*Updated May 2022*
Speech therapy activities for toddlers can and should be done at home on a daily basis if your little one isn’t using any words to communicate.
I want to start out by saying that I have used the term “speech therapy” to encompass both speech (sound production) and language (actual words used and how they are put together to form sentences).
However, most “speech” activities for toddlers (12 to 36 month old’s) should focus more on language development because getting your child communicating through gestures, sounds and words is more important than how clearly they are saying those words.
Accurate production of sounds typically isn’t a focus for most speech pathologists until a child is over the age of 3 as sound errors are to be expected prior to this age (and some continue to exist after 3).
The reason I have chosen the term “speech therapy activities” is because that is the phrase most people use when they are looking for activities for a child with a speech and/or language delay.
Now that we have sorted out the terminology let’s get started with some simple things you can do at home to help your toddler start talking!
Speech Therapy Activities For Toddlers
Turn Off The TV
While this is not an activity per say, it needs to be addressed.
When the TV is on in the background there is less face to face talking going on.
And we all know that children are mesmerized by the TV.
Even if you are talking to your child, they probably aren’t listening the same way they would be if the TV was not turned off.
Try to make it a habit to not have the TV on in the background (even if it is a kids “educational” show).
Research suggests that children learn best from human interaction, not by listening to conversations on TV.
Once a child is older (3+) and is speaking in sentences, asking and answering questions, retelling short stories, etc. then they may learn a few new words from a TV show.
Now that you have turned the TV off, let your toddler pick a few books to look at together.
Keep them simple. Talk about the pictures you see. Point to the different items on each page. You don’t always have to read the words on the page. Make up your own story.
The point here is not to teach your toddler to read though, so make sure to keep that in mind.
If the book is a repetitive line book such as “Brown Bear, Brown Bear” and you have read it together several times, pause at the end of sentences that are repeated throughout the book and see if your child will fill in the missing word (don’t worry if it’s not pronounced clearly).
For example, “Brown Bear Brown Bear what do you see? I see a blue horse looking at ______.” The missing word in this case is “me”.
Alternatively, you could also omit the word “see” in the first sentence and wait for your child to fill it in.
If they aren’t using a word to fill in the blank encourage them to gesture by pointing to his eyes for “see” or pointing to himself for “me”.
Take a look at these wonderful books that are perfect for expanding your little one’s vocabulary!
This brings us to my next activity.
Gesture use always precedes spoken language. Humans are naturally prone to using gestures to communicate. It helps us get our point across.
Children typically begin using gestures around 8-9 months of age.
If your child is not talking make sure that they are using gestures to communicate.
You can encourage the use of gestures by pointing to objects you are talking about and gesturing more yourself.
For example, if you say to your child “do you need a hug?”, wrap your arms around yourself to indicate a hug while saying the word “hug”.
Or if you and your child are going to blow bubbles, let them know by saying “let’s blow some bubbles” and then exaggeratedly blow air out your mouth, even moving your head from side to side while blowing.
Some parents find learning a few signs can be helpful.
And don’t worry, teaching your baby or toddler to sign will not cause a speech delay, in fact the opposite should occur if you make sure to always pair the spoken word with the sign!
It’s pretty easy to get started with baby sign language.
Children can learn many words through songs and nursery rhymes.
Don’t worry if you don’t have a great singing voice, your child won’t care.
Some classic songs that most parents know and all children love are:
- Twinkle Twinkle Little Star
- Row, Row, Row Your Boat
- Old MacDonald Had a Farm
- The Itsy Bitsy Spider
- Mary Had a Little Lamb
Incorporate actions and gestures into these songs whenever possible!
As your child becomes more familiar with the songs you sing together, start leaving out repeating words here and there (just like with books).
Pause and wait to see if your child will fill in the missing word.
Repeat and Expand
This can be done with any activity or toy.
Whenever your child says a word, or uses a gesture/sign, repeat and expand. It’s quite simple.
If, for example, your toddler raises raises arms up while whining “uh uh uh”, you know that they most likely want to be picked up.
Rather than simply picking your child up, try saying “Up, you want me to pick you up” or something like that.
If you are having a pretend tea party and your child hands you a cup and says “drink”, you could respond with “mmm, drink, I’m drinking juice”.
The key to repeating and expanding is to try and keep the expansion as grammatically correct as possible.
This is not always easy to do but as long as you are aware of this, you should be fine.
The outdoors are full of language learning opportunities. New words are all around!
Talk about the animals you see. Look at the big trees or the small flowers.
Play in the sand! Watch your child dig, scoop and dump. Talk about what they are doing as they play. But make sure to leave lots of pauses to see if they will initiate communication with you!
An outdoor playset makes a great addition to a backyard.
There are many ways that language skills can be targeted while your child is playing at a playhouse for example.
Because there are so many opportunities for language development I have written an entire article about it. You can read it here.
A water table is another awesome outdoor toy that can be used to work on language skills.
Talk to your child about how the water feels, for example, cold, warm, and wet.
If you want more information about language skills and water play check out: The Language Benefits Of Water Play With Preschoolers!
Build Vocabulary with Open Ended Toys
There are many toys that are wonderful for expanding a toddler’s vocabulary.
Open ended toys allow for a variety of interactions.
It is also best to choose toys without batteries or they end up doing all of the talking.
Here are some toys along with ideas for expanding language and vocabulary:
Best Learning Toys For 2 Year Old’s To Encourage Language Development
Best Learning Toys For 3 Year Old’s To Encourage Language Development
Language Building Opportunities Are Everywhere
Language opportunities are all around you.
But please know that your toddler will not learn language skills from educational TV shows or apps.
A great example of a fun app that toddler’s love is an app where when the child touches a barn door, the door opens and an animal walks out making the associated animal sound.
I used to use this app in some of my speech therapy sessions. The reason I used it was to change things up.
My goal was to have the child learn the word “open” or the animal names/sounds.
However, I was always interacting with the child while using the app and I also used an actual toy barn with plastic animals to work on the same goals.
As children find screens highly rewarding, getting to use the iPad at the end of a speech therapy session was the reward, yet I still had expectations.
Children need to hear words hundreds, even thousands of times before they will use them spontaneously on their own (in the correct context).
So no matter what activity you are doing, make sure you are always talking to your child!
But don’t just talk at them, make sure to give your child plenty of time to respond and communicate with you.
Young children learn best through human interaction, so that needs to be the number one focus of speech therapy activities for toddlers.
Using apps and TV shows should be secondary and only used occasionally.
If you feel your toddler has a speech-language delay, make sure to have an assessment done by a licensed speech-language pathologist!
Hi , thank you for the good article, my son is 7 years now and he has stuttering problem started when he was 2 years old , he started his speech therapy when he started school , he has good days with his speech and very bad days . I feel sooo bad that it’s not going away, he is so smart and he has so much to talk about he doesn’t feel shy when he talks he can keep talking with other people without feeling bad. I don’t know what to do to help him more. If you have anything for me to try with him at home that will be helpful.
Is your son still getting speech therapy for stuttering? If not, I highly recommend you resume with this. Stuttering is not something that can be cured. It is something that your son will need to learn to live with. However, there are many therapy techniques that help him work with his stutter. There will be good days and not so good days. There are many very successful people who have stutters. Continue to be positive with your son and perhaps look up some famous people who stutter (E.g. US President Joe Biden). This could help with his confidence. I don’t have much experience working with people who stutter so I don’t want to give you any advice for what to do at home. There are many great speech therapists that focus on the treatment of stuttering that would be of more help.
Wishing you all the best!
Hi! I know this is old, but I just wanted to say that I also stuttered. At age 7 I started speech therapy in the public school system and went weekly during the school year until 8th grade. I now an attorney and my stutter only flares up when I am extremely upset and even then, it is only one or two words! I had two different SLPs during those years, but they truly changed my life
Thanks for sharing your story about working with SLP’s as a child and how much they were able to help you! As I’m sure you have been told, there is no “cure” for stuttering. But with the right instruction you can definitely learn how to manage it and lead a successful life!
Thank you for the wonderful knowledge ! My 21 month old daughter is delayed in speech. She can now say 22 words but doesn’t use them routinely to communicate. Any suggestions?
I would recommend having her seen by a speech-language pathologist. You could also take her to an audiologist to rule out any hearing loss. Even a small hearing loss (typically caused by fluid in the ear in young children) can lead to language delays. Also take a look at this article. I share more tips for things you can do at home within that article. Another suggestions is getting the book “It Takes Two To Talk“. It has so much valuable information in it!
Thank you for the advice. I will take you advice! Is this typical for speech delayed kids? She will says words but only use them sometimes.
Yes, it can be. But without meeting your daughter I cannot really say what is going on. That is why it is important to have her seen by a speech language pathologist. You can go the publicly funded route, however the waiting lists are typically quite long. If you have insurance coverage for speech-language therapy finding a private practice practitioner would allow for your daughter to be assessed much quicker.
Thank you for the advice! My daughter was diagnosed with mixed receptive-expressive language delay. She will be doing therapy once a week.
That’s great to hear!
I find my 3 year old son talks a lot of words which he hears from his favorite cartoon shows more like a imaginative play. Is it still okay to let him watch TV for 1 or 2 hours as it is building his vocabulary with new words or will this have negative effects?
Are you concerned with your son’s language development? Is he only repeating what he hears on TV without putting the words he has learned into context? There is a lot of debate right now on how screen use affects a young child’s brain development. I lean toward less screen time is better, especially for children under the age of 5. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no more than 1 hour a day of high quality programming for children ages 2 to 5. Here is some great information about screen time from the AAP.
The best way for a child to build their vocabulary is through face to face interactions with other people. In addition to this reading to your child every day will help with his language development and early literacy skills.
Please let me know if you have any other questions.
All the best
Hi… This was very informative and helpful… If my child, who is 18 months old, has been watching song/nursery rhymes on TV, can I still reverse or improve on the effects if I start switching off the TV now at this stage and follow through with your guidelines?
There is nothing wrong with your 18 month watching occasional shows on TV geared to toddlers. However, if he has a language delay it is best to limit this activity as much as possible. If he is getting a lot of screen time, now is a great time to start disconnecting from the TV/computer. This will make it easier as he gets older and does not have to rely on screens as a source of entertainment. Also be sure to check out this article for tips on language development if you are concerned.
What is the best way to work with a child that moves very quickly with everything in life, incl her speech, making it difficult to understand her. She is 27 mth old and when I try to slow her down she gets aggravated. I am an early Interventionist and I see her in her home. I am working on intelligibility. We have a shortage of STs in our area and I feel quite capable of helping her as I’ve been in this field for 25 yrs. What do you suggest? I draw attention to my mouth, talk slowly, have her imitate, etc.
Children like the little girl that you are working with can be challenging. 27 months is still quite young so it is understandable that she is always on the go. You could try having her sit in a high chair for about 5 to 10 minutes. Pick a favorite toy or 2 and then model some simple 2-3 word phrases, drawing attention to your mouth like you are doing. Don’t worry if she doesn’t imitate you but having her in the high chair will keep her from completely avoiding you.
Many kids at this age respond well to food. So you could try that if a toy isn’t keeping her attention and she wants out of the chair. Have her request a cheerio, cracker, etc. by saying something simple such as “I eat” or “I eat cheerio/cracker/cookie”
Hope that helps!
I just read all your suggestions regarding speech therapy. Can you help me out with more activities for my child as she is not being able to speak in a continuous form. Some words she used to say but some words she is not being able to speak anymore.
As you didn’t state your daughters age it is difficult for me to give you suggestions. If she is 2 or older I would suggest you make an appointment with a licensed speech-language pathologist to have an assessment done.
In the meantime the book It Takes Two To Talk is packed with wonderful strategies for parents to use with children of varying levels of communication.
Perhaps you can also teach your daughter a few signs to keep building her expressive vocabulary and reduce frustration for her when she cannot communicate to have her needs met.
Take a look at these articles if you are interested in trying sign language:
Baby Sign Language Basics
Teaching Sign Language Is Easier Than You Think
My son who is 2.5 year old is able to talk even he is not saying mama and papa.Earlier when he was 1 year old he was talking and taking new words but now he is not speaking at all. But he try to speak and he always close lips when I try talking to him. Otherwise he follows all instructions and he understand all the things what to do un this situation. Should I take expert help
Sorry to hear that your son is struggling with speech and language skills. I would definitely recommend he be seen by a licensed Speech-Language Pathologist. Depending on where you live, he may qualify for a free early intervention program (there are many in North America, however the waitlists can be quite long which is why you should do this sooner rather than later).
I find this article to be very informative especially for parents who have children in the early stage of development. The turning the television off is a great idea. I believe too many parents rely on the television too much. You really have some great ideas that opened my eyes. You gave some really great advice. My question is how old would you say the kid have to be to start doing these activities together?
Turning the TV off is one of my first suggestions to parents who have a toddler that isn’t saying many words. It is very distracting and young children learn better by interacting with others rather than learning from a TV show.
This article is meant for parents of children who are 18 months and older, however a suggestions such as turning the TV off can be done at any age.
Hello this is a very good site for parents with small children. A few things you mentioned resonated with me when my children where small. You stated to turn off the TV, that is a very good suggestion. I can remember trying to talk to one of my boys and instead of them paying attention to mom they tried to look around me and watch Blues Clues. You also mentioned playing outside to build vocabulary. This is another good suggestion because you can not only get them to read, name a thing, but also spell what they are naming. Actually that was the best part for me. I know you are focused on speech-language delayâ€™s however, this is great advice for any parent and child with or without delays. This is a very good site and much needed. ~Sherry
Thanks for your comment Sherry! You are correct, these tips can be followed by any parent with a toddler, not just a toddler with a speech delay!