Updated: Oct 4
People games are simple, repetitive interactions that help increase engagement, joint attention, shared enjoyment, and ultimately improve your toddler's communication skills.
People games are fundamental for the development of social interaction and early communication skills. Like the name suggests, people games are games that involve just you and your child without needing any toys or materials.
The reason why people games work so well for increasing engagement and improving early communication skills is because they are simple and repetitive. People games are played the same way each and every time making the game predictable for your child. This predictable structure helps your child learn the game and begin to anticipate what comes next.
Once your child understands how the game is played, he is able to start increasing how he participates in the game. Once your child knows the game well, you can begin to pause at key moments in the game and WAIT for a response: when you wait, your child has a chance to join in by look at you or touching you, smiling, imitating an action, or even saying something.
The goal of people games is to get your child to play with you in a back-and-forth interaction that lasts several turns. This means that you take a turn by playing part of the game, then your child takes a turn and this continues many times. Turn-taking in people games is an important step towards having real conversations. The best way to keep it going is to make the game fun for your child so they'll want to continue.
Here are 4 of my favorite people games and how to set them up for success!
#1 - Peek-A-Boo
Peek-A-Boo is one of the first people games that we often introduce to young babies. We look for our sweet baby's face to light up and smile when we remove our hands from our eyes. This simple but super effective people game is great for promoting joint attention, eye contact, and a social smile. Once your baby is a little older look for him to participate by covering his face and even saying "boo!"
#2 - Ring Around the Rosy
Ring Around the Rosy might be my absolute favorite people game and is great for involving multiple people! I introduce the game by saying "Let's play Ring Around the Rosy!" We all stand up, form a circle, and hold hands. I then say, "Ready...set...GO!" and begin singing. I start to slow down right before I get to "...and we all fall..." Here I pause, wait, and look expectantly at the child with an excited expression. If the child is able to participate here by saying "down" or falling down, that's great! If not, I say "down!" and fall down with exaggeration. I will often help the child to "fall down" gently and give him some tickles. I repeat "Oh no!" several times and don't get up right away. I again wait to give the child the opportunity to show me or tell me that he would like to play the game again. Sometimes this looks like the child standing up and reaching for my hands or saying "again!" or "more!" I set up another opportunity for the child to do his part by asking him to help me up. I put out my hands and wait for the child to start attempting to pull me up. I grunt and again exaggerate this in a silly, playful way. Once I'm back on my feet I thank the child for their help and again pause and wait to see if the child will initiate the game by grabbing my hands. Then I repeat this game as many times as the child is engaged and interested. When I think the child might be losing interest in the game, I announce "One more time!" and complete the song one last time before ending the game and saying "all done." It's important to have a clear beginning, middle (with multiple repetitions), and end.
#3 - Tickling and Chasing
Tickling and chasing games are fun ways to engage our busiest toddlers! It allows them to run and get out some of their energy while still staying in close proximity and participating in a back and forth interaction WITH you! Start the game the same way each time. For a tickle game, you might look at your child with a big smile and say "I'm going to get YOU!" while wiggling your fingers. Pause and wait for your child to start running or in some way acknowledge that he understands you are initiating a game. Once you catch your child give him several tickles and then stop. Wait to see if your child will continue the game by looking at you, saying "again" or "more," or putting their little hands up like you did and wiggling their fingers to gesture "tickle." For chasing games, you might use "Ready...set..go!" I like to repeat "run, run, run" as the child is running away and "got you!" once I catch the child. When you catch your child you give give a big squeeze, a kiss, or throw your child up into the air!
#4 - Hide and Seek
Hide and Seek is one of my favorite people games that is also great for helping your child learn to say the words "mama" and "dada." I like to involve both parents in hide and seek whenever possible. Mom and dad take turns hiding. If it's dad's turn to hide, mom would help model "Dada!" as she moves around the room with the child looking for dad. Here I also incorporate the gestures of "shouting" (hands up to mouth) when saying "dada" or "mama," "where" and "hmmm" (tapping finger to mouth) to give your child another opportunity to participate if he is not yet using words or saying "mama" and "dada." You can draw this game out and give lots of opportunities to repeat, repeat, repeat! Look several places around the room before finally finding dad. When you find dad, make it a big deal by clapping your hands and shouting "dada!" Make sure to give your child a turn to hide once he understands how the game is played.
Some of the best People Games are the ones families create themselves!
These are just a few examples of people games, there are so many more! Remember people games need to be highly predictable for your child so use the same words and actions each time, keep the game going so your child is able to take several back and forth turns, and most importantly, have fun!
I would love to hear what people games your family likes to play, leave a comment below to share!