Let's Play: the speech and language way

Speech and language therapy ideas for playing at home



Communicating before words

Some parents have shared with me that they are hesitant to teach their baby sign language because they want their baby to talk.  To them, the idea that we are teaching baby to communicate without words was taking a step back.  I used to try to explain that sign language is “just a bridge we use to help reduce frustration and give baby a way to communicate.” However, that doesn’t always convince everyone.

What if we stop saying “baby sign language” and just call it gesturing?  Sometimes explaining that teaching basic sign language to children, whom we fully expect will be verbal communicators, as simply elaborate gesturing gets people on board.

In this video, my own son uses the sign for “more” (and vocalizes “muh”) when the water stops flowing.

So how is baby sign language like gesturing?  When I wave, that means “hi” or “bye”. We usually say “hi” and “bye” at the same time that our hand moves.  So, is waving a gesture or is it sign language? Has learning to wave ever stopped a baby from talking? Of course not.

It’s normal and natural to talk with our hands and to gesture. For the vast majority of babies, learning a few extra signs is just like teaching a few extra gestures. It’s normal and natural 🙂

Still not sure?  Click on the article below for more information.

The Importance of Gestures

There is no “right” time to introduce signs.  Some people start when baby is a newborn.  Others wait until she starts to do other gestures such as waving, clapping, or pointing.  You can start any time your child is not yet fully communicating with words, age really isn’t important.  Even when some toddlers start using words they can be difficult to understand.  Gestures, or signing, can help differentiate whether “muh” was more, milk, or even the woman across the street who looks like a mama.

Choose 2-3 words that may be helpful in reducing frustration such as “more” and “all done” and 2-3 favorite foods/animals/toys/activities. No need to learn all the signs and don’t feel pressured to become fluent in American Sign Language.  Just use enough to get communication going.  Some children might really take to signing and use several dozen signs.  Others will quickly understand the symbolism of gestures/words to objects and start to vocalize for those objects.

For those interested in baby sign language…Here are two really great websites with searchable video and/or picture dictionaries.

For DVDs to watch with your little one at home:


You may also be interested in reading these posts about children who aren’t yet talking:  Where are the WORDS? and Playing with…sounds

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

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Where are the WORDS?

The magic of when the first word appears is a highly anticipated event.  Words are important.  Talking is a big deal.  However, so much emphasis is put on words that we often forget to practice what happens before words.  Whether your child is 9 months or 2 and ½ years old, if they have no words yet there is a LOT we can practice before we expect them to say “ball” or say “mama”.

No one expects a baby to just start walking one day without any foundational skills.  First they usually sit and crawl and stand and cruise along furniture.  Then maybe they take some steps while holding your hand.  THEN they walk.  Why would we expect children to talk or say a word if they haven’t yet practiced the foundational skills?  If you’ve never heard your child say a sound like “buh” they are probably not ready to say “ball” just as if they never imitated any action (clapping or pointing or banging) then they probably aren’t ready to imitate a sound.

These things come first:  imitation and sound play.  Let’s start there.

Playing with sounds is FUN and there is much less pressure to imitate fun, silly sounds.  We rarely have to ask our children to make raspberries (or some other form of juicy spitting noise), they just DO it because we DO it and it’s funny.  That’s your moment!

Meaningful play sounds are the foundation to speech.  Noisy children become verbal children.

So what are “play sounds”?  The list is LOOONNNNGGGGG….

  1. Animal sounds. Go beyond “woof, woof”.  Dogs also pant, whine, and give slurpy licks for kisses.  Instead of asking “what does the dog say” just make dog noises when you see one on the street or on TV or in a book or in your house.
  2. Vehicle noises. Not only do cars go “beep beep” but you can also make sounds for putting gas in, closing doors, crashing, screeching tires and maybe even the alarm goes off!  Sirens for emergency vehicles, airplanes taking off, construction trucks rumbling, trains chugging along, bike riders dinging bells…the list goes on and on.
  3. Happy noises. Even laughing can be a playful sound!  Vary the pitch of your pretend “ha ha ha” and “hee hee hee” to see what response you get from you child.  Squeals of delight, gasps of excitement, and “oohs and aahs” also let your child know that the pictures in the book are SUPER amazing!  I like “yippee,” “tada”, “woohoo” and “hip hip hooray” for more complex happy sounds.
  4. Scared or surprised sounds. We have many opportunities to practice “uh-oh” with the endless spills and messes to clean up.  “Whoa,” “yikes,” “wow,” and “aaaaaaaaa” are also fun.
  5. Playing with… MMMMMMM is fun!  Thinking and eating are great times to practice this one.
  6. Try echo or amplified sounds such as making noises in a tunnel or into a microphone or through a paper towel roll or into a stacking cup or while cupping your hands around your mouth.
  7. Pairing actions with sounds is a great way to practice imitation. Do what I do AND say what I say.  Instead of just saying “OH”, hold it out longer and pat your mouth at the same time.  Instead of just staying “sh”, hold your finger up to your lips.  Your child might not yet be able to say “be quiet” or even make the “sh” sound, but they imitate putting their finger to their lips so that’s a start!
  8. OTHER: Cold sound “brrr”.  Tongue clicks.  Refreshing drink sound “aaaaahhhh”.  Grunt with effort to push, pull, or carry something heavy.

The idea is that the more children practice various sounds, and the more they imitate what you are doing, the better prepared they will be for talking.  So the next time you’re wondering where the words are just think aloud “hmmmmmmm”.  Maybe your child will too!

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help toddlers learn to talk by using sounds

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The Passionate Pointer

Anyone have a toddler who loves to point at stuff?

Recently a mother described her toddler to me as a “passionate pointer” – what a great description! Pointing is an excellent way to show someone you need help, want something NOW, see something SUPER cool, or do NOT like what is happening over there. Toddlers might have lots to tell you when they point, but they also may not yet have the words. How can we help?

Meet them at their level.

If the child points and says “pane” (or some other form of “airplane”) then you respond “yes, airplane” pause “I see it” pause “bye airplane”. He is using one word so we are using HIS word plus 1-2. No more. Keep it simple.

If the child points and grunts or says nothing word-like then you respond with an appropriate meaningful sound. I use “sssshhhzzhhh” (or something like that) for my amazing airplane sound. You might want to just use an excited sound to match their enthusiasm “woooowww”, “whooooaaa”. Sure, you can also say the word “plane” or “airplane”. You want him to know what it’s called, but if you want them to maybe try to say a word back to you then “sing” the word or make it silly in some way. Kids love silly.

If the child isn’t yet at the level of words then don’t overwhelm them with “yes, I see the airplane. There it goes. I know you like airplanes. Ok, come on we have to keep going.” If you want your child to be able to tell you about the awesome stuff they experience in their day, you have to give them words/sounds that are on their level.

Want more tips about how to get your little one talking? Check out my Facebook page. I offer play and language learning classes “Let’s Play”, parent workshops “Sounds to Sentences”, and individual at-home play sessions.

The Power of Peekaboo


I could write an entire book on why peekaboo is an amazing game to play with babies and toddlers, but who has time to read books when you’re taking care of babies?  🙂

So, here are the highlights of why peekaboo is quite possibly the greatest game ever invented!

(in no particular order)

* It’s timeless and universal – kids around the world since the beginning of time have loved this game

* It requires NO TOYS, no batteries, and minimal effort to get babies interested

* Babies can play with anyone – parents, grandparents, siblings, even with themselves in a mirror

* It teaches object permanence so that babies learn that people and objects are still present even when you can’t see them – and that mommies and daddies do come back

* It teaches babies to anticipate what might happen next by listening to your intonation and watching your fingers wiggle or a blanket shake before the excited “boo!”

* It can easily be adapted as babies grow so that they can actively participate as early as when they first smile until they can hide behind their own hands or under a blanket

* You can change the words but keep the same intonation pattern for other phrases for them to start to fill in the blank “peek a ___”; “ready set ___”; “1, 2 ___”

* You can play anywhere!  No need to pack anything or worry about missing pieces.

* Peekaboo teaches ALL of the preverbal skills that are so important to speech and language development – attention, imitation, turn-taking, play, gesturing, understanding of language

Tips for playing peekaboo:

For babies under 6 months of age, go a bit more slowly and don’t cover your face completely so that you don’t frighten them

The real magic will happen between 6-12 months when they start to understand object permanence!  Make sure you pause before that last “boo” and give them an extra second to really get excited or maybe even vocalize to fill in the last part.

When they show you (by smiling, laughing, reaching) that they want to play again and again and again… make sure you say “more?”  then play…again…and again…and again!


Be sure to like and follow my Facebook page for all the latest information regarding toddler play classes, parent workshops, and in-home play sessions to help little ones get talking!  Contact me with any questions.

Other posts you may like:

Playing with…BOOKS!

Playing with…Pop up toys

After the rain…PUDDLES!



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