Let's Play: the speech and language way

Speech and language therapy ideas for playing at home



Two little words to encourage communication

You want your toddler to say a word.  What do you do?

You get out their favorite book and open it up to the brightly colored picture of the ball.  You know he knows this word.  It won’t fail, right?

Parent:  “What’s this?”

Toddler:  blank stare

Parent:  “Say ball”

Toddler:  looks at the picture of the car

Parent (goes to get a ball then shows it to toddler):  “Do you want the ball?  Say ball”

Toddler:  leaves the room

Sound familiar?  The two most common ways we try to get children to say words may be asking “what’s this” and commanding “say…”.  However, these don’t always seem to work and they rarely work with new words.

Being asked to perform on demand often backfires, especially with little ones who are still learning new skills or those who just don’t want the spotlight.  Direct questions and commands place a lot of pressure on your toddler to talk or at least try to talk.

Taking the pressure off may be one of the most effective strategies we can use to open the doors of communication.  We can do that many ways, but one of my favorites 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!”

By stating “I wonder” you have opened the door to communication without demanding it.  Your toddler does not have to do anything, but if they choose to then it will have so much more of an impact and they may even remember that word more quickly the next time.  By putting the pressure on yourself to remember the word, you have taken all the pressure off of your toddler.  He will thank you… and then maybe feel sorry for you because you are so forgetful and even help you remember!

When you are hoping your toddler will say a word you think they already know, start with “I wonder.”

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

For more play ideas for early communication you may be interested in:

Indoor play with an active toddler

Magical Moments

Best toys and gifts: a speech therapist’s list!



Playing with… magnetic doodle boards

I am obviously no artist (as evidenced by the smiley face in the above picture), but I can use a doodle board!  The magnetic doodle boards are great because they require much less pressure to make a “mark” as compared to crayons and paper.  Some boards also come with shapes so that little fingers can grab the knobs in addition to trying the pen.  But this post isn’t about fine motor skills, it’s about how to use a doodle for speech and language skills!  So let’s get to it.

Using the pen, you can make a straight horizontal line “chooo chooooooo” all the way to the other side “STOP!”

Then you can make a wavy line and practice firetruck sounds each time the line changes direction “weeeeoooooweeeeeoooo”.

Make lots of circles and choose a vowel “oooooooo” or “eeeeeee”.

When you’re ready to change your picture just slide the knob across (or down) “eeeerase!”

Another great aspect to a doodle is that there is only one pen so it’s a great opportunity to practice turn-taking with either gestures (pat on chest for “me”/”my turn”) or words “my turn”, “your turn”.

Use the doodle for body parts (or at least facial features).  Make “mommy” and “daddy” faces then let your little one tell you what parts are missing/needed “eyes, nose, mouth, ears, hair”… depending on your artistic ability.  Say “hi mommy” and “bye bye mommy” when it’s time to erase and draw siblings or other family members.

The board pictured at the top is especially wonderful because the four shapes are animals!  Instead of the traditional circle, star, square, etc. this board is great for animal sounds.  Each time the magnet makes a dot you say the appropriate sound “quack quack”, “meow meow”, “hop hop”, “ruff ruff”.

Magnetic boards are also good for car activities!  My kids like to use them to draw “maps” to our destinations.

Here are some magnetic boards you might want to try:

For other “art” activities for speech and language play at home, check out:

Playing with… ART

Be sure to “like” and follow my Facebook page for all the latest play ideas and for information about my play classes and parent workshops.

Disclosure: I am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means to earn fees by linking to and affiliated sites.

Playing with…MUSIC and SINGING!

Being vocal, being LOUD, being quiet, moving your mouth… these are fun skills to practice both when singing and when learning to say words.  Whether you make up your own songs or sing along with your favorite tunes,  the repetition and rhythm of singing can be a great way for little ones to practice sounds, syllables, and words… even if they don’t always know what they are saying!

For a little one to sing along, the best music will have lots of repetition, few words, a simple rhythm, and easy or silly sounds – which is why kids love songs like Old MacDonald and The Wheels on the Bus.

Mother Goose Club is a great song collection to play in the car. 

You can also take the melody for any of these familiar tunes and make it even more meaningful.  For example, take the tune of “Row, row, row your boat” but instead of rowing your boat, you can eat your food:

“Eat, eat, eat your food… Put it in your tummy… Eat, eat, eat your food… It’s so nice and yummy”

Using your child’s name in any song may get their attention even more!

“(Name, Name) eat your food… Put it in your tummy… (Name, Name) eat your food… It’s so nice and yummy”

Some of my favorite kids’ music artists: Laurie Berkner, Jim Gill ,Raffi and BASHO and Friends.

In the toddler play classes that I teach, I use some of the music from Rachel Arnston, MS, CCC-SLP.  Her songs are wonderful for those who may be limited with words as she focuses on syllables, meaningful sounds, and songs for specific consonants and vowels.  I also recommend her songs for families with older siblings as they can sing along with the music and let their younger siblings fill in the easier sounds.  Her CDs also come with printable materials you can use to help engage your little one or give them something to hold or move while singing.

Whatever music or songs you choose, have fun with it!  Even if you aren’t a great singer (like me), chanting or talking with a rhythm or beat can have a similar effect.  Bonus points if you add marching, spinning, jumping, clapping, or even more elaborate dance moves!

Playing musical chairs may be a little too difficult for those under age 3, but FREEZE dancing is fun!  Run around the room, jump, wiggle, dance…whatever BUT when the music stops – we FREEZE.  It’s a good spin on any “ready, set, go” game or just getting your active toddler to understand the concept of NOT moving! Ha!

For more ideas about playing with songs and sounds, check out my previous posts:

50 Simple phrases to use with Baby Shark

Playing with…SOUNDS

Where are the WORDS?

Be sure to “like” and follow my Facebook page for all the latest play ideas posts and for information regarding my play classes, parent workshops, and in-home play sessions.

Disclosure: I am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means to earn fees by linking to and affiliated sites.

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