Once upon a time, I had a baby and speech therapy wasn’t even on our radar. He was just as I imagined he would be: he nursed perfectly every three hours, hardly ever cried, and slept through the night at six weeks old. He walked a little late, but he literally started talking at seven months old.
He was the most verbal child, super easy-going, and we could take him anywhere. My husband and I were convinced we were great parents.
Then we had a second child.
HELLO. We found out our firstborn’s “goodness” had nothing to do with us. Our daughter came out of the womb wild and her life was one big rollercoaster of a mood swing. And while she was clearly intelligent, as she approached three years old, it became clear that she would need speech therapy. It also became clear that I would need to learn how to supplement her professional sessions with at-home speech therapy.
THEN, I had a third child. I was convinced that because I’d been through a couple years of harrowing developmental delay treatment with his sister (not just speech therapy, but occupational therapy, special preschool and social skills classes as well) that this new baby of mine would be completely, 100% typical like his older brother.
WRONG. By the time he was two, I knew I’d need to return to my toddler speech therapy roots. And so I did. Working so hard and so closely with my kids at home to get them up to speed really bonded us and showed all three of us that we can accomplish great things together. And you know what else? It was fun. At home toddler speech therapy can be really, really fun. (Eventually with my kids it also turned into preschooler speech therapy, and I’ll cover that in another article.) I did not know a THING about speech therapy, but God equipped me to give my kids what they needed. I listened to their speech language pathologist, did research online, and was simply willing to learn. That’s all it takes, Mamas! So now that my kids are long past their speech issues, I want to pass some of what i learned on to you.
At-home Toddler Speech Therapy Activities
Don’t like to get messy with your kids? Too bad. 🙂 Messy activities that kids love are great for toddler speech therapy.
I like to let mine paint on a cookie sheet for easy clean up. (Well, I still have to clean the paint off my kid, but at least it doesn’t soak through the cookie sheet on to the table.) The goal of painting as a speech therapy activity is to ask and have your child answer questions. Before you start, show him or her the bottles of paint. Hold each one up and say clearly, “This is blue,” etc. Then ask, “Jonah, what color do you want to paint with?” Your goal is for your child not to point, but to say the color name. Eventually, you want them to graduate to “More blue.” or “I want blue.” The more words you can coax them to say the better! If they want a new color, they have to ask for it, using words, or they don’t get it! Isn’t that simple? Did you ever think that something as common as painting could be used for speech therapy? Any activity can be if you’re intentional!
That’s right, your child’s favorite wooden puzzles can be used for toddler speech therapy.
We all have puzzles at home. My kids were especially motivated by sound puzzles like these from Melissa & Doug.
To start out, take all the pieces out of the puzzle and give your child the empty puzzle board. Then hold the pieces up one by one and have him or her name the object. If they don’t know it, say the object’s name “Elephant. This is an elephant.” If they do know it, give lots of praise and then give them the puzzle piece. When they put it in they get rewarded by a nice, fun sound! After a few times, to make this more fun, do a little tug of war when you hand the puzzle piece over and make your kiddo pull it out of your hand.
The next level you can take with this is to have them name the object, then ask: “Do you want the elephant?” Let them know what response you want from them, (depending on your goals) by modeling it and prompting at first. You might want them to say “yes” before you hand it over, or you might want them to say, “I want elephant”. Once they know what you want them to say, try to elicit that response before you hand the piece over, prompting at first, and then waiting them out until they come up with the right response.
Finally, a more advanced speech therapy activity to try when your child has mastered the first two levels is using two puzzles at a time to teach about categories. Here’s how to do it. Empty all the pieces of two different puzzles into a bag, and place the empty puzzles on the table. Then, you and your child take turns drawing a puzzle piece out of the bag. If you get an animal, place it on the musical instrument puzzle and say, “Is an elephant an instrument? Nooooo! An elephant is an animal!” Then give your child the puzzle piece and let him put it in the right place. Eventually the goal is to have your child fill in the word “No” and “animal”, to teach him what categories things belong in. Some appropriate categories to work on with your two or three-year-old are animals, musical instruments, and shapes. My son used to think it was hilarious to hold a piece up to the wrong puzzle and say “nooooo!”
Believe it or not, there ARE some good, fun toddler games out there, and most made for that age are easy to adapt to speech therapy.
One of my absolute favorites that I used with my kids years ago that you can still purchase is Roll & Play by ThinkFun.
The game is super-simple: roll the cube and pick a card that corresponds to the color the cube lands on. Do the action that is on the card, like “touch your belly button”, “moo like a cow”, or “find something red”. It’s great for learning to follow directions, learning turn-taking, colors, counting, animal sounds, emotions, and body parts. And it’s FUN! My toddler and I both loved it and my older kids even enjoyed playing it with us, and it’s always fun to get big siblings involved in the family speech therapy activities. ThinkFun has a new similar game called “Move and Groove” that I wish they would have had when my kids were still in speech therapy. It looks just as awesome.
The next speech therapy game is one we’ve all played since we were little: Connect Four!
Now, for speech therapy purposes, you won’t play this in the traditional way, but this game can be used to do something toddlers love: fill something up, dump it out, and do it again! When it’s your child’s turn, ask him, “Whose turn is it?” with the goal that he will say “my turn”. Eventually you will also hope to get him to say “Mommy’s turn” or “your turn” when it’s your turn to go. Another thing to do is hold up a red and yellow checker and have him say “I want yellow” (or red) before you will hand it over, and my son loved to play a little tug of war with each checker as well. There are lots of different phrases or words you could work to elicit from this game, such as “more”, “more please”, or “more checkers” or “yes” or “no” answers – just depends on what you want to work on.
The bottom line is, Parents: if your child has a speech language delay and needs speech therapy, you can greatly speed up their progress by working with them at home. Ask your child’s speech language pathologist what to work on, and then do some simple activities with toys they already love to make it FUN! God has made you to be EXACTLY the parent your child needs, and He will equip you to help teach them in this phase of their development.