Let’s Talk About Cars, Trucks, and Trains

Cars and trucks and trains… oh my!  It may not be surprising to hear that transportation is a favorite play theme for most toddlers.  Many parents report: “He LOVES trains so much that he would play with them for hours if I left him alone.”  Those same parents also typically request tips for expanding their child’s play beyond building train tracks and pushing cars back and forth.  Though it may seem simple and even repetitive, vehicle play can actually be used to target a variety of communication skills as is motivating and versatile. 

Toys with wheels are valuable for expanding your child’s vocabulary.  When your child is interested in your play idea, you can finally enter his world.  You have his attention, so what’s next?  When playing with your child, talk about what you see and hear.  What are you doing? What is he doing?  You can label nouns (car, train, wheels, tunnel), incorporate a variety of verbs (push, pull, fall, drive), and especially target positional words (in, out, under, next to).  Keep your language simple, but don’t be afraid to expose him to a variety of words.  He may repeat the words you say or even start using them independently, or he may just need to watch and listen at first Either way, you are providing him with new words and linking them to his interests.  

Play with cars, trucks, and trains is also useful for children working on imitating basic speech sounds.  This may be particularly useful for toddlers diagnosed with childhood apraxia of speech, but this strategy could also be great for children who are learning their first words.  During play, your role is to produce the noises that vehicles can make.  You can have fun and get creative with this, but here are some examples to get you started: 

  • Fire truck, ambulance, or police careeee oooo eeee ooo  (siren sound) 
  • Car horn:  “beep beep” or “bee bee 
  • Trainchoo choo” or “oo oo 
  • Race car:  “zoom zoom 
  • Truck:  “mm mm mm” (sound trucks make when backing up)  
  • Bicycle tee tee”  (sound of bicycle bell) 

 Finally, don’t limit yourself to playing with small plastic firetrucks and trains.  You can take your child’s interest in transportation and apply it to other ways of learning language.  Some great strategies include:  

  • Reading books about vehicles.  Great transportation books include “Go Go Go Stop!” by Charise Mericle Harper, “My Truck is Stuck” by Kevin Lewis, and “Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site” by Sherri Duskey Rinker.  

  • Singing together.  Children love to learn language through music.  You can sing classics like “The Wheels on the Bus” or teach your child newer songs like Riding in My Car by Elizabeth Mitchell.

  • Moving your body.  Toddlers are typically motivated to play games that incorporate movement, such as “Red Light Green Light.”  If your child has never played before, they may benefit from a red “stop” visual and a green “go” visual to help them conceptualize the words “stop” and “go.”

  • Talking about your daily travels.  Your child gets to ride in some type of transportation on a daily basis, so talk about it!  You can model language for them when you ride the train together or talk about what you are doing when you are driving (“Look, a stop sign! Time to stop the car.”).  Talking about real-life transportation will help your child generalize his new vocabulary and speech sounds to a setting other than play. 

  • Planning a trip to a fire station.  Many stations are open to letting children tour and learn about what they do.  If you live in Chicago, a popular station for little visitors is Engine Co. 98 located at 202 E. Chicago Avenue.  

 Transportation play is a valuable tool to engage your child and expand upon his skills.  It is adaptableand can be used to expand vocabulary and introduce beginning speech sounds.  For even more ideas, please contact your child’s speech-language pathologist!