My child doesn’t play. Or talk. 6 Effective Play Ideas – Solution #6: What you or your child can MOVE

With the child who doesn’t talk or play with his toys or engage in purposeful activity or meaningful play, we need alternative ideas. In the previous 5 posts, we explored the importance of WHO YOU ARE as your child’s best play partner or ‘toy’,  how to use WHAT YOU ALREADY HAVE and DO AT HOME to facilitate interaction with your child towards communication and language development, and WHAT YOU CAN COLLECT and MAKE. Today we will look at movement and WHAT YOUR CHILD CAN MOVE as a way in to interactive play and shared experiences, and why this is so important, even for your child’s language development.

If we observe him carefully we notice that he isn’t fully ‘in his body’, that he keeps drifting off and losing contact with himself. We need to help him to feel more grounded and ‘at home’ in his body and to connect his sensations of touch, what he hears and sees with his feelings in a supportive relationship with you, where he feels safe and seen and understood.

1 Why is MOVEMENT so important?

Sensory-motor play, movement games or body-gymnastics are often the way in to reach and engage children who spend a lot of time in their comfort zone. Movement integrates the nervous system and is therefore extremely regulating and organising. Moving something heavy involves attention and coordinates both sides of the body. When both hands and eyes and mind come together in one focus of gripping or pushing something, we feel more ‘there’. There’s an awareness of ‘me’, a felt ‘sense of self’. In children with autistic-like behaviours and/or autism the sense of self is not well developed and they often drift off or feel disconnected. Sensory experiences can ‘wake them up’ and get them more interested in the world around them, -especially when they involve effort. But we must be careful not to let it turn into mechanical movement of just going through the motions or mechanical ‘sensory stimulation’. Make sure you keep the play or interaction alive, soulful and emotionally engaging.  Do it together, and have fun TOGETHER.

2 Why is EFFORT so important?

The experience of muscle-tension that comes with making an effort has an organising effect, because it helps the child to feel more solid and to ‘feel himself’ more clearly in his body. This is why forgetful  movement can improve attention, arousal levels, body awareness and muscle tone, especially for children with low muscle tone or with issues around passivity, hyperactivity, negativity or difficulties with attention and motivation.


Effort is in fact also essential for developing language. If you want you child to learn to talk, activities that involve effort and movement are in fact essential, because learning to talk and use language is an active multi-sensory process. Learning to use language meaningfully is very different from ‘inputting words’ when programming a computer. With human interaction the child needs to be actively involved in connecting his experiences with the sounds/words he hears from his parents in order to make meaning and to share this with the other person, and to think for himself. There is no language development without effort. If your child does not know how to make an effort, he can not learn to talk.

4 Effortful and ‘Heavy Weight’ ACTIVITIES

Moving things/ something heavy

  • putting things into washing machine or dishwasher/taking them out, sorting the
  • carry stuff, e.g. shopping, laundr
  • put shopping away at home, e.g. fruit, veg, tin
  • sauce pans in and out of cupboard/ find which lids fit
  • moving lemons, potatoes, bottles filled with water from one container to another, bags of oranges/ potatoes
  • build tower with food tins
  • play ‘catch’ with a big/heavy cushion
  • wrestling, e.g. ‘Hat-stealing wrestling’ (hold each other’s right hands and try to steal the other person’s hat)

Pushing and pulling

  • shopping trolley in supermarket
  • laundry basket, vacuum cleaner, heavy suitcase at home
  • digging and shoveling: sand, earth, gravel, stones, snow
  • sweeping, mopping, raking leaves, using wheel-barrow
  • tug-of-war, sitting on a scooter-board, ‘Like-a-bike’, scooter
  • lizard crawl

Carrying things

  • a heavy box , big nappy bag/ bag of potatoes/ other grocery bags
  • stacking/lifting/moving chairs/books/boxes, bucket of water
  • empty bin and waste-paper baskets

Moving someone

  • move yourself: let child push you, pull you
  • ‘Driving Miss Daisie’: standing behind child ‘drive’ him with hands on his shoulder, – red, green, slow, fast
  • Wheelbarrow: pick up child’s legs for them to walk on their hands with straight arms
  • ‘Dump-truck‘: child holds another child around their waist, both facing the same way, and drags them to the ‘dump’

Cleaning things

  • Sweeping, mopping, raking leaves, dustpan-and-brush
  • Scrubbing and cleaning sink, bath, dirty saucepans or surfaces, doing washing-up using sponge, brush, …


  • things that move by themselves, e.g. cars, electronics or ‘lazy toys’, toys with wheels, i.e. anything that requires no or not enough effort and initiative from the child
  • avoid too many little cars, especially those that ‘don’t do anything’ other than rolling. If cars, then ask yourself what can you/child do with them?’, e.g. open the doors, put a small figure inside, tip out contents, load and unload, – i.e. moving things in and out for a purpose.

A warm welcome from Sibylle Janert.

I look forward to discussing your concerns.

To receive occasional updates sign up here: