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Let's Play: the speech and language way

Speech and language therapy ideas for playing at home

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Play ideas

Name That Game: helping toddlers learn to ask for what they want

What do you and your toddler like to do together? How does he let you know he wants you to do it again or do more of it? When a little one is learning to talk we need to make sure we are naming all kinds of things – even things that don’t seem to have a name – so that he can ask for it again.

When we blow bubbles or sing songs there are natural stopping points in the activity so we can ask “do you want more?”. That’s an obvious question to ask once we are already involved in the activity. But how does your toddler request something on their own? Well, he may know that he can ask for “bubbles” or the “bus” song because he has heard those names before. What about activities like run in a circle and then crash on top of Daddy? How about the swing-me-in-the-air game? Even games that you make up need to have names. Otherwise, your little one won’t know how to request it and you might be in for a surprise when he just starts climbing all over you trying to play the touch-mommy’s-nose game you played yesterday but then forgot all about.

So, if you and your little one like to play games that you invent – PERFECT! Just give it a simple name so that she can ask you again, on her own, or so that you can offer it as a choice later. You want to play “tickle” or “wheeeee?”

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Playing with Wrapping Paper

You have found the cutest wrapping paper. It has your little one’s favorite characters on it.  Seems a shame to give it just a one-time purpose.  What else can you do with wrapping paper that isn’t just wrapping presents?  Even if you prefer to use gift bags for presents, you may still want to get some wrapping paper when it’s on sale!  It can be a fun toy – especially on some of these longer, colder indoor days of winter.

One of the best features of wrapping paper is that it has fun characters in a repetitive pattern.  That makes it perfect for memory/matching games!

Cut out the characters and place one set of matching faces in a box or on the floor or tape them to a cardboard box.  Put the second set of matching faces anywhere else (a different room, in a dry sensory bin, or tape on the wall).  Try it in the dark with a flashlight for even more excitement!

Once the characters are cut out there are lots of other great ways to use them!  Get out a glue stick or some tape and use them like stickers.  Decorate a cardboard box or paper plate.  They can be flashcards, pieces of mail, or even puppets (just tape to popsicle sticks!)

play speech toddlers home

Of course, wrapping paper is easily torn so if you really want these to last you’ll need to protect them with contact paper so they can be played with more than one day.  Real toys of TV characters can be pricey so using wrapping paper can be an inexpensive way to practice naming your little one’s favorites!

Using the backside of wrapping paper can be a huge blank canvas for finger painting or shaving cream play!  Quite possibly the best part of a wrapping paper roll is the long cardboard tube as the added bonus “toy” when the paper runs out!  This is awesome for a car tunnel, telescope, baseball bat, hockey stick, microphone, or an oar for your cardboard box boat!  Don’t forget to decorate it with your “wrapping paper stickers” that you just cut out! 

speech play toddlers

When the paper is inevitably ripped, wrinkled, and beyond repair just wad it all up for a “snowball” toss game!

When it’s the time of year for wrapping paper with every character or festive object in repeating patterns to be abundantly available, stock up!  It’s the gift that keeps on giving!

For more indoor play ideas with basic materials you may want to check out:

Indoor play with an active toddler

The Top 5 “Non-toy” toys

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Stocking Stuffer Ideas from a Speech Therapist

The gifts under the tree tend to be the focus when thinking about Christmas presents, but the stocking stuffers can be just as fun and meaningful.   

Thinking about ideas for children who are learning to talk?  Here are some stocking stuffers that may help with speech and language development:

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

Bubbles – Check out this link for play ideas with bubbles

Wind-up toys – One of my favorite toys that requires minimal attention span with a fun incentive!  Check out this link for using wind-up toys to help little ones ask for help.

Voice changer – Anything that gets little ones interested in using their voice is a winner with me!  You might just want to start with blowing or “aaahh”.

Basic flashlight – A flashlight in a darkened room can help keep your little one’s interest so that you can “find” things and stay on the same topic!  Check out this link to indoor activities for some flashlight play ideas.

Whistles, horns, kazoos, harmonicas, trumpets, party blowers – Again, anything that gets the mouth moving wins!  Take turns, have a parade, or just put it out of reach so they can ask for it again.

Playdough – Check out this link for play ideas with playdough

Stickers – A non-messy way to be creative…or to just stick a bunch of pictures on some paper (or the wall, the doors, the furniture…ha!)  Just be sure to name the stickers as you peel them off.

Bath books or small board books – Check out this link for play ideas for books and this link for books that should never be read.

Little People figures and animals – Pretend play is so much better with small figures and animals that little ones can hold.  Check out this link for  pretend play ideas.

Crayons, markers – Making lines, circles, and dots are excellent ways to practice imitation and then pair it with fun sounds.  Check out this link for play ideas with doodling.

Mittens, socks, and chapstick might be some of the more traditional stocking stuffers but if you get some with fun designs or colors then it gives you more opportunities to offer choices to your toddlers and practice vocabulary:  “Do you want socks with cars or planes?”  “Pink mittens or purple?”

Vibrating toothbrush – Give little ones some independence when brushing their teeth by giving them one that vibrates!  You even get to create an opportunity for them to ask “on” or “off” or “help” – if the button or switch is a bit too difficult.

Be sure to check out some of my other Christmas-themed blog posts for helping little ones learn to talk and play:

12 Sounds for Christmas

Santa Claus is Coming to Town

25 Sounds to Practice When You Find Your Elf Each Morning

Best Toys and Gifts: a speech therapist’s list!

Remember to “like” and follow me on Facebook so you don’t miss any of my play and language learning tips!

25 Sounds to Practice When You Find Your ELF Each Morning

Whether your little one understands the story behind the elf or not, just searching for him in a new location each morning can be fun!  Call out to him several times as your little one is waking up or starting the search: “Eeeelllllfff, where are you?”  If you have a creative, mischievous, messy, or maybe a forgetful elf who sometimes doesn’t move at all… here are 25 sounds to practice with your little one who is just learning to talk (of course many of these sounds could be used for several different elf sighting types!):

Creative or impressive-type elf:

  • Wow
  • Oooo
  • Tada
  • Hooray
  • Woohoo
  • Yippee
  • Aha
  • Yay

Mischievous elf:

  • No No No
  • Uh-oh
  • Rut Ro
  • Yikes
  • Whoa
  • Eek
  • Ouch

Messy elf:

  • Yuck
  • Ack
  • Ugh
  • Eww
  • P.U.
  • Oh no
  • Aww

Forgot to move elf:

  • Huh?
  • Hmm…
  • Oops

Finding anything is a fun way to practice speech and language skills.  If your little one isn’t yet using phrases or sentences then just stick with sound play and single words.  This allows them to potentially imitate a sound that is more within their abilities.  No one likes to be asked to do hard stuff all the time.  Sometimes, we need easy.  We need fun. 

Elf-finding is a fun, repetitive game to play and gets the whole family involved!  For more Christmas-themed speech and language learning ideas, check out: 12 Sounds for Christmas and Santa Claus is Coming to Town.

If you are looking for toy and gift ideas for little ones, especially those who are learning to talk, go to my BEST TOYS AND GIFTS list.

Most importantly, be sure to “like” and follow me on Facebook so that you don’t miss any of my play ideas for helping little ones learn to talk!

12 Sounds for Christmas

It’s seems to come earlier and earlier every year.  Stores used to wait until Halloween was over until they put out Christmas decorations, but now it isn’t uncommon to see Halloween, Thanksgiving, AND Christmas decorations in stores at the same time!  Whether you celebrate any or all of these holidays, your little ones will notice the displays in any store that you go to.

Playing with sounds is one of my favorite ways to help little ones learn to talk!  Christmas is a GREAT time for sounds…and music, lots of music!  Let’s explore some of the simple sounds that may be fun to practice with little ones:  help toddlers talk with sounds at Christmas

  1.  “Fa la la la la la la la la” – Sing Deck the Halls; “yayayaya” and “dadadada” would also be perfectly acceptable.
  2. “Wow” – When your kids inevitably notice the huge inflatable decorations in stores and your neighbors’ yards!
  3. “Brrr” – Depending on your location, Christmastime is likely cold and possibly snowy
  4. “Ooo aah” – Your little one will be mesmerized by all of the lights…flashing, musical, twinkling, etc.
  5. “Ho Ho Ho” – Santa’s belly laugh!
  6.  Tongue Clicks – for reindeer hooves
  7.  “Mmm” – all the Christmas sweets and goodies!
  8. “Tada!” and “Hooray!” – opening up gifts or finding your Elf each morning
  9. “Hey!”Jingle Bells is not the easiest song for little ones, but at the end of the song is a very enthusiastic… oh what fun it is to ride in a one horse open sleigh“HEY!” 
  10.  “Rum pum pum pum” – when your little drummer boy is banging on your pots and pans throughout the house!
  11. “Choo choo” – This is the most amazing season for model trains to be set up all over your town.  You can also take a ride on a real train or set one up around your tree.
  12. “Ding ding” or maybe “jingle jingle” depending on the type of bell – Bells will fill the air and all of the holiday music in your car!

If you’re little one isn’t yet talking and you are asking, where are the words?, remember that sound play and imitation are necessary skills to learn before your little one will start saying many true words.  If you are looking for more Christmas play and toy ideas check out Santa Claus is coming to town! If you have an Elf at your house, 25 Sounds to Practice When You Find Your ELF Each Morning.

Need a toy list especially for little ones who are learning to talk?  Best toys and gifts: a speech therapist’s list!  and Stocking Stuffer Ideas from a Speech Therapist

If you love Pinterest, remember to save this for later…

Christmas sounds for toddlers

Thank you for sharing!  Merry Christmas!

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

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50 Simple phrases to use with Baby Shark

If you can’t stop the “Doo doo doo doo doo doo” in your head then why not at least use it to help your little one learn NEW words and phrases?!  Your little one already knows the tune and the motions, so use that to your advantage and just change the lyrics!

The “Baby Shark” song is so catchy and repetitive and repetitive and repetitive.  Kids love it!  If you have somehow missed the hysteria, here’s the video clip.

Use this simple melody to sing about daily routines, outings, behavior, playtime… ANYTHING!  Just slow down the pace and PAUSE before that last word so that your little one can try to fill it in… then dance around and “doo doo doo doo doo doo…”  Ha!

Of course any of the following objects or people could easily be changed out for whatever is more appropriate for that moment.  Also, you could squeeze in an extra syllable or two if necessary.

Here are just 50 common, simple 3-syllable phrases we may want to teach our little ones:

  1. I love you
  2. I want more
  3. Hello, Mom
  4. Bye bye, Dad
  5. I see you
  6. Peek-a-boo
  7. Wake up, Dad
  8. Put it on
  9. Turn it off
  10. It’s a dog
  11. Car is red
  12. Find the cat
  13. Stack up blocks
  14. I need help
  15. Where’s the ball?
  16. What is this?
  17. Who is that?
  18. Here you go
  19. Thank you, Mom
  20. Clean up toys
  21. Time for lunch
  22. Eat your peas
  23. I like cheese
  24. I’m all done
  25. Go upstairs
  26. Put on socks
  27. Hands to self
  28. Walking feet
  29. Inside voice
  30. Please sit down
  31. Let’s go out
  32. Get your shoes
  33. Buckle up
  34. Car goes fast
  35. Driving car
  36. I see trees
  37. Wave to her
  38. Stop sign red
  39. Green light go
  40. Grocery store
  41. Let’s buy bread
  42. Going home
  43. Dinner time
  44. Drink your milk
  45. Brush your teeth
  46. Fill the tub
  47. Pour it out
  48. Wash your feet
  49. Read a book
  50. Say good night

This is just 50… I could have easily made a list of several hundred, but you get the idea!

For more play-based ideas for helping your little one learn to talk, you may want to read: Help your toddler say “Thank You”Where’s the speech in speech therapy?, or Playing with… PUZZLES!

Need a printable version of THIS POST and some of the more popular blog posts to handout to others?  Go to: FREE Handouts you can print out

Be sure to follow me on Facebook for all of my play ideas and communication tips!

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:

                   

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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.

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3. SCAVENGER HUNTS – Make learning active!

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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.

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


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

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