toddler activities encouraging questions

Toddler Activities: Encouraging Questions Through Play

toddler activities encouraging questions
 FOCUS: Train sets
Speech PathologistDr Sandra McMahon PhD

Toddler Activities - encouraging questions through play.  Wooden and metal toys resembling trains were first made in Europe in the 1860s and they have never stop delighting generation after generation ever since. They are likely to be in nearly every speech therapy and early child care centre.

Why? The answer is easy. 

Train sets no matter if they are wooden or electronic are great fun and bursting with learning potential. From fine motor skills (putting tracks and trains together), first sound play (choo choo), complex ideas (“if we put the bridge here we can attach the curved track so that ……”) and imaginative play (“Let’s pretend the train didn’t stop at the station so …..”).  There are video series and books galore about trains allowing you to role play the stories watched or read. 


How interested is your child in trains in general. What is it that they like? Is it that they like to build the set, watch the trains go, imaginative play, the love of the train characters? Is it all of these. By watching what type of play with the trains encourage more vocalisations or words, you can adapt your play to match their particular interests. It can be easy for adults or older children to take over the construction of complex sets. It is important to find a balance between letting them experiment and showing them how pieces can go together.

Communicating with others

Building a train set can require “team work”. Listening to each other’s suggestions and reasons for putting pieces together is important. Countering with different ideas can be stressful for some children if they like to do things “their way”. Taking turns to decide where pieces go or demonstrating but not insisting of changes can provide chances to grow team building skills. In addition building some of these complex train sets can be hard work and so it can build resilience! Train and car sets can also encourage children to identify and find ways to “ask” for help. 

understanding of language comes before talking

Language skills can be boosted while setting up the trainsets and/or playing with he ready-made one – OH that is why it is OK that the play room is often taken up with train sets and train tables! 

toddler activities encouraging questions
Linking early literacy awareness can be achieved when setting up a train or car set.

The way to do this is by pointing out to a toddler the instructions (this is a particularly good idea when there are pictures in the instructions). Even pointing to the picture on the box that they can copy when constructing are early literacy skills.

The link to the “written material” to actions they are interested in can lay foundations for a love of reading. By seeing how good the track can be when the instructions are followed, highlights the importance of learning to ready.

Involving children in the construction is a great way to build auditory attention and the ability to follow instructions.

These can be as easy or as difficult as your toddler can cope with (e.g., “more, more track, more, pass me more track” to “If the next piece is a curved piece then put two more curved pieces together before you add a straight piece”). 

In our FREE DOWNLOAD – HOW TO GROW INSTRUCTIONS AS YOUR TODDLER’S LANGUAGE GROWS – I provide you with examples of questions from Blank Level 1 questions (Where’s the train?) to Level 4 questions (Why do you think this draw bridge has this lever?).  The download gives examples of the types of questions you can use to boost language for children aged between 2 and 5 years of age. The listed questions can be used when building trainsets, playing with them or reading a story about a train.

spoken Speech & Language

Encourage imitation of fine motor skills by modelling how to join pieces together or how to manoeuvre the trains. Imitation of motor actions (things we do with our hands) generally comes before imitation of speech or words.

Encourage exclamations (“uh Oh” when the trains fall off; “bang!” If the trains crash) and of course all the train sounds (choo choo, toot toot)

Encourage responses to questions – this might be pointing, miming, sounds, words or sentences. Some children may use a combination all of these to “answer” a question. See our FREE TRAIN DOWNLOAD to see examples of easier and harder questions you can ask. You might need to say the answers so they can copy you first!

Encourage all the words listed in the vocabulary section below

* Thing/Object words: track, engine, station, all the environmental items in sets (e.g. trees, stop signs, lights, witches hats), carriages, cargo, bridges, overpasses, ticket machine

* Action words – rolling, pushing, driving, attaching, stopping, starting, stuck, broken, joining, falling off track, jumped over

* Describing words – colours of the different trains/carriages, fast, slow, tall, short, long, curved, straight, heavy

* Maths words – size, shape, sequencing of steps (first this then second that), longer, shorter, bigger

* Pronouns/people words: he goes here, She is waiting for the train, your train/ my carriage, 

* Place words: on/off track, over bridge, under overpass, next to crossing,

*Social words: help (if they can’t work out to set up the track ), thank you/ta, please (asking for more track).

* Question words: Which track?, What is this?, Where does it go?, When the train goes over…?, Who is going to have a ride?  Our Train DOWNLOAD in the red box provides ideas of what questions you can ask the child but also praise if you child actually asks you some of these questions.

toddler activities encouraging questions

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toddler activities encouraging questions


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toddler activities encouraging questions

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toddler activities encouraging questions

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With other Parents & Educators.

Tell us in the Comments your ideas for train sets.

Click on the links below to view some of our favourite train sets available from Amazon*.!

LEGO Duplo Train Bridge and Tracks 10872 Playset Toy Melissa & Doug Stacking Train - Classic Wooden Toddler Toy (18 pcs)

NB: *These are just some examples of train sets and are affiliated links. 

Toddler speech therapy activities with trains

Melissa & Doug Stackable Train: Talking with Trains: Sounds. words, questions and more with trains

Toddler talking with Train sets

Everyone can play together with these trains

Sandra McMahon

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