Sep 1

How Playtime Can Boost Kids’ Communication Skills

by Meghan Fitzgerald

Having a quick conversation feels like a breeze… for adults.

But what our adult brains don’t realize is how many skills we draw on during even the simplest chat and how those skills need to fire smoothly in order to make a conversation flow.

One easy way to picture this is through what experts call the “communication chain”—a picture of the sequence of skills a conversation demands. For young kids who are still learning to communicate, each link in that chain is a heavy lift. A conversation is a huge undertaking!

Learn more about our communication chain through the video below. For more short videos made to make you smile, laugh and maybe learn a little, too, check out our Just Between Us Grownups page!

How can we help our kids and their communication chain? To start, it helps to know when and how to chat it up with a kid at play.

First, wait for a sign

Before you chat, especially when kids are really into what they are doing, take a pause to think, “Is now the right time to start a conversation?” 

Look for a sign that they are ready. They might: 

  • Talk to you first!
  • Look up and make eye contact
  • Or, hand you something to engage you

Slow your roll

If it’s time to chat, go slow, give kids plenty of time to hear you, and process before they respond. Don’t be afraid to repeat yourself. Patience is key! 

Understand silence may be the answer

If you don’t see a sign that a kid is open for conversation, there are a few things you can do instead.

  • Crouch down quietly and simply be available. They know you’re there and you’re showing them that they and their play matter by being present.
  • Play alongside them! Your participation is one of the best ways to show that their play is valuable.

Save it for later

Finally, wait until your child has transitioned to something else, or even until it’s time for a snack, a meal or bedtime. Ask them things like, “Tell me about that mud pie you made earlier?” or,  “What did you like most about your Tinkergarten time today?” to get them chatting. Try sharing something you observed when they were playing—it will mean so much  that you noticed! 

Try some communication-boosting DIY activities

Head outside and try these fun activities that encourage kids to start chatting:

  • Take a listening walk. This fun activity encourages families to take a walk with the goal of, not just hearing, but really listening to the sounds all around us.
  • Build a wall. This project gives children multiple ways to participate—gathering sticks, breaking materials down to size, weaving/building, supervising, you name it. Great for multiple ages!
  • Search for treasures. If kids naturally collect, and collecting is good for kids, parents have an easy onramp to a worthwhile activity—just head outside and hand them an empty egg carton.
  • Make stone soup. All kids need is a pot, a little water, and a stone -- their imagination and the nature around them will do the rest.
  • Have a family jam session. What a better way to infuse music-making into your family’s play time than with a celebratory family concert!

Meghan Fitzgerald


After 20+ years as an educator, curriculum developer and school leader, I have my dream gig—an entrepreneur/educator/mom who helps families everywhere, including my own, learn outside. Prior to Tinkergarten®, I worked as an Elementary School Principal, a Math/Science Specialist & and a teacher in public and private schools in NY, MA and CA. I earned a BA with majors in English and Developmental Psychology at Amherst College, an MS in Educational Leadership at Bank Street College, and was trained to become a Forest School leader at Bridgwater College, UK. My worldview is formed in response to my environment, culture, family, identity and experiences. What I write in this blog will inevitably betray the blind spots I have as a result—we all have them! Please reach out if there are other perspectives or world views I could consider in anything I write about. I welcome the chance to learn and update any pieces to broaden our shared perspective!

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