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Speech and language therapy ideas for playing at home

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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!

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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

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Christmas sounds for toddlers

Thank you for sharing!  Merry Christmas!

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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

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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

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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!


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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?

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

 

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