Have you noticed how hard to it is to pay attention to something when your mind is elsewhere?  Trying to focus on someone else’s words while you have other ideas is virtually impossible.

How difficult is it to repeat a word you’ve never heard before?  What if that word is in a completely different language using sounds you’ve never even attempted to produce?  This is also virtually impossible – at least on your first attempt.

These two scenarios are KEY to helping little ones learn to talk.

We need to be using words that…

1) match their interest or activity and

2) are easy(ish) to imitate – at least attempt to imitate.

If you are playing with your child and have certain expectations of how that play should go, you may be using words that are of no interest to your child and therefore they pay no attention.  You can talk all day about how the car should drive along the well-defined road that you spent some time creating and how the car stops for gas and then parks in the garage… but then you notice that your child is not following along.  He has actually just noticed that the door on the car OPENS!  Instead of encouraging him to close the car’s door and put the car down on the road and drive so that he can play how the car is supposed to be played with, stop your car play ideas and use words that are meaningful to his play ideas: “open”, “shut”, “knock knock”, “ooooh”.  You may even notice that your child starts to pay attention to you and smiles and maybe even tries to say some of those words or sounds because you are now speaking the same language!

You may have heard that to help your little one learn to talk you should “narrate the day”.  This generally means talk, aloud, about what you are doing so that your little one can hear how language is used.  Yes, you should do that.  But, if you really want to impact how your child learns to pay attention, understand language, imitate sounds, and eventually learn to talk… say what THEY see.  This means talk about THEIR actions, ideas, and thoughts.  Not just yours.

When you are playing with your child (yes, you should do that too), reduce how often you give directions, commands and ask child-directed questions (asking them to complete a task or find a specific item).  Instead, spend several minutes increasing your comments, exclamations, and asking self-directed questions (like wondering aloud to yourself where something could be or how you could problem solve getting an object out of reach).

ideas for speech therapy at home

Here’s another example:  Your child has a shape sorter (or puzzle…or box with anything inside).  We may be expecting them to sort, match, and name the objects.  However, she just noticed that the objects “disappear” when you close the box and then reappear when you open it!

Instead of:

  • command “open it up”
  • give a direction “give me the yellow circle”
  • ask a question “where does the square go?”

Try this:

  • commenting “bye bye shapes!”
  • exclaiming “it’s gone!  uh-oh!”
  • ask a question to yourself “I wonder where it went”

Asking questions to yourself takes the pressure off of your child and gives her an opportunity to help you.  You just have to continue to look and pretend that you can’t find it.  “Hmmmm…where IS that circle?”

Once you are playing how your child wants to play you can add sounds and words that will be more meaningful.  If the box or shape sorter is hiding the objects, try “peek-a-boo” – remember to pause before saying “BOO” so that she has a chance to say it first.  If the objects or shapes are actually in a zippered bag then just say “zzzzzzz” as you zip it up!  She might think that is super interesting and try it too!  Don’t worry if she isn’t matching the colors or putting the shapes where they belong.  If she is watching you and listening to you and trying to imitate the sounds you are making…that’s much more powerful than playing with the toy how the manufacturer intended it to be played with.

I’m fairly certain I’ve never actually read on the instruction booklet for a shape sorter that it can be an amazing toy to use with peek-a-boo, but I have played peek-a-boo while hiding behind a shape sorter lid with MUCH success and laughter!

Bottom line is this:

Offer your children toys. Watch how they play with them.  Follow their lead.  Use words and sounds that match what THEY are doing and what THEY are interested in.

Say what THEY see.  You might find that they will then say what you say!

For a FREE, printable version of this post, go to: FREE Handouts you can print out

Other posts you may be interested in:

Where’s the speech in speech therapy?

Two little words to encourage communication

Playing with… PUZZLES!