Let's Play: the speech and language way

Speech and language therapy ideas for playing at home



10 Strategies to Help Toddlers Learn to Talk

Some toddlers seem to talk without any help at all. For others, we need to help a bit more. Whether toddlers have a language delay or are just learning to communicate, we are their best teachers. Talking to them, and -more importantly – WITH them, can make a world of difference. Here are my favorite strategies for helping toddlers learn to talk (in no particular order):


Talking about your toddler’s interests will make much more of an impact than talking about what we are thinking. Using short phrases, single words, and even just meaningful sounds while taking a moment to kind of jump into your toddler’s head and say HIS ideas will help your toddler give verbal/vocal meaning to his thoughts. Just because he is playing with a shape sorter does not mean he wants to name shapes and colors. He also may not want to ask questions. So if we are spending more time asking “what’s that?” and “where’s the circle?” then we are not giving voice to HIS ideas. He may be more interested in stacking the shapes, so say “up, up, up”; he may think it’s fun to tap the shapes together, so try “bang, bang, bang”; he may just want to toss the shapes into a bucket, so then you could say “whee” or “uh-oh” or “ready, set, GO”. Follow HIS ideas, give words to HIS play. Say HIS words. MORE ideas: Say What They See

Model language to help toddlers learn to talk by giving a voice to THEIR ideas


The moments that your toddler initiates communication (showing you something, reaching for something, pointing to something) are what we, as speech language pathologists, often try to recreate during therapy sessions. However, these moments happen throughout the day and should not be missed. When your toddler points, name the object before you ask a question. When your toddler is struggling to make a decision, offer two choices. When your toddler grabs your hand and wants you to follow, say the word they should use to ask you to stand “up” or “come” here or “help”. Toddlers may not be interested in repeating the same task or playing with the same toy for an extended period of time so make sure you those moments count. MORE ideas: Magical Moments

Help your toddler learn to talk by making the moments he initiates communication truly count!


Children learn to imitate and move before they learn to talk. If words are a challenge, use what they CAN do – imitate and move. Using gestures and motions with sounds allows a toddler to imitate the motion if the sound isn’t ready yet. They will feel success because they were able to do SOMEthing that you did, even if it wasn’t the word. The more success they feel (because we cheer for them) the more they may try other actions and sounds. When we greet people we say “hi” and wave. Most of the time, toddlers will imitate the waving before they say the word “hi”. That’s perfect. Let’s do more of that. Pair the sound with an action. When you say “milk” give the sign as well. When you say “dinosaur”, try stomping your feet with the syllables “di-no-saur”. Your toddler may stomp back. When you say “GO…”, try patting your mouth as you hold that “oh” sound. Your toddler may vocalize “oh” when he imitates the motion of smacking his own mouth – ha! MORE ideas: Communicating Before Words

Imitation and gestures will help your toddler learn to talk.


Doing things with others is often less intimidating than being expected to put on a solo performance. When we sing and chant and complete familiar phrases at the SAME time as our toddlers, we give them opportunities to see our mouths move in the same way that their mouths should be moving. It’s so powerful. It’s also fun! Songs provide predictable and repetitive patterns to our words and pair those words with melody and intonation. Using familiar songs, making up your own with functional phrases, or just chanting and completing phrases together e.g. “turn the… (page)” allows the toddler to practice words in the same way over and over again in a FUN way because you say them together! MORE ideas: Music and Singing

Help toddlers learn to talk with music and singing


When the activity options are endless or the snack pantry is a free-for-all then making a choice can be super challenging – for anyone. Offering your toddler a choice of ONLY TWO options can help to limit the words needed. (It also helps limit the thinking needed to come up with an idea.) When you KNOW what your toddler wants, offer it as the 2nd option. For example, your toddler loves goldfish crackers and you’re pretty sure that’s what she wants. Offer an obvious non-preferred choice first then the most obvious preferred choice 2nd, as in “broccoli or goldfish”. By offering the most preferred option 2nd, you’ve really just created an opportunity for your toddler to repeat the last word they heard rather than ALSO having to make a definite choice AND come up with the right word. That’s hard. We don’t want to make it hard. We want success! You may need to hold up the objects or pictures so that your toddler can visualize what the choices are. Even if they can’t yet say the words, at least they can point to their choices. You know what they want, they know what they want, and frustration may be reduced.

Offer toddlers a choice to help them learn to talk


Toddlers are busy. Super busy. They don’t always want to interrupt their activities in order to look at us, so we have to make it interesting and purposeful to watch our mouths move. Drawing attention to our mouth when we say single words or sounds helps her watch the movement of speech. Can’t find something? Call out to the missing object while cupping your hands around your mouth… “Daddy, where are you?” Can’t find a ball? Search for it (with purpose) “Ball?” “Ba-aaalll, where are you”. Watching how the mouth moves can also help when your preschooler needs to learn how to say specific sounds correctly. If watching your mouth isn’t high on your toddler’s or preschooler’s list of importance then you may need to get creative. MORE ideas: Watch My Mouth Move

Help toddlers learn to talk by watching mouth movements


When words aren’t easy, try sounds. Sometimes you may need to simplify a word down to its smallest part in order for your toddler to attempt it. For example, he loves dinosaurs but he never says “dinosaur”. Break it down. “Dinosaur. Dino. Di. Duh. Roar.” Offer any or all of these simplified versions of the word to see when your toddler is willing and able to attempt an imitation of whatever you said. Sometimes we need to go all the way down to a meaningful sound “ROAR!” No matter what level we model, we then need to help build the word back up so that, over time, your toddler learns to say the whole word. How about “milk”? Try “milk, mi, mmmm” or the sign for milk. Playing with sounds will ultimately help encourage a vocal toddler. Vocal and noisy toddlers turn into talking toddlers. MORE ideas: Playing With Sounds

Help toddlers learn to talk by simplifying words into sounds and gestures


Creating opportunities to talk is one of my favorite ways of talking with toddlers. These early “conversations” open the door for little ones to participate, but they don’t have to. When we pretend that we don’t know where things are, or can’t remember something, then this gives toddlers their big chance to help US! For example, give a toddler his yogurt but forget to give the spoon. Give the toddler just ONE cracker but forget to give more. Give your toddler ONE shoe, but forget where the other shoe even is! (Well, maybe you don’t have to pretend with that one. Ha!) The idea is that we want to talk WITH our toddlers, not just AT them. Asking them about their ideas or where things are or how to solve a problem, gives them opportunities to communicate. Their communication does not need to be full sentences or even with words, but at least they can participate through actions or gestures. Sometimes, the LESS you know, the more they can help!

Invite toddlers to talk or participate in conversations by asking obvious questions.


Taking the pressure off may be one of the most effective strategies we can use to open the doors of communication. I’ve already mentioned the strategies of singing, offering choices, and being forgetful which are great pressure-reducers. However, one of my favorite pressure-reducing strategies is to start with two little words: “I wonder”. Rather than ask your toddler “what’s this”, try wondering aloud while YOU look at the picture of the ball: “I wonder what this is.” Sounds simple and maybe you’re thinking that won’t work. Try it. Take it a step further and wonder aloud if it could be “a car? no. a bird? no.” Keep wondering “hmmmm”. Maybe even wonder aloud if it could be one of two things (this way you are reminding your toddler of the word without telling them) “I wonder if it’s a car or a ball…hmmm”. You may be surprised when your toddler tries to help you by saying “ball!” Asking direct questions and giving specific commands often feels like a test. (For example: “What color is this?” and “Say blue.”) If your toddler does not want to perform on demand, then it may be time to reduce the pressure and test-type questions. MORE ideas: Two Little Words

Help your toddler learn to talk by taking the pressure off.
Reduce questions to help your toddler learn to talk


Your toddler thinks it’s HILARIOUS to pop bubbles or play “peek-a-boo” or “tickle me” or “throw me in the air”. Whatever gets his interest, give that game a name! Then wait. Wait. Wait some more. Wait until HE gives you some indication that he wants it to continue. He may smile, he may search, he may reach, he may look at you… whatever it is – WAIT for it. When he indicates the game needs to go on – NAME it or say “more” or “again”! The more we continuously entertain our children without waiting for their requests, the more we have missed opportunities to help them communicate! Make those anticipatory silly faces, hold those toy cars at the starting line, get your hands in the tickle position, pucker your lips to blow some more bubbles…but DON’T. Give your toddler the chance to tell you “ready, set… GOOO!”

toddlers learn to talk by giving them wait time and naming fun activities

So, there’s my “10 strategies” list. I intentionally did not write “top 10” or “10 best” because there are so many strategies that are helpful. Many overlap. Some need to be combined. Some are better suited for specific activities. Some work better than others depending on the child and the caregiver. The bottom line is that HOW you talk WITH your toddler can make a huge impact. No toy or app can ever replace a human being when it comes to learning to communicate. You don’t need to master ALL of these strategies, but if you try a few you may be glad you did! You’ll know you got it right because your toddler will let you know (with words or a smile).

Toddlers learn to talk when they are engaged in the activity.  Look for their smile.

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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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Watch Me: tips for increasing visual attention for early talkers

Babies aren’t born knowing how to talk. They learn, from us. Although a first word is a major milestone, there are so many communication skills they need to master before that first word is ever heard. Watching others is how most babies learn to do…well, most anything! They watch us point, they want to point. They watch us clap, they try to clap. They watch us stick out our tongue, they want to do the same. If they are listening and watching then when we say “bababa” they might give it a try. Watching leads to imitation and imitation leads to learning. So what do we do when our little ones aren’t naturally watching us?

If you have a little one in speech therapy already, you may have heard that you should hold objects near your mouth when you name them so that your little one can watch your mouth move while looking at the object at the same time. It’s a good strategy. I recommend it all the time. But why?

If you’ve ever felt that your child isn’t listening to you and doesn’t seem to imitate your sounds very often, it may be time to focus on visual attention. What is that? It just means encouraging your little one to watch you: watch your mouth, watch your facial expressions, watch your actions. They can’t imitate well if they aren’t watching. Start there. Imitation is key. Didn’t I say that already? Oh, yes, repetition is important too!

Additionally, watching an adult’s mouth move is important for learning how to say specific sounds more accurately and realizing that my mouth needs to open, or my lips need to close, or my tongue needs to go up – whatever the case may be. Either way… if you have a little one learning to talk or a preschooler trying to say sounds more accurately… encouraging them to watch your mouth can be hugely beneficial!

Maybe it works for you if you just say “look at me”. Great! Go with that! However, most toddlers don’t really like to be told what to do so we need to get creative…

Draw attention to your face

  • Hold objects near your mouth when you name it. When your toddler wants milk (or anything), pause before you give it to them and just say the word clearly while you hold it near your mouth. “Milk.” You don’t need to ask them to do it. Just say the word. Watch that their eyes shift from the milk to your mouth and back again.
  • Blow bubbles and PAUSE while you hold the wand near your mouth to say “bubble” or “go”. If they are awaiting the bubble to appear from the wand, they are also staring straight at your mouth!
  • Make funny faces or sounds in a mirror. Bonus points for using painter’s tape to create a frame on large bathroom mirrors. Mirror play can also be a little less intimidating for those who are hesitant to make eye contact in close proximity.
  • Make a cardboard frame and hold it up around your face.
  • Cut out a hole in a cardboard box and wear it like a helmet. Now you are an astronaut or you’re on TV!
  • Use a puppet theater but instead of using puppets, use yourself!
  • Talk through the cut outs in board books.
  • Hold up a diving ring or pop toob to put a colorful circle around your face.
  • Cup your hands around your mouth, but hold them open wide enough to not cover your mouth. Then call out or “sing out” to objects/people that you are trying to find.
  • Play peek-a-boo with the slats around a crib… or anywhere with anything.
  • Wear bright lipstick! Then make lip stamps on paper for a fun mouth moving activity…”mmmmwah!”
  • Put on a paper plate mask with a large opening for your mouth – or any mask that shows your mouth.

Do something different or out of the ordinary

  • Imitate your toddler. We spend a lot of time saying words he isn’t yet able to say and encouraging him to try. It’s a perfect recipe for a toddler to tune you out! However, if we say “babadada” after they do it first, that might be different and interesting because mom and dad can say HIS sounds and then he may pay more attention since it’s something he can already do! Sometimes a little easy practice is a nice change.
  • Be forgetful. When you don’t remember where a highly preferred item is or can’t see it (when it’s clearly in view), this may prompt your little one to A) wonder what happened to you and/or B) desperately try to get your attention to help you. Either way, they are more likely to look at you.
  • Be incorrect. Similar to being forgetful, purposefully name their favorite toy or food or person something different with an uncertain tone then pause… wait. They, again, might think you are crazy or try to help their poor mom who just can’t seem to get things right.
  • Turn lights off and get out a flashlight! Don’t scare your little one with a spooky face, but put the light directly onto your mouth. Make some easy sounds “aaahhh” “oooo” “mmmm” so they can watch how your mouth changes.
  • Whisper. Teachers know this one well. If you turn off lights or clap your hands in a rhythm to see who’s paying attention, these subtle changes may help gain some control over a noisy room. Similarly, instead of talking loudly or even in a normal voice, try super quiet. When you whisper, your toddler may wonder what the secret is all about and watch you more intently.
  • Use an action around your mouth while you talk or make sounds. Make silly sounds like “aaaahhhh” and pat your mouth at the same time, that way they not only need to listen to what you are saying, but need to watch how you did that.

Once your little ones are watching you, they have a much better chance of doing what you’re doing and maybe even saying what you’re saying.

Other posts you may be interested in:

FREE Handouts

Do Not Let This Moment Pass

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Do not let this moment pass

You know what your little one wants.  Everyone knows it.  It’s obvious she’s pointing to something or reaching for something or staring at something.  However, she hasn’t started talking yet or, at least, she doesn’t yet know THAT word.  What do you do to help HER learn to tell YOU what she wants?

Let’s just use the photo above for our example.  She wants to reach that door handle.  She can’t.  She needs our help.  Here are some choices:

  • Open it for her.
  • Respond: “Do you want me to open it?  Say ‘open’.”
  • Kneel next to her and pretend you can’t reach either then grunt “uh, it’s too high”.  Grunt some more while pretending to reach. 
  • Stand next to her and knock.  “Knock knock”.
  • Get down to eye level and ask “open?”  Wait for eye contact, a head nod, a smile, or some indication that means yes, then point to your mouth and say “OOOOpen”.
  • Approach her and ask “do you want to close it or OPEN it?”

Any of these responses could get the job done, but depending on your child’s abilities, you may want to try a variety of these to see which option gets the better communication result.  Maybe you want to focus on social interaction, maybe answering yes/no questions is the target, maybe the goal is imitating sounds (“knock”), or maybe the goal is attempting a new word.

The key to Magical Moments, is that you have to capitalize on that sweet spot between knowing what the request is and BEFORE your toddler starts to get upset or frustrated.  If you find the magical moment and use the strategy the best fits your child’s abilities, you are much more likely to see results.

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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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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!


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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!


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


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