way to engage him in the world around him.   As soon as we were inside, we headed straight to the slide!  But we do more than run.  We skip, we hop, we run fast, we run slow. I use as many action words as I can to flood him with new vocabulary.

Barclay punching in the gate code into the park.

At the slide, Barclay counts the steps as we go up.  We use lots of exciting words before he slides down to increase excitement and anticipation and of course, increase his vocabulary. We say, “ready, set, go!” Or we count backward to zero and “blast off.”  If your child has a speech delay, these types of predictable verbal routines are a great way to boost their communication skills.

Barclay about to blast off on the slide!

Another great way to promote engagement and increase communication at the park is to encourage requests for everything.  It doesn’t have to be words.  It can be gestures or pointing.  Something as simple as choosing between two swings or having them request you push them.  Sometimes it’s easier for parents to do it.  We don’t even think.  Our child stands near the swing, so we pick them up and put them in.  But toddlers that are late talkers need reasons to communicate.  Wait for them to want something and then expect a verbal or nonverbal signal.

The next time you take your little one to the park, or even in your backyard, look for ways to be engaging and exciting.  Look for ways to share new words with them. Look for ways to help them make choices and communicate. I promise you’ll see results a lot sooner this way than if you sit on the bench.

Do you have a fun and engaging activity you like to do outside with your late talker? Please comment and share!

Children cannot bounce off the walls if we take away the walls. – Erin Kenny

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Amy Nielsen

Amy Nielsen is a former children's librarian of nearly twenty years. She now spends most of her time obsessively pounding on a keyboard. She is the author of It Takes a Village: How to Build a Support System for Your Exceptional Needs Family, Goldilocks and the Three Bears: Understanding Autism Spectrum Disorder. Her upcoming YA Worth it debuts in May of 2024. She is also a freelance writer for The Autism Helper. When she's not writing, she and her family are most likely crusing the waters of Tampa Bay.