Let's Play: the speech and language way

Speech and language therapy ideas for playing at home


speech therapy at home

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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Say what they see

Have you noticed how hard to it is to pay attention to something when your mind is elsewhere?  Trying to focus on someone else’s words while you have other ideas is virtually impossible.

How difficult is it to repeat a word you’ve never heard before?  What if that word is in a completely different language using sounds you’ve never even attempted to produce?  This is also virtually impossible – at least on your first attempt.

These two scenarios are KEY to helping little ones learn to talk.

We need to be using words that…

1) match their interest or activity and

2) are easy(ish) to imitate – at least attempt to imitate.

If you are playing with your child and have certain expectations of how that play should go, you may be using words that are of no interest to your child and therefore they pay no attention.  You can talk all day about how the car should drive along the well-defined road that you spent some time creating and how the car stops for gas and then parks in the garage… but then you notice that your child is not following along.  He has actually just noticed that the door on the car OPENS!  Instead of encouraging him to close the car’s door and put the car down on the road and drive so that he can play how the car is supposed to be played with, stop your car play ideas and use words that are meaningful to his play ideas: “open”, “shut”, “knock knock”, “ooooh”.  You may even notice that your child starts to pay attention to you and smiles and maybe even tries to say some of those words or sounds because you are now speaking the same language!

You may have heard that to help your little one learn to talk you should “narrate the day”.  This generally means talk, aloud, about what you are doing so that your little one can hear how language is used.  Yes, you should do that.  But, if you really want to impact how your child learns to pay attention, understand language, imitate sounds, and eventually learn to talk… say what THEY see.  This means talk about THEIR actions, ideas, and thoughts.  Not just yours.

When you are playing with your child (yes, you should do that too), reduce how often you give directions, commands and ask child-directed questions (asking them to complete a task or find a specific item).  Instead, spend several minutes increasing your comments, exclamations, and asking self-directed questions (like wondering aloud to yourself where something could be or how you could problem solve getting an object out of reach).

ideas for speech therapy at home

Here’s another example:  Your child has a shape sorter (or puzzle…or box with anything inside).  We may be expecting them to sort, match, and name the objects.  However, she just noticed that the objects “disappear” when you close the box and then reappear when you open it!

Instead of:

  • command “open it up”
  • give a direction “give me the yellow circle”
  • ask a question “where does the square go?”

Try this:

  • commenting “bye bye shapes!”
  • exclaiming “it’s gone!  uh-oh!”
  • ask a question to yourself “I wonder where it went”

Asking questions to yourself takes the pressure off of your child and gives her an opportunity to help you.  You just have to continue to look and pretend that you can’t find it.  “Hmmmm…where IS that circle?”

Once you are playing how your child wants to play you can add sounds and words that will be more meaningful.  If the box or shape sorter is hiding the objects, try “peek-a-boo” – remember to pause before saying “BOO” so that she has a chance to say it first.  If the objects or shapes are actually in a zippered bag then just say “zzzzzzz” as you zip it up!  She might think that is super interesting and try it too!  Don’t worry if she isn’t matching the colors or putting the shapes where they belong.  If she is watching you and listening to you and trying to imitate the sounds you are making…that’s much more powerful than playing with the toy how the manufacturer intended it to be played with.

I’m fairly certain I’ve never actually read on the instruction booklet for a shape sorter that it can be an amazing toy to use with peek-a-boo, but I have played peek-a-boo while hiding behind a shape sorter lid with MUCH success and laughter!

Bottom line is this:

Offer your children toys. Watch how they play with them.  Follow their lead.  Use words and sounds that match what THEY are doing and what THEY are interested in.

Say what THEY see.  You might find that they will then say what you say!

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

Other posts you may be interested in:

Where’s the speech in speech therapy?

Two little words to encourage communication

Playing with… PUZZLES!


Toys That Do Nothing

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

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

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

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

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

Stacking Blocks Set Learning Toy

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

Farm Magnets

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

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

Service Station Parking Garage

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

Here are some more of my favorite do nothing toys:

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

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

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

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

Practice speech when you speak

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

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

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

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

practice speech sounds with play

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

Target sound “g”

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

Target sound “f”

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

Target sound “l”

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

Target sound “s”

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

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

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

Other related posts you may be interested in:

POWER words

Magical Moments

Toddler Speech: unraveling the mystery



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