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People games

What are people games?

People games are physical games you play with your child without any toys, for example, tickling and chasing.

Why are people games so great for communication and interaction?

There are lots of opportunities for your child to take a turn as they are repetitive and predictable.

Your child is more likely to communicate because these games are motivating for your child.

Your child can learn to copy what you do because you are repeating the same thing each time.

What is an example of a people game?

  • Tickling
  • Chasing
  • Spinning or twirling
  • Peekaboo
  • Up and down games: jumping, lifting your child in the air, bouncing them on your knee
  • Songs with actions such as
    • Pat a cake
    • Round and round the garden
    • Incy wincy spider
    • This little piggy went to market
    • Row row row the boat
    • Wheels on the bus
    • If you’re happy and you know it

How to set up a people game to target communication skills

Smiling face with empty thought bubble above it

1. Give the game a name

Use this same name each time you play the game. It’s important that everyone uses the same name to help your child to understand the word, and predict what’s going to happen next.

Green line with arrow leading from it to suggest start or beginning

2. Start the game in the same way

Think of a word and a gesture you’re going to use each time you start the game. This will become familiar to your child the more you play it. It will help them to anticipate what to do next. It will also give your child something to copy and a way of asking for the game.

Planner with three steps written on

3. Plan a turn for your child

Before you play the game, work out what you want your child to do in the game. It might be for them to show you they want more of the game, or that they’re going to do an action in the game.

A hand with empty palm facing up

4. Help your child to take their turn

Some children will know what to do next in the game, but other children might need a specific opportunity or cue. They might need hand-over-hand support to show them what to do. You might need to pause in the game in order to give your child a turn, so plan this in advance. Always offer the same turn at the same point in the game, to help your child predict what to do. If they don’t respond to these opportunities just keep the game going and offer them again.

Three people in a row. There is an arrow pointing from the first person to the middle person who is holding a red ball. This is to show taking turns in order.

5. Keep it going in the same way

The longer you play the game the more chances you are giving your child to take turns and communicate. Keep it fun by using an animated voice and facial expressions. Carry out the people game in the same way each time, offering the same turns and using the same words.

An arrow pointing to a red line. This is to show the end of a process.

6. End the game in the same way

Decide what word and action you’re going to use to end the game. It might be ‘finished’ with the Makaton sign, or ‘all done’. Think about the word, phrase or gesture your child understands to indicate something is ending. If they don’t have that understanding yet then plan ahead and decide on a word and gesture you’re going to use.

How to develop the game and communication opportunities

It’s great for different family members to play the people game with your child. Just make sure everyone is playing the game theFour people with arrows pointing to each of them same way, using the same language, and offering the same opportunities for your child to take a turn. This will really help your child to participate in the game and develop their communication and interaction skills.

As you child becomes more familiar with the structure and turn-taking that you have put into the game you might want to give them more opportunities for communication.

You could do this by:

  • increasing the requests your child needs to make in the game
  • change the way your child makes a request, maybe from a gesture to a sound
  • make something unavailable in the game (your hands or a prop) and wait to see how you child communicates that they want it

Examples of some changes you could make to a jumping game:

  • reduce the number of jumps you help your child to make before pausing, enabling them to make more requests
  • wait to see if your child tries to copy ‘more’ or makes a sound if you pause after they’ve indicated they want more of the game
  • part-way through the game hide your hands behind your back and see what your child does

Sensory preferences

Children have different sensory preferences so will enjoy certain people games more than others. Think what your child likes doing best, and try to find a people game that matches this.

A face with musical notes coming from their mouth to show singing Face with hands covering eyes Person with arrow circling their body to suggest turning around One person chasing another person A foot being tickled by a feather

Additional resources and information

These videos from the Hanen Centre explain and demonstrate how to use a people game or song to develop your child’s communication and interaction skills.

These ideas were adapted from Hanen’s More Than Words. For more information from Hanen see the following handouts.

Hanen.org people games handout

Hanen.org people games for children with ASD

People games is a recommended strategy for children with a range of communication needs including language delay, Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and Development Language Disorder (DLD).

Contact us

For more information please contact the Speech and Language Therapy Service at Flockton House on 0114 226 2333.

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Please note: this is a generic information sheet relating to care at Sheffield Children’s NHS FT. These details may not reflect treatment at other hospitals. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professionals’ instructions. If this resource relates to medicines, please read it alongside the medicine manufacturer’s patient information leaflet. If this information has been translated into another language from English, efforts have been made to maintain accuracy, but there may still be some translation errors. If you are unsure about any of the guidance in this resource or have specific questions about how it relates to your child, always ask your healthcare professional for further advice.

Resource number: SL22

Resource Type: Article

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