by John Peats M.S., CCC-SLP
Play is the means whereby children learn how human beings engage each other, express their needs or desires and establish connections that benefit both communicators on every level – socially, emotionally and physically. Balloons are a great play tool. What can they be used to do? Balloons offer many benefits. They are inexpensive, safe, easy to manipulate, soft, colorful, dynamic toys. One might say how can play with a balloon help my child talk.
First balloons are small and easy to place in the child’s visual field. From as early as 2 weeks most of a child’s learning occurs in an area 2-3 feet from their face.
Second balloons can be used to teach an important cognitive skill – that is believed to be highly co-related to acquiring language – Joint attention. Here the child learns how to attend to an item together along with another person. Attending to something physical or nonliteral is the basis for most, if not all communication.
Third balloons can be use to teach imitation. Balloons provide great visual interest and can be used to teach actions like ‘blow’, ‘touch’, ‘hug’,’kiss’, ‘catch’ etc.
Fourth Balloons can be used to encourage the skill of turn-taking. Here a parent can either use hands or 2 paddles to move the balloon back and forth between each individual.
Fifth Balloons can be used to teach specific language skills. For example by blowing the balloon to varying sizes one could teach concepts like – Big/Bigger/Biggest. They can also be used to teach colors or locations (up/down) etc.
Finally. While balloons are great for a number of reasons it is important to follow at least 2 safety guidelines. An adult should have control of the balloon at all times – particularly when uninflated – as this can pose a choking hazard for the child. Lastly balloons should not be fully or overinflated as the sudden pop of an overextended balloon can be distressing and counterproductive.