Children learn by exploring the world around them. When possible, changing up your daily routine can be a great way to develop and encourage language development. The following are free, family-friendly activities in and around Toronto to explore with your child.
1. Allan Gardens Conservatory
Take a trip to Allan Gardens Conservatory to explore the 100-year-old greenhouse full of tropical plants and blooms. Use descriptive words to make up a scavenger hunt as you explore the gardens - “Can you find a BIG, GREEN plant?”, or “I see a TINY, RED AND SPIKEY flower, what do you see?”. Talk about how the different rooms feel - “This room is warm and sunny”, or “This room feels humid and moist”. Make a game out of guessing the names of the different flora and fauna. These kinds of reciprocal interactions encourage conversation and give your child many opportunities to practice using language.
Did you know that the Toronto Public Library offers a free service whereby kids and their families can listen to a story over the phone, any time of day? Simply dial 416-395-5400, select your preferred language (there are 16 to choose from), and select an age group. There are stories for younger children (under 7 years), and stories for older children (up to 12 years). After listening to the story, talk to your child about it. Discuss questions such as - “Who is the story about?”, “Where does the story take place?”, “What was your favourite part of the story, and why?”, “Do the characters in the story remind you of anybody you know?”. Play the story back as many times as your child needs or wants. Children of all ages benefit from hearing an experienced reader read aloud. Children can listen to a higher language level than they can read, so reading aloud exposes them to complex ideas, vocabulary, and language structures. It prepares them to understand the structure of books when they eventually begin to read independently.
3. Farmers’ Markets
Toronto has many seasonal and year-round farmers’ markets selling local produce and artisanal food. Talking about the food on display with your child is a great way to expand their vocabulary. Aside from labelling the various fruits and vegetables, you can talk about their shapes, sizes, flavours, and uses - “Look at that giant, orange sweet potato! We can chop it up, bake it, and put it in the blender to make sweet potato soup this weekend!”. Give your child choices - “Would you prefer apples or bananas for your snack this week? Apples are good for your teeth, and bananas are good for your tummy”. This is a great opportunity for your child to learn new words in a context that is interesting and relevant to them.
4. Graffiti Alley
Tucked behind Queen Street between Spadina and Portland, Graffiti Alley offers rows and rows of colourful graffiti-clad walls. Play a game of “I Spy” with the artwork - “I spy a giant green spider!”. Have your child take photos of their favourite walls. Later, look at the photos together and talk about why they chose those walls. Use emotive words to discuss how the graffiti made you feel - happy, scared, excited, sad, etc. Teaching children the words to identify their feelings empowers them to express themselves appropriately.
5. Nature Walks
Toronto offers hundreds of easy and scenic walking trails in and around the city. There is no need to travel far - simply taking a walk in your neighbourhood can offer many benefits. Being outdoors and amongst nature stimulates your child’s senses and offers many opportunities for hearing and practicing new words. Have your child pause and listen so that you can label the various sounds around you - a bird chirping, the leaves crunching beneath your feet, the wind blowing between the trees, etc. Let your child touch and feel different things along the way and talk about their sensation - a smooth rock, prickly grass, wet dirt, etc. Point out animals, insects, plants, trees, and other objects you see. Have your child practice labelling familiar and new items to expand their vocabulary. You might be surprised, maybe they will teach you something you didn’t know!
It’s important to remember that different children reach milestones at different times. However, if you are concerned that:
Your child does not make eye contact
Most people do not understand your child when they speak
Your child cannot follow simple directions
Your child is only interested in one topic or subject
Your child repeats certain words or phrases over and over
Your child does not engage in pretend play or in play with others...
Then contact us to set up an appointment with one of our registered Speech Language Pathologists!
Do you have favourite free activities to do with your child in Toronto? Let us know in the comments!
Hoff, E. (2003). The specificity of environmental influence: Socioeconomic status
affects early vocabulary development via maternal speech. Child Development, 74:5, 1368-1378.
Fountas, I.C. & Pinnell, G. S. (1996). Guided Reading: Good First Teaching for all Children. Portsmouth: Heinemann.