Build your toddlers language skills at home
It is highly likely that you have suddenly found yourself stuck at home, juggling work, parenting, self-care, and possibly even homeschooling!
I am here to hopefully reduce some of that stress that you are surely feeling.
Below you will find a list of strategies that you can use with your toddler to help them grow their speech and language skills. You will also find a list of specific activities that you can do to beat the quarantine boredom. Each activity has a list of suggested target words. These are ideas of words that you can help your child learn to understand and use; however, you can certainly use different target words. Try to use the suggested strategies during each activity.
The strategies and ideas below are best suited for children ages 12-36 months.
- Stay Positive
It is crucial to remain positive with your child when they are learning new language skills so that speaking does not become a negative experience. The easiest way to do this is to avoid the words "say" (say ___, say ___, - your child will feel like they are being tested) and "wrong" (you said that wrong lets try again). Reward your child for his/her attempts at new words. For example, your child holds up a spoon and says "poo"(deleting the "s" and "n" sound).
You might feel inclined to say "No, that's a spoon. You said poo. Lets try it again, say "SPOON". In this situation your child attempted a new word and heard "no" that's not the right way and they may feel less inclined to try that word again. Here is an example of what you could do instead: "Wow! Yes I see you have a SPOON. I like your SPOON. Your SPOON is yellow". In this situation, your child got to hear several models of the correct production of the word spoon while still feeling like they were understood. They will be more willing to try out new words in the future. It is completely normal for children to change and delete some sounds at this age. Their speech is not going to be perfect. However, always consult with an SLP in your area if you have concerns.
The strategy of”pausing” is one of my favorites to share with the families that I work with. I’ve seen a world of difference just by making this one simple change in the parent-child interactions.
I like to refer to the strategy of pausing as “awkward silence” because that is sometimes more what it feels like.
It is so important that we give our little ones the time to process and the opportunity to have a role in the interaction. Parents are usually off being superhero’s, doing a million things at once, and may not be aware that they are making most of the choices for their child throughout the day.
If we say, “what do you want? do you want milk?”, as we hand them their milk, that doesn’t give much of an opportunity for your child to practice their language. Instead, try holding out a couple options (e.g., milk and juice) and then asking “What do you want?” Or “Do you want milk or juice”. Then, pause for 5-10 seconds and look expectantly at them. This will give them time to process and make a choice of their own. If they still do not respond, try it again. If after the second time they do not respond you can give them the drink and model for them what they could have said (e.g., “want milk”) as you hand it to them. Be consistent in doing this and your child will soon learn that they are expected to take a turn when you pause!
Pausing is also a great strategy to use during repetitive routines and activities (singing songs, reading books, play, daily routines). By pausing in the same spot every time during a routine, you are giving the child an opportunity to take a turn in the interaction that is predictable. (E.g., when playing with cars, you drive the car up while saying “up up up” then the car comes crashing down with a big “DOWN”! Next time you say “up up up” then pause and look expectantly at the child to signify that they should say “DOWN”). Repetition and consistency is key.
- Balance comments and questions
It is easy to get into the habit of asking a lot of questions when we talk to toddlers. They are usually not yet able to hold a conversation so we often feel that the only way to keep the interaction going is to ask a lot of questions. However, by asking question after question, our child may feel like they are being tested. Also, we become in charge of the conversation. We are asking questions and steering where the conversation is going. It gives very little opportunity to allow your child to comment on what they are thinking about. Questions are perfectly okay but it is important that we are balancing our questions with pausing (described above) and making comments. Think of an activity that you do every day and think of some questions you may ask during that routine. For example, during bath time, you make ask "Is the water warm?" "Wheres the duck?" "Are you splashing". You can easily turn these questions into. comments: "The water is warm" "The duck is under the bubbles" "You are splashing!".
When asking questions try not to ask just yes/no questions. When we ask yes/no questions we are really only requiring a one word answer which does little to facilitate language growth. Instead, try choice questions and WH questions!
- Expand your child's language
This strategy is important to use to help your child's language continue to grow. Basically, the strategy is to expand on whatever your child has said. This helps them hear the next "level" of what they are working towards. Here are some examples of how to expand on your Childs language depending on what stage they are at:
Your child is using vocalizations but is not yet using words: Child says "da" while pointing up at a bird. Adult expands by saying "bird!"
Your child is using single words: Child says "bird" while pointing up at a bird. Adult expands by saying "bird fly!"
Your child is using 2 word phrases: Child says "bird fly" while pointing up at a bird. Adult expands by saying "bird flies fast!"
Once they are consistently using 2-3 words, you can also expand on your child's message by making it more grammatically correct. For example, when your child says "bird fly" you might model, "The bird is flying!".
- Target Words
In each description of the activities below, you will notice a section titled "target words". What this means, is that I have suggested a handful of words that you can easily work on during the activity. Choosing target words for a specific activity is a way to help you remember to get several repetitions of that word to help your child better understand and/or use the word. When used in combination with the strategies above, target words can be a great way to help expand your child's vocabulary!
There are many many more strategies that can be used to help facilitate your child's speech and language but I hope these give you a good idea of where to start. Be sure to talk to your child's speech-language pathologist if you are in need of some different strategies.
- Who is sleeping? -
Target words for the sleeping game: answering who questions, under, hide, sleep, goodnight, names of the animals, out, wake up, hi, bye.
Gather a few toys and a blanket. Take turns hiding a toy under a blanket while practicing the target words (e.g., bye doggy or goodnight doggy or hide doggy, etc.). Once all the toys are under the blanket you can take turns reaching your hand under the blanket and seeing which toy you pull out (hi, out, wake up, etc). Make it fun and help your child work on "who" and "where" questions by asking "Where did they go?!" "Who is hiding?!".
- Reading Fort
Target words for building fort: build, pillow, blanket, book, tall, on top, in, under, hide, over.
Gather blankets and pillows. Build a fort by draping the blankets over a table or some chairs. Let your child help and practice their problem solving skills. Once the fort is built, throw some pillows inside and grab a few books and a flashlight. The excitement of being in a fort will make reading that much more fun! If you have a toddler who does not enjoy reading, you should check out my Book Reading Post for some tips!
- Water Play
Target words for water play: wash, dry, wet, clean, dirty, scrub, water, names of the objects you are washing
There are so many ways to use water play to work on speech and language. One of my favorite activities is to set up a wash station. To set it up, you should gather a bucket, a sponge that you can spare, a towel, and some waterproof toys (animals, dishes, play food, etc.). The child can choose a toy, scrub it in the water, and dry it off with a towel. It sounds simple but it can be so much fun and an excellent opportunity to help your child understand and use adjectives and action words.
- What's inside?
Target words for What's inside?: names of the items inside, out, in, more, adjectives that describe the objects inside
Hands down my favorite game to use with this age group. Get a bag that is not see through and put random things inside (e.g., spoon, brush, stuffed toy, toy car, a book, ANYTHING!). Then, sit face to face with your child and let them pull an item out one by one while you work on your target words. The mystery of "what's next?!" is sure to keep your child engaged. This is a great activity for working on turn-taking and labeling!
- Rubber Band Jail
Target words for rubber band jail: stuck, out, box, names of the toys inside, uh oh, help, in
Get some rubber bands and a plastic container. Put a few toys in the container and then wrap the rubber bands around, like shown below. Talk with your child about how the toys are stuck and they need his/her help to get them out! This is a super fun game during which a lot of language concepts can be targeted! Add more or less rubber bands if it is too easy/hard for the child.
- Obstacle Course
Target words for obstacle course: Fast/Slow, Spatial concepts (over/under/around, etc), Go/Stop, Climb, Hide, Pillow/Blanket,
Get your child moving while working on speech and language !!Hallways are a great place for the obstacle course. Get some pillows, blankets, boxes, etc. and place them down the hallway. Help your child work their way to the end of the hall while climbing OVER pillows, UNDER blankets, AROUND boxes. As you can see, obstacle courses are great for targeting those spatial concepts.
Target words for scavenger hunt: The labels of any items you are finding, Spatial concepts (over/under/around, etc), basic concepts, hide, find.
Hide a few items around the room. It is sometimes helpful to hide items that have a matching picture so the child can hold the picture and see what they are looking for. Help your child find the objects while working on their language targets and narrating what they are doing (E.g., “What are you looking for? Thats right, youre looking for the ice cream! Youre looking under the table. Nope not under there. How about behind the plant?” etc.). Then, you can give your child a turn to hide the objects for you (with your help!).
I hope that you and your children have fun trying out some of these activities!
If you are an SLP reading this, I hope you find these tips useful for your early intervention clients!
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