Using Toy Cars in Therapy


Toy cars are a favorite choice activity for so many of my preschoolers. I often save them to pull out at the end of therapy as reinforcement for completing the session. At my school, we have the car ramp pictured above, and similar vehicles that have a place for “little people” toys to sit. A few weeks ago, I worked with a child who was having a particularly bad day, and was only going to cooperate if he could play with the cars. I was forced to come up with something quick to target his articulation! This situation really got me thinking, and I came up with some great ways to use cars for both language and articulation targets!

Labeling: This one is a no brainer. We have lots of different toys including cars, trucks, tow trucks, airplanes, and a helicopter. Besides labeling each type of vehicle, all of the toys are different colors.

Spatial concepts: There are lots of opportunities for spatial concept directions when using the car ramp, but “in” and “out of” can also be targeted when putting the “little people” in and out of the cars.

Describing/Narrative language: My kids come up with some really creative stories about what is happening to their people or where they are going! Those that have difficulty usually get started pretty quickly after a few prompt questions or if I make up a silly story first.

Answering questions: Another no brainer! Most of my kids work on answering “what” and “where” questions in preschool. Plenty of opportunities for this with people, cars, and the car ramp (e.g., What is his name? Where are they going?).

Following directions: From set up to clean up, there are lots of naturally occurring directions when playing with any toy.

Requesting: No matter what we are targeting, I usually withhold as many toys as I can to try to encourage requesting using complete sentences and specific words (not just “more please”)!

Imitating sounds: For early talkers, play therapy is the best way to encourage natural language. Car sounds such as “beep beep!” and “honk!” are fun and easy to imitate. Play routines such as a car race also foster language. “Ready, set, go!” and “Go!” are good to start with, and naturally reinforced when the car is released!

Articulation: Targeting specific articulation sounds proves to be a challenge for me when conducting play therapy. However, when under pressure a few weeks ago, I came up with a great way to implement articulation targets with cars. I placed a few picture cards on the floor around the room and treated them as “stops”. I had my student go around the room with his car (as he was doing already), pick up the pictures at each stop, practice the words, and add them to the trunk of his car. Some of the pictures even helped us make up a story as we went along.

Of course, there are many more uses for toy cars! I am always looking for new ideas, especially for articulation. Comment below and tell me your favorite ways to use cars (or any toys) to target speech and language skills!



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