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 for kids activity, is 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 Connect Four 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 for kids, 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.