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How can I support my child’s comprehension at home? 5 fun, easy activities!

The ability to understand and interpret incoming language is called language comprehension. We do it all day long and without even thinking about it. These skills are critical for following directions, engaging in conversations, and navigating through most daily activities at home, in school, and in the community.

For kids who have trouble listening to or interpreting incoming language, added exposure or experience with comprehension activities will facilitate and build stronger skills. Because these opportunities happen constantly throughout the day, there are no special materials or tools needed to give your child the added edge, and so you can easily offer practice to them daily. Taking advantage of opportunities to practice comprehension each day is as easy as making a few additions to your daily routines that are already a part of your schedule.

By making these comprehension activities a game, you allow your child to learn and experience how much fun it is to attend to and listen to language, and that when he can understand, he can meet everyday tasks with great success! Some families find it’s helpful to track points for each task completed or let their child earn a prize. A reward system is an excellent way to keep motivation going for these activities, especially at first when they may be a challenge. Keep it simple, though; try to stick to something that does not require additional materials. Some favorite ideas: take a tickle-break, a jump rope break, spend some time on a walk around the neighborhood… select rewards that you can deliver on quickly and regularly.

Here are 5 simple activities to support language comprehension with little to no preparation.

  1. Following Directions. As a part of your everyday routine, breakdown familiar, everyday tasks (e.g., getting dressed for bed) into smaller steps/components (e.g., when preparing for dinner, place all of the items needed to set the table (forks, spoons, cups, etc.) ask him to follow a single direction (“Put the forks and the napkins on the table.”)  Some routines to try are: setting the table, bedtime, getting dressed, cleaning up toys, bath time, or preparing a meal. Begin with one step directions and then progress to 2 or even 3 step directions.

    For example, before dinner, have your child be the “dinner helper” ask him to:
        “Get the forks” (1 step)
        “Put the napkins on the table and then the forks (2 steps)
        “Put the napkins on the table, then the forks, then the spoons.” (3 steps)

    For example, before leaving for school, say:
        “Put your shoes on” (1 step)
        “Get your coat on then get your backpack” (2 steps)
        “Get your notebook from your desk, put it in your backpack, and put your backpack in the car.” (3 steps)

  2. Simon Says. When you are in a transition between activities of the day, you may find that you have a few minutes to occupy your child.  A quick game of Simon Says is a great way to work on some language skills in a playful manner, while keeping everyone happy and engaged.  Try taking the conventional Simon Says rules, i.e., where your child has to discriminate between following a direction that includes Simon Says VS. those that do not. (“ Simon Says, ‘Touch your toes then turn around’” VS “Touch your toes then turn around”) and adapting them.  Shift the game objective from, “Did someone say ‘Simon says…,’” to listening and executing the direction itself and ALWAYS say “Simon says…”  You can include 1, 2, and 3 step directions.

    For example while waiting in the car in your driveway, say:
        “Simon Says, touch you head!”
        “Simon says, clap your hands!” 
        “Simon says, pretend to sleep. Simon says, wake up!”
        “Simon says, put your seatbelt on!”
        “Simon says, put your seatbelt on and clap 3 times!”

  3. Guessing Game.  Gather 5-7 objects from around the house (e.g., a shoe, a pillow, a spoon, a doll) and hide them in a container or behind your back (depending on the size).  Then, give your child 3 salient clues about the “secret” object (e.g., “You wear it…it’s blue… and it protects your feet when you walk outside”).  Allow your child the opportunity to guess the mystery item and give his additional “clues” using gestures (e.g., pretending to put shoes on your feet, tying laces).

    For example:
        Adult: “I have something in my box… it’s something that I use to call grandma.
                   It’s black and you like to play games on it”
        Child: “I know, your phone!”

  4. I SPY.   Similar to the guessing game, you can play “I SPY” when you are in the car or walking in your neighborhood.  Identify a person, place, or object in view and give clues using the phrase, “I SPY...”  (e.g., “I SPY something RED!”)  Unlike the first game, you can ask your child to guess after each clue by encouraging him to identify something that fits the given characteristic.  Once additional clues are given, he will need to integrate all the information given (“clues”) and refine his “guess” to come to a correct conclusion.  This is a fast-paced, easy game that kids seem to really enjoy and as they learn it, they can easily take a turn giving clues as well.  

    For example while walking out of your home, say:
        Adult: “I SPY something orange…” Child: “my shoe!”
        Adult: “It moves…” Child: “uh, my basketball?”
        Adult: “So close! It has 2 wheels” Child: “my bike!”
        Adult: Yes! You got it! I see your bike! Do you want to go for a ride?”

  5. Joint Book Reading.  Read picture books together as often as you can.  I recommend picture books geared for 3-4 year olds for this particular activity.  Curious George and Clifford the Big Red Dog book series are two I like, but there are many others available. Browse the children’s section of any book store or public library and you will find many options available (e.g., Arthur, Little Bear, etc.).  Look for books that have clear pictures that depict the story that is written on each page. (Note: I would avoid books that are “wordy”- those with many complex, complicated sentences at first. You’ll recognize these books easily just by opening them and reading a paragraph or so.  If you find yourself out of breath just trying to get a few lines out, then I would suggest passing on the book at this point.)   When reading these books to your child, use a slow rate and take time to observe and comment on the picture scenes, characters, and described events.  Following each page, you may ask him 1 or 2 questions pertaining to the story. Use wh-questions that are related to what you see in the picture. What? Where? and Who? questions are good to start with because they are concrete and are often illustrated in the picture. If your child has difficulty answering, use the pictures to point to the people or objects you are asking about. Repeat the question with emphasis on key words, to support his comprehension.

    For example while reading together, say:
       Adult: When reading a Curious George Book, read the text on the page and then observe
                 what is going on in the picture.
       Adult: You may ask, “What did George eat?” (pancakes)
       Adult: “Who was eating with George?” (the man with the yellow hat)
       Adult: “Where did George go with the man with the yellow hat?” (to school)


These 5 activities are simple and can be done anytime, pretty much anywhere. They do not require special materials or supplies but can be very valuable in bolstering your child’s comprehension in a meaningful way. By building comprehension tasks into your daily schedule, you not only increase your child’s exposure to language input in an intentional way, you provide structure and predictability to your routines which is an added bonus. The next time you are looking for something creative and a little different to do with your child, look around and consider using the objects, people and routines that are around you everyday to build comprehension skills. You’ll be amazed at how much fun you will have without even trying.