Let's Play: the speech and language way

Speech and language therapy ideas for playing at home



Help your toddler say “Thank You”

Helping children learn to be polite is very important to many parents.  Words like “thank you” and “please” may often be just as important as helping little ones say names of objects and actions.  The concept of “please” is usually fairly simple to understand and parents are happy to fulfill their little one’s requests as long as that word is attempted or added.  The concept of “thank you” can be harder to grasp as it is something we expect toddlers to say AFTER we have already given them that highly desired item.

teach toddlers to say thank you
PIN this… Helping Little Ones Learn to Say Thank You

One especially helpful aspect of Thanksgiving is that it comes right after Halloween which means many toddlers have been recently motivated by candy to say “thank you” -many times!  If they haven’t actually said “thank you” they’ve at least seen people receiving candy and heard others say “thank you” so little ones have learned the importance of saying these words.

This leads me to the first, and most important, way to teach little ones: SHOW THEM by doing it yourself!  When your little one hands you an object, say “thank you”.  When they give you a hug, say “thank you”.  When they help clean up, say “thank you”.  Look for opportunities to thank them throughout each day.

The specific speech requirements for producing “thank you” accurately are fairly advanced so expect that your little one’s first attempts may sound something like:  “tay oo” or “dank you” or “kak you”.  Don’t worry so much about the “th” sound… that will come later.


Enlisting the help of older siblings is also a fantastic way to teach any word or concept!  Encourage the older sibling to say THANK YOU clearly when giving out any toys, foods, or objects to all children present.

Before your child is talking, signing can be a great way to communicate “thank you”.  Teach your little one to thank others with a gesture (of course smiles and hugs are also great ways to show thanks!)  For a video clip, go to:

VIDEO baby sign “thank you”

One of my favorite ways to teach almost any word is through songs!  Yes, there are lots of videos for kids online with songs but the ones YOU sing and encourage your child to sing with you…in the car, on a walk, in the checkout line of a store, etc…have more of an impact as they are more interactive!  Slow the down song to help elongate those vowel sounds, sing it loudly to place emphasis or show excitement, sing quietly to increase attention, or insert the child’s name to make it personal.  Take any tune you know and change the words to use “thank you” repeatedly!

If you have “Baby Shark” on repeat in your head, just change the words:

“Thank you, mom… doo doo doo doo doo doo” (etc. etc. etc)

Change the “Happy Birthday” song:

“I like to say Thank YOU… I like to say Thank YOU… When I help out my mommy… She likes to say Thank YOU”

For more song suggestions and a printable version of this blog post, go to:  FREE Handouts you can print out

Want to teach “thank you” in play?  Use any toy that has pieces or parts and each time your child hands you a puzzle piece, potato head part, or block for stacking; respond with nothing else but “thank you”.  Repeat.  Always repeat!

(This post contains Amazon affiliate links which means I may potentially earn a small fee based on qualifying sales.)

Here are some toy ideas:

And yes, another opportunity to practice Thank You is quickly approaching… Christmas!  If you are looking for gift ideas be sure to check out: Toys That Do NothingTop 5 NON-toy Toys, and Best toys and gifts: a speech therapist’s list!

Make sure you like and follow my Facebook page so you don’t miss any of my speech and language tips and play ideas.

“Thank you” for reading and sharing.  I appreciate it! 😊  Thank YOU!  Thank YOU!


Featured post

Playing with… marble and ball towers

At first glance, you may not think this toy would be all that helpful for learning to talk, but I’m telling you… it is!  The same could be said for magnetic doodle boards, playdough, and empty boxes.  If you’ve read any of my posts previously, you’ll know I’m generally a big fan of Toys That Do Nothing!

(Disclosure: This post contains Amazon affiliate links. This means I may earn a small percentage of qualifying sales.)

First, let’s explore BALL TOWERS (for little ones) and then MARBLE TOWERS (for older little ones).

A ball tower that needs to be assembled is a great opportunity to wonder aloud how each piece should go.  Model simple questions like “here?” “this way?” “next one?” “on top?” and then give yourself responses aloud like “no,” “yes,” “turn it” and “tada!”  Using simple language allows your child to hear your thought process!  After you’ve assembled it correctly a few times you can then ask those questions aloud while you intentionally put pieces in the wrong place and let your child tell you “no,” “yes,” “turn it,” and “tada!”

Storing the balls in a pencil bag that zips creates yet another opportunity for your child to try asking for “help” or “open” or use a “zzzzzzzip” sound.

To extend the assembly process even longer try placing the pieces around the room and then find them “yellow…where ARE you?”  Not yet ready for colors?  Just ask for “more”.

Once the ball tower is ready for its big moment, announce “READY, SET…”  Allow that pause for your toddler to have an opportunity to complete “GO”.  Watch the ball go “down, down, down” and “around, round, round”.

Like to sing?  Take the tune of Wheels on the Bus:

“The ball in the tower goes down, down, down,

down, down, down

down, down, down

The ball in the tower goes down, down, down

All day long!”

Want to do it again?  Ask whose turn it is to drop the ball.  If you have more than one child who wants to play then assign duties for turn taking.  One person is the “dropper” – drops the ball.  One person is the “catcher” – catches it at the bottom.  Someone else is the “announcer” – announces “ready, set, go”.

The marble tower is basically the ball tower for older kids (especially ones who won’t put a marble in their mouth).  With an older child allow them to assemble it and even get some pieces turned the wrong way.  That’s a great opportunity to problem solve and use language to figure out which piece needs to turn around.  Instead of using 1-2 word phrases you may be talking about which color is needed next, how many pieces you might need, which ones are bigger, and how tall to make the tower.  If forming longer sentences is a challenge for your preschooler then continue to use short phrases and only add one more word or concept to their idea.  You can still keep the marbles in a bag or box that your preschooler may need help to open and you can still play a hide-n-seek type of game for assembling the tower.  Turn taking may be even more important with your preschooler.  If waiting for his turn is a challenge, give him a job to do when it isn’t his turn to drop the marble (just like in the ball tower description above).

For more ball tower-related ideas check out Playing with…pound-a-ball (for ball towers that don’t require assembly).

Ball tower-type toys are great for language and problem solving!  They also (usually) don’t require batteries which is a huge plus for learning speech and language skills.

For more ball and marble tower toys:


Be sure to like and follow me on Facebook so you don’t miss any of my play ideas and speech and language learning tips!

Playing with… PUZZLES!

Everyone knows what to do with a puzzle and that puzzles are great, educational toys for little ones.  Figuring out where the pieces fit helps children look at size, shape and color. It tests their fine motor skills…and maybe their frustration, if the pieces don’t fit well. Once a puzzle has been completed a few times, how do you keep it interesting and get beyond simply naming the pieces?

(This post contains Amazon affiliate links which means I may potentially earn a small fee based on qualifying sales.)

Speech development with puzzle play

1.  DESTRUCTION – Take it apart instead of putting it together

For the little ones, simply putting a puzzle together may be too hard.  Try taking the pieces out instead of putting them in!  You can still name the animals or foods or vehicles, but instead of saying “in” you say “out”.  To give the activity more purpose, get any kind of container to put the pieces in.  This way you’re making the puzzle less about getting it right and more about just filling up a basket (kids love fill and dump games). Since you aren’t giving them a complicated motor/cognitive task, this gives you more time to practice words like “pull”, “out, “more”, “my turn” in addition to naming the pictures.  When all the pieces are out, YOU can put them back in so that the game can go on and on and on…

2. MYSTERY BOXES – Fun storage containers 

Sometimes the fun of a puzzle is the container in which the pieces are hiding!  If you have an empty box of wipes or tissues, these can be fun to store pieces in and create a little more anticipation about which pieces your toddler will find!  You might just need to widen the opening to be able to pull out larger puzzles pieces.

Speech therapy with puzzles

Storing the pieces in boxes with lids, plastic bags that zip closed, or containers with slots allows for guessing and asking questions like “Oooo, What’s next?” and “Is it a dog?  nooooo.  It’s a cat.  Yippee!”  Pulling out the puzzles pieces (especially if you re-close it each time) can also be an opportunity for your toddler to ask you to “open” or for help.


3. SCAVENGER HUNTS – Make learning active!


If the puzzle board has the matching picture on it, then you can use it like a scavenger hunt and hide the pieces around the room!  Now the puzzle has just become a movement game.  Bonus points for dimming the lights and getting out a flashlight to search for the pieces.  Call out to each piece as you look for it: “banana, where are you?”  When you find it be sure to GASP!  “Aha! I found the….” (now let your toddler try to fill in the word).  This makes finishing the puzzle a bit more exciting because you’ve found ALL the pieces “hip hip hooray!”

4.  PLAY WITH THE PIECES – No need to complete the puzzle at all!

Some of my favorite puzzles are more like boards with doors on them. Make sure you “knock knock” on the door and ask/sing “who’s in there?” before you open it.  Purposefully put the dog in the garage and the car in the birdcage so that your toddler can tell you “nooooo”.  Better yet, tell the dog to “move” or “get out” or “that’s not your house”.  With these types of puzzles the pieces are magnetic so either play near your refrigerator or get out a cookie sheet so you can stick the pieces on.  Now your toddler has a better opportunity to request them from you (because you put them up too high and out of their reach).

Finally, puzzles with chunky pieces are fun to stand up and knock down “kaboom”, “crash”, “staaaaaand UP”, “walk walk walk…RUN!”  There are lots of ways to get those pieces to their appropriate spot on the puzzle.  Tired of putting them where they go?  Just stand them up in a circle, sing Ring Around the Rosy, and then knock them over when “we all fall DOWN”.

Here are some of great puzzles that work well with all of the ideas above:

For fun storage and “mystery box” ideas:

Be sure to “like” and follow my Facebook page for all the latest play ideas.

Here are some other posts you might like:

Where’s the speech in speech therapy?

Playing with… DOORS!

Top 5 NON-toy Toys

If you liked what you read and think others might, too, please SHARE and pass it on!  Thank you.

FREE Handouts you can print out

Here are PDF versions of my most popular blog posts (or at least the ones that might be most helpful to share with others or keep a paper copy for yourself).

This is a work in progress so check back if I do not yet have a printable version of a blog post you would like to have.  You can also just send me a message on my Facebook page, contact me through this website, or comment below if you would like a specific post added to this list.

Most of these printable versions have been condensed in order to fit onto one sheet of paper (although a few are two pages).  The full articles will always be on this website.

10 Strategies to Help Toddlers Learn to Talk PRINTABLE HANDOUT    BLOG LINK

Watch Me: encouraging visual attention in early talkers   PRINTABLE HANDOUT    BLOG LINK

Where’s the Speech in Speech Therapy?  PRINTABLE HANDOUT  BLOG LINK

50 Simple Phrases to Use with “Baby Shark” PRINTABLE HANDOUT   BLOG LINK



Best Toys and Gifts: a speech therapist’s list  PRINTABLE HANDOUT  BLOG LINK

(Part 2 of “Best toys” with photos of specific toys) HANDOUT: THE LIST

Two Little Words to Encourage Communication PRINTABLE HANDOUT  BLOG LINK




Help Little Ones Say Thank You  PRINTABLE HANDOUT  BLOG LINK


Some Books are Better Left Unread PRINTABLE HANDOUT  BLOG LINK

12 Sounds for Christmas PRINTABLE HANDOUT   BLOG LINK


Communicating Before Words PRINTABLE HANDOUT  BLOG LINK


Toddler Speech: unraveling the mystery PRINTABLE HANDOUT  BLOG LINK

Say what they see

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!


Toys That Do Nothing

Have you ever been shopping for toys and picked up various boxes wondering “What does this toy do?”  Well, if you want a toy that will truly encourage interaction and communication then I hope the answer is nothing.

If the toy does nothing then the child gets to do everything.  He can make whatever noises he wants, organize it according to whatever concept makes sense to him, put the parts in various places, stack it up or knock it down.  He could even just push it around in his toy shopping cart.  The toy does nothing without the child.  No batteries, no second languages, no flashing lights, no automated directions to follow, no lengthy songs that play without rhyme or reason.  Instead of asking “what does this toy do?” ask yourself “what can my child do with this toy?”

The “do nothing” toy will allow the child to Create, be Active, and/or Pretend (CAP).  If you’ve already read Best toys and gifts: a speech therapist’s list then you are familiar with CAP!  best toys for speech therapy

(Disclosure: This post contains Amazon affiliate links. This means I may earn a small percentage of qualifying sales.)

Here is a small sample of what I mean by a “do nothing” toy:

Stacking Blocks Set Learning Toy

The best part of stacking is often knocking it all down!  If your little one is not yet able to stack, then let them be involved by counting down the “kaboom” or “crash” or completing the ready, set… “GO”!  Stack it up again by saying “up”, “on top” and naming the colors.  This particular toy also serves as a shape sorter which is perfect for practicing words like “yes”, “no”, “in”, “push” in addition to naming the shapes.   However, my favorite part of this toy is what I call the Mystery Box that serves as the base of the tower.  The yellow cube has an opening with a flap – that’s the “mystery” part and you can use it for anything that fits inside!  Use it as intended – to pull out the shapes that come with the toy – but then use it apart from the tower as a box to hold your favorite  puzzle pieces!  This adds an element of surprise to basic puzzle play.  Practice guessing “what’s next?”  Then excitedly name the piece that you find!  Practice taking turns “my turn” and “your turn”.  For more “mystery box” ideas click here.

Farm Magnets

Get your animal sounds ready!  Animal sounds and other meaningful sounds such as “uh-oh”, “brrrr”, “aha” and “hmmm” are super important to speech development.  With farm magnets, you get to practice “neigh,” “moo,” “oink” and tractor sounds “chug chug chug.”  If your refrigerator holds magnets then these toys can give your little one a kitchen task while you are busy with meal prep or cleaning.  Get out that “mystery box” from the stacking toy and put the magnets inside.  She can take each piece out and stick it to the fridge.   Then take each one off the fridge, put them back in the box and say “bye bye” to each animal. However, some refrigerators are not made for magnets.  In that case, cookie sheets are perfect!  Use a small cookie sheet in the car with your toddler or preschooler for magnet play on the go.

Go beyond animal sounds and use the magnets to set up scenes or trace each animal then use the outlines on a piece of paper as a puzzle.  Pretend to feed each animal with play food or put each animal to sleep “sssshhhh, night night” by turning them over.  Hide the animals around a darkened room and then use a flashlight to find them “cow, where are you?”  Drop the magnets into a dry sensory bin of uncooked pasta, rice, leaves, feathers, etc.  Then announce each one by name or sound as you dig them out and stick them to that cookie sheet.  To practice concepts like above, below, top, middle, and bottom, draw lines on a piece of paper and tape the paper to a magnetic surface.  Then organize the magnets by saying “put the cow above the tractor” or “the horse goes on the top line”.

Service Station Parking Garage

Your little car lover will get good use out of this garage!  The cars go “up” and “down” in the elevator, park “stop” in the numbered spots, slide “whee” or “go” fast down the ramp, fill up with gas “guhguhguh” and get clean in the car wash “scrub scrub” and “ssshhhh” for water spraying sounds.  Finally, the cars can go into the garage when broken “uh-oh” to get fixed or to sleep for the night “ssshh, night night car”.  Little ones may need some help moving the elevator or using the car wash so that’s a wonderful opportunity for you to teach them how to the use the word “help”.

Here are some more of my favorite do nothing toys:

Remember that when playing with your little one, you should use sounds and words which are at, or just above, your child’s expressive ability if you want them to try to imitate what you are saying.  If your child hasn’t yet said a true word then you can use single words or meaningful sounds rather than long sentences.  If your child is using some words then you can use two-three word phrases in play.  Reduce the questions you ask and just give them the words they might want to say.  Follow your child’s lead in play and who knows where their imagination will lead you!

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

Be sure to “like” and follow my Facebook page for all the latest play ideas.

Related: Why does speech therapy for little ones look like it’s just play?  Click on Where’s the speech in speech therapy?

Practice speech when you speak

Your child needs to practice a few specific sounds at home in between speech therapy sessions.  How do you do that?  First, you ask your speech therapist for ideas based on your child’s specific goals and skills.  Then, you consider what your real life is like at home with other children who need your attention, work responsibilities, etc. etc.  You may not realistically be able to set up a mini speech therapy session on a daily basis giving undivided attention to your child for at least 30 minutes.  If you can, great!  No need to read much further.

Carving out “practice time” or “speech time” may also impact your child’s ability to carryover these speech skills into real life use.  So, if sitting at a table to practice “s” with flashcards at home feels awkward and forced for you, it will also feel awkward and forced for your child.  Finding real life words and activities to practice sounds will help those skills generalize much quicker!

Let’s assume your child CAN make the target sound at least occasionally and so home practice will be mostly reminding your child to use the sound:

  1.  Write a list of your child’s favorite foods, games, people, pets, activities, TV show characters with that sound in the word.
  2.  Write a list of possible target words your child uses frequently that you can NOT easily make into flash cards (come here, give me, something, look!)
  3. Choose a word of the day – or week – and write it on a paper attached to the fridge (or some other place where everyone looks every day).
  4. Make those moments count!  Each time your child says asks for “something” make sure they are using the best “S” sound.  If they need to try again in order to get “sssomething” then they may be more motivated to try!

practice speech sounds with play

Here are some other ideas for simple (mostly one syllable), common words to practice every day…

Target sound “g”

  • puzzle play or legos or sorting: “where does it GO?”  “It GOES here”.  “It doesn’t GO here”
  • asking for anything, commands: “GIVE me… (please).”  “GET it.” “GO GET it”.
  • asking for more: “aGAIN”

Target sound “f”

  • puzzle play, hide ‘n’ seek, hidden pictures, matching: “Let’s FIND…”.  “I FOUND it!”
  • counting anything up to 5: “one, two, three, FOUR, FIVE”
  • giving things to others: “it’s FOR you, this is FOR me”

Target sound “l”

  • starting any activity: “LET’S (play!)” “LET’S (go)”
  • when your child wants to you notice something “mom, LOOK!”
  • hidden pictures, hide ‘n’ seek, finding missing socks, etc… “LET’S LOOK in here”
  • when you only give your child a small amount of something but they want “a LOT”
  • talking about what foods, activities, TV shows you “LIKE” and “don’t LIKE”

Target sound “s”

  • hidden pictures, matching, looking for items in the pantry or at the grocery store “I SEE it”.
  • answering basic questions “YESSSSSSSSSS”.
  • counting anything up to 7: “one, two, three, four, five, SIX, SEVEN”
  • “I’m SO hungry/thirsty/bored.” “I need SOMETHING”.
  • Any time you start a sentence with “It’s…” or “That’s…”

(The “s” sound is so common it easily and naturally comes up multiple times per day in conversation so look for it in play with a “SUperhero” or “prinCESS”, when getting “dreSSed” with “SockS”, going “outSIDE”, riding a “buS to School”, etc. etc.)

This is in no way an exhaustive list of practice ideas.  It’s just to get you thinking about words and contexts in which your child might already actually say these target sounds multiple times per day WITHOUT needing to find flashcards or games or pictures books that have these sounds in them.  Practicing speech when you’re already speaking will help meet goals faster and be more meaningful to your child.

Other related posts you may be interested in:

POWER words

Magical Moments

Toddler Speech: unraveling the mystery



Some books are better left unread

Some books are funny, some books teach important social skills, some books are perfect for helping with early literacy skills, some books are more like songs when you read them… there are many reasons to read a book to a child.  However, there are some books that don’t need to be read at all!

Hidden picture books or “Look and Find” or “I spy” books are some of my favorite non-reading books for little ones.  Yes, there are often a few sentences written on the top of the page but who cares!?  Picture books are great for learning language and INTERACTING – so, if you have a little one who doesn’t sit long for books then skip the passive listening expectation and go straight to the fun!

(Disclosure: This article contains Amazon affiliate links which means I may receive a small portion of earnings from qualifying sales.)

Sure, you can ask your little ones to find all of the pictures listed, but that only requires them to point.  How do we get them to talk?

Here are some ideas for using hidden picture books to encourage talking:

  • Pretend to not be able to find the picture.  Yes, the large red apple may be front and center on the page but if you pretend you can’t see it, then your child has the opportunity to help you!  “Apple?  apple? hmmmm…I can’t find it.”  You may want to ask “Is this it?” as you point to a banana.  Your child may want to tell you “no” or say “banana” or just look at you like your crazy, but either way, at least you have his attention.
  • Wave to all of the people in the pictures.  Of course, you are supposed to go through the given list of pictures to find, but maybe it’s fun to just wave to Elmo!  Find Elmo on every page (even if he isn’t listed as a picture to find) and just enthusiastically wave “Hiiiii”.  Maybe even blow him a kiss if you haven’t seen him in a long time.  Blowing kisses is great for imitation and silly mouth play “mmmwah”.
  • Use playdough.  What?  In a book?  Yes.  Many times these “Look and Find” books for toddlers and preschoolers have wipeable pages.  Use playdough to cover the entire picture list and then just peel a section away to reveal the next picture to find.  OR, allow the child to cover the hidden picture with playdough once it’s found.
  • Describe the picture instead of naming it.  “Ok, next let’s find something that you eat and it’s red.”  You can even think aloud… “No, not a banana because that’s yellow.  No, not a car because I don’t eat that….” Give your little one time to figure out you’re talking about the apple!  If they just point to it, you can start the sentence but let her finish “yes, we can find the …. (apple)… next!”
  • Help your little one find the hidden picture with location clues.  It’s under the rock, it’s on top of the boat, it’s next to the tree, it’s at the top of the page… Once it’s been found you can announce “Hooray!” or “Tada!” or “Woot woot!” or whatever other excited sound you prefer.  Exclaim it 2 or 3 times then give your child an open-eyed expectant look and see if they shout “Yippee” also!
  • Make it active.  Take a photo of the list of pictures to find.  Print it out and cut it into cards.  Place the cards on the opposite side of the room or in a Mystery Box and then he has to go to one location to find the picture of what he is supposed to search for and then run to the other side of the room to find that picture in the scene.  Repeat.
  • Ask “wh” questions.  Just because there is a picture list, you don’t have to be limited to finding hidden pictures.  I like to ask about the larger scene: “where is this?”  Help your child see the whole picture and figure out if it’s in a kitchen or at a playground or at a school, etc.  Offering choices might be helpful.  “Maybe it’s a park or a bedroom”… hmmm.  I also ask “Who wants to turn the page?”  They can decide if the answer will be “me” or “you”.
  • Sound play.   If you have a little one, use the sound that a car or animal or person might make instead of asking questions or using long sentences.  Want to find the dog?  Just point to it and bark!  Then think loudly while looking “hmmmmm”.  When you find it, just bark again!  Your little one might do the same.  If you have a preschooler, think about the first letter sound of the pictures you want to find.  “Let’s find something that starts with the sound “d”.

One of the most important things to remember when interacting with books is to follow your child’s interests.  This may mean sitting across from her so that you can watch her eyes and only comment on the pictures that SHE is interested in.  When you make a noise for the dog that she is looking at, there is a better chance she will associate the barking with the dog.  She may even think it’s funny and try it herself.  Even if you are making the most amazing train noises, but she is looking at the person in the car, your efforts may not fully be appreciated or replicated.

The good news is that these books come in various levels of difficulty so your toddler through school-age kids (and even adults) can join in the search.  You can also find books with just about any princess, superhero, or TV show theme!

Here are some of my favorite books for finding things:

Another type of book to NOT read would be books without words (or just a few words).  You get to create your own story for your child’s interest and level of understanding, use your own meaningful sounds, or let your child make up their own ideas and tell YOU…

For a book that will help you learn how to make books fun and silly and NOT read to your little one…but really help your little one with noise making and talking… I highly recommend this book:

If you would like to print out FREE handouts of some of the more popular posts I’ve written for early speech and language learning check out: FREE Handouts

Other posts you may be interested in:

Where’s the speech in speech therapy?

Playing with…BOOKS!

Top 5 NON-toy Toys

Toys That Do Nothing


Where’s the speech in speech therapy?

“It looks like they are just playing.  Is that all they do?”

If you’ve ever watched a speech therapy session with a one- or two- year old, you may have asked yourself this question.  What looks like “just play” actually has a whole bunch of strategy and purpose that goes with it.

How do little ones typically learn to walk?  They explore.  They play.

How do little ones typically learn to talk?  They listen.  They watch.  They play.

Just as we don’t usually pick up a child’s foot and move it into position to teach walking, we also don’t take a child’s mouth and move it into position while simultaneously vibrating her vocal cords to create sound.  That just isn’t possible.

Children learn best through PLAY.  They are interested in play.  Play is motivating.  Play is fun.  They want to play… again and again and again.  Sometimes speech therapy starts with play and sometimes speech therapy starts before play.

I often wish that it was called “communication therapy” and that I was considered a “communication coach” but speech (and language) therapy is the name.  So, we have to explain.

In order to really play with others, the child first must be interested in others.  They have to learn the skills of making eye contact, imitating movements and sounds, taking turns, anticipating actions, smiling when things are funny, checking in with caregivers when things are scary, using gestures like pointing, and understanding that words and sounds have meaning.  When I say “uh-oh”, a child needs to know that something bad or messy just happened.  When I say “get your shoes on”, a child needs to anticipate that we may be leaving the house.  All of these things need to happen BEFORE speech and, sometimes, that’s where speech therapy has to start.  To figure out why a child isn’t yet using words we sometimes need to explore their PLAY skills.

“But my child plays just fine.  When do you teach him to talk?”

Great question!  If all of your child’s “pre-verbal”/play skills are developing on track then a speech therapist uses play to continue to engage your child on their level with a whole bunch of strategies to try and help little ones learn to use their voice.  Strategies might include offering choices, simplifying words, increasing meaningful sounds, reducing commands and questions, increasing visual attention to the speaker’s mouth, playing forgetful games, placing items just slightly out of reach, etc. etc. etc  (that’s a topic for entire textbook or two  – too much for one blog post!)  The point is, yes, we play.  However, we aren’t there to entertain a child.  We expect play to be a two-way street with communication as the ultimate goal.

So, the next time you watch a speech therapy session, look for the strategy behind the fun.  That’s the magic.

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

Need some ideas of WHAT to play with and HOW to play using speech and language strategies?  Check out:

Top 5 NON-toy Toys

Best toys and gifts: a speech therapist’s list!

POWER words

Toddler Speech: unraveling the mystery


Blog at

Up ↑