Let's Play: the speech and language way

Speech and language therapy ideas for playing at home



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?

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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.


3. SCAVENGER HUNTS – Make learning active!


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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Top 10 ways to practice speech and language skills OUTDOORS

Communication happens everywhere!  If you follow my blog you’ll know that while I love using toys to help little ones learn to talk, I’m equally a fan of using NO toys and taking the strategies (modeling, sound play, offering choices, etc.) you use in play to whatever location or activity is interesting to your child.

Here are 10 ideas for playing OUTDOORS…

  1. Tap two sticks together: “tap, tap, tap”, take turns to practice imitation, play “guess that tune”
  2. Stack rocks into a tower or pile: “big, small, flat, bumpy, round”, “up, up, up” and “uh-oh!”
  3. Throw rocks into a creek: change your voice to reflect BIG splashes “BOOM” and little splashes “plop”
  4. Doodle in the dirt or gravel: grab a stick and make a long line then pick a sound “whee, sssss (snake), weeooooweeeooo (firetruck)”; practice shapes, letters, or “X” marks the spot for treasure hunting
  5. Treasure hunting: fill a bag or container with various nuts, rocks, sticks, petals, leaves, etc. Name what you find and try to find “more”.
  6. Line up rocks/sticks:  make a “roadblock” or a “parade” of rocks – or just call it a line.  Name each rock with a different word or syllable and say it as you touch the rock “ba, ma, da, ga” or “ba, be, bi, bo, bu”.  Then throw them one by one into the creek using their syllable names: “bye bye da, bye bye ga”.
  7. Build a fairy house (or any tiny, imaginary figure house):  collect the sticks then prop them up and count how many you need.  Name your “fairy” and pretend to say “hi, bye, night night” to her/him.
  8. Throw sticks into the creek:  watch them float away and narrate their journey –  “ooo” on the smooth and peaceful stretches and “bump” or “bang” when it runs into a rock.
  9. Stepping stones: whether there are tree stumps or rocks in the water or logs across the pathway, sing a familiar song and step to the beat.  Take the tune of Row, Row, Row your boat and sing “step, step, step on it; careful as you go; step, step, step on it; don’t step on your toe” – or some other award-winning-made-up-on-the-spot kind of song!
  10. Freeze game: If your little one prefers to run instead of take a stroll through the woods, and the word “stop” is not working so well – try “freeze” instead.  When you yell “freeze” he needs to strike a pose or turn into ice or become his favorite superhero or whatever seems fun/meaningful.  The freeze game has been a huge help recently with my own two runners – one freezes into superhero poses and the other freezes into princess poses.  Then I have to guess who they are… endlessly going through my list of possible answers.


Here are some other outdoor play-related posts: Playing…outside!, Talking… at the Playground!, After the rain…PUDDLES!

Looking for strategies to use?  Read Where are the WORDS?, Two little words to encourage communication, Magical Moments

You  may also be interested in: Top 5 NON-toy Toys, Playing with…NO toys


practice speech and language outdoors
So much to talk about when things are THIS interesting!



Playing with…BOOKS!

There are endless articles telling parents about the importance of reading to little ones, but what about reading to babies and toddlers who don’t seem interested?  What do you do with all those wonderful picture books that don’t really have a story to read?  How can you use a book to help a child learn to talk when they are supposed to listen?

Well, let’s start with this:  Books are toys.  reading

Books for babies are just like anything else…something to explore.  I like to say “don’t read the book…read your baby”.  The text on the page is not as important as following your baby’s lead and talking about HER interests.  This means you don’t need to name every picture on the page.  You can even skip pages.  Let her turn the pages.  Go forward or backward in the book.  “Sing” the book to increase attention.  Try “reading” with no words at all and just make meaningful car, airplane, animal, eating or excited noises – as appropriate 🙂

(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.)

When your toddler prefers to move rather than sit for a story choose books that you can touch/feel, lift a flap, stick your hands through a cut out, or a My First Look and Find type of book.  The idea is we want toddlers to be interested in books, pages, pictures, etc.  Sitting for a story may not yet be their interest.  When you play with books, make sure you sit across from your toddler so that you can see each other.  Not only does that give your toddler a better opportunity to watch your face and mouth as you name the pictures, but you’ll be better able to talk about his interests by watching his eyes.  Of course, this does not necessarily mean you’ll both be seated.  You may need to start by holding the book up and shining a flashlight on a page just to get his attention.  If he leaves the book quickly then make sure you “peek” at the next page with an excited “wooowww” to see if that will spark his interest to come back.

If your toddler enjoys books but just doesn’t name many of the pictures, try sounds.  Pretend to eat the food “yum”, make the vehicle and animal noises, blow kisses to the babies “mmmmwah”, say “hi” to the people, and “bye bye” to the book when it’s finished.  Singing books is fun too and can help make those picture books more predictable.  Pick any familiar tune and just name each picture to that melody.  Some books ARE songs.  Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?  fits nicely with the tune of ABCs or Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.

Once your toddler is interested in books and has some favorites, leave out the rhyming words for him to fill-in.  Purposefully skip a page to see if he’ll correct you.  Name objects incorrectly.  These are all great ways to make books more interactive and playful.

Which books are best?  It’s super hard for a pediatric speech therapist to select a small book list of favorites, so this list is by no means complete!  Here are just SOME of my favorites for early language learning.

You can’t go wrong with Priddy Books:


Anything by Sandra Boynton is pretty great for interactive, noise making, sing-song book play:

Here are some of my other favorites for encouraging silliness and interaction:


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 and for information about my toddler play classes and parent workshops.


Playing with… DOORS

Toys with doors are so magical!  The doors OPEN… and CLOSE!  Ha!  Seriously, the doors can uncover all kinds of wonderful objects inside.

Want to practice colors?  Many of the toys with doors come with colored shapes/ objects to categorize or name.

Use the doors to hide objects with a specific sound.  For example if you want to practice “f” then hide objects (or pictures) like the numbers 4 and 5, a fan, feet, foot, food, fish, etc…

Practicing animals sounds and names?  Hide animals.  Then when the door opens make the animal say “hi” or greet with the appropriate “moo” or “woof”!

Don’t limit the toy’s usefulness to whatever objects were included with it.  If it was a garage-type toy you don’t always have to park cars.  Get out some little people or figurines and put them to bed in their rooms – “night, night” and “ssshhhh”.


Another great feature of many toys with doors is that they often come with keys!  This is a great opportunity for your little one to ask for “HELP” or ask for the “key” that you may have forgotten to give them (on purpose).  Remember to also practice “knock, knock, knock(ing)” on the doors to see if anyone is home “helllllooooo?”

Toys with doors use the same concept as peekaboo or hide and seek.  Remember how your little one loved books with flaps?  Same idea.   IMG_20170817_163339

Call out to the hiding object “MONkey?  Where ARE you?”  Practice “yes” and “no” responses by purposefully finding the wrong object once or twice “is this a monkey? noooo” before finding the right one “yessssss!”  Sometimes a “tada” or “woohoo” works well when you’re really excited about finding the right one 🙂

When it’s time to clean up, make sure to say “bye monkey” and “bye bye” to all the objects, maybe even wish them “sweet dreams” and blow them a kiss!

Click on images to find products with doors and keys!

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.

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

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

Be sure to “like” and follow my Facebook page


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…sounds

Most kids love music and love to make noise! Singing is a great way to play and also helps with activities like diaper changes, mealtimes, getting dressed, etc. Take the tune of “If You’re Happy and You Know It” and sing about putting your shoes on…

“Put your shoes on your feet on your feet
Put your shoes on your feet on your feet
Put your shoes on your feet, that will really be neat
Put your shoes on your feet on your feet”

Shaking, tapping, chiming, banging on musical instruments allows for plenty of imitation practice with various beats and simple rhythms.  Also, it naturally gives you the opportunity to announce “ready, set…” let your toddler fill-in “GO” and then lots of cheering and clapping when the song is finished!

Using instruments, or even just clapping your hands, can help little ones hear the “beats” or syllables of longer words like “FI-RE-TRUCK” and “BA-NA-NA”.

Using simple consonant and vowel sounds in play can also be lots of fun and help baby try to imitate speech sounds outside of words. Try some of these for consonants:

“mmm” when eating or thinking
“ttt” or “bbb” when tapping or banging drums
“rrr” for pirates and race cars
“ggg” when pretending to drink or put gas in a toy car

Don’t forget the vowels…
“EIEIO” in Old MacDonald song
“eeeoeeeo” for sirens
“wheeee” when sliding or pouring water

For lots more sound play ideas, check out:  Where are the WORDS?

For music to play in the car, check out: Playing with…MUSIC and SINGING!

Need some sound-making toys that DON’T require batteries?  Click on the images below:


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