Playing With Purpose: Mr. Potato Head

Mr. Potato Head is my all time favorite toy to use with preschoolers which is why I have chosen it for my first post in a series called Playing With Purpose (PWP). The PWP series will highlight a specific toy or activity you can use to build language skills during play. Each post will be filled with hands-on ideas, step-by-step directions, and concepts you can address during play time with your child.

Mr. Potato Head provides enless opportunities for language stimulation. He can help teach tons of vocabulary and SO many language concepts. He is great for working on:

  • body part names
  • clothing item names
  • color concepts
  • locations in/out or on/off
  • asking/answering questions
  • social skills
  • collaborative play
  • following directions
  • object labeling & identification
  • expanding sentence length
  • action words (verbs)

I recommend buying a Mr. Potato Head set that comes with lots of parts like the 2 pictured here. They are also a great value and provide a lot of variety. These sets are nice because they come with the tub/suitcase which make storage easy. Having a Mr. Potato Head with many parts allows you to provide multiple opportunities to practice the same skill. And repetition is key for young kids acquiring a new skill of any kind.

Top 5 Tips for Playing With Purpose Using Mr. Potato Head

  1. Use the Hanen strategy ‘Offer a Little Bit…Then Wait’ to help your child make requests. Sit across from your child and place the parts for Mr. Potato Head in your lap, just out of their reach. Be sure your child has seen that you placed the parts in your lap. Start by giving your child the potato head and maybe one additional part. Then wait for your child to ask for more. Be sure to look at them expectantly so they know you want them to do something. Pay attention to all different types of communication attempts. It may be a glance at the toys in your lap, your child may point to the part they want, or they may use a single word or phrase to make a request. Any communication should be rewarded by immediately giving your child another Mr. Potato Head piece and with verbal praise. If your child is having difficulty making a request trying offering him/her a choice. Hold up 2 Mr. Potato Head pieces and ask, “Would you like the hat or the eyes?” This play routine can be completed to build a complete Mr. Potato Head which may provide you and your child at least 10 opportunities to engage in a communication exchange.
  2. Mr. Potato Head is great to use for working on following directions. Give your child the potato head and place a bunch of parts on the floor in front of him/her. Decide how many directions your child can follow at a time and give them a task. You could start with asking, “Put the hat on Mr. Potato Head.” or “Put the yellow shoes on Mr. Potato Head.” A more complicated 2-step direction might sound like, “First put on the hat, then put on the blue arms.” Take it up one more notch and have your child give you the directions. They will love having the tables turned and getting to be in charge!
  3. If you are lucky enough to have more than one Mr. Potato Head set or this cool Super Hero Collector Pack then you are able to work on the concept of same and different. Build 2 Mr. Potato Heads with only one or two parts that are different, then talk about how they look the same and how they are different. You can turn this into an eye spy type game where your child has to find the one difference between the two Mr. Potato Heads. If you’re using the super heros then your child can talk about differences in costume colors or the accessories that the different characters get to carry.
  4. You can help facilitate cooperative play between your child and another using Mr. Potato Head. Start by giving one of the children just the potato head and the other child the bucket with all the parts. One child will have to initiate with their peer to get the parts he/she needs to build their Mr. Potato Head. You can also work on making comments after a friend has asked for an item. Modeling phrases is a good tool to help your child if they are having trouble making a comment. You could say, “I see Jack put the blue eyes on Mr. Potato Head.” If your child imitates your words, then be sure to praise them for using a great sentence. Maybe on their next turn they will use the phrase on their own.
  5. Lastly, I like to use Mr. Potato Head to work on action words, also known as verbs. Being able to combine nouns with verbs is the basis for developing sentence structure. Think back to when you learned grammar in elementary school. Often the first phrases we hear from children are combinations of nouns and verbs such as ‘eat cookie’ or ‘car go’. Well Mr. Potato Head can do all sorts of things. He can: jump, walk, run, dance, sleep, eat, fall, break, etc. Get Mr. Potato Head moving. Try this routine to work on action words. Start by telling your child, “Make Mr. Potato Head jump.” And then wait for your child to move Mr. Potato Head around like he is jumping. Then ask, “What is Mr. Potato Head doing?”. Your child may say jump, jumping, or even a short phrase like potato jump. You can follow up by using a technique called recasting and say, “Mr. Potato Head is jumping on the table.” This provides a model for using correct grammar to tell the same message your child was giving.

I could go on and on! Mr. Potato Head is a versatile toy with many opportunities for language growth in play. And remember, toys without batteries are often the best choice. If you don’t already own one then head on over to Amazon and buy yours now. He also makes a great birthday or holiday gift for children ages 2 and up.

Emily Cohen, MA, CCC-SLP received her Master’s of Speech-Language Pathology in 2008 from Eastern Michigan University. She is a Hanen certified SLP specializing in woking with children with early childhood language delays. Emily owns a private practice in Austin, TX called Tandem Speech Therapy. You can read more about Playing With Purpose and topics related to speech and language development on her blog https://www.tandemspeechtherapy.com/blog/.

Playing With Purpose: Books

Increasing Communication in Toddlers Using Prelinguistic Milieu Teaching