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Activities and strategies to help develop Speech and Language Skills

Speech and Language

The first few years of a child’s life are key to the development of speech, language and cognitive skills. For this reason it is important to create activities and strategies to help develop speech and language skills that give them all the stimulation, positive role modeling and human contact that they need. For a normally developing child learning is easy and creating opportunities for learning is also not difficult. Through play and simple daily interactions and experiences we can help the child acquire new language and skills.

Adults do not need special training to be able to provide their child with a positive start in life. There are a few simple building blocks to help your child grow, and parents just need to provide the time to interact with their children. By playing and allowing your child time and space to explore and interact in their own way you allow your child to develop and learn in a fun and safe environment.

Speech and language skills do not just evolve on their own. They are part of a bigger picture involving social interaction, play, observation, manipulating objects, listening and attending. All these things are working together and often, without one, it is difficult to develop another. Below, we have listed a few simple ideas that are fun and easy to do at home, remember, always praise your child for making any attempts at communication.


How children learn speech and how to encourage speech

Good modeling
An important aspect of learning speech is listening. A child learns new sounds and words by listening to those around him. This is why it is important to provide good speech for the child to listen to. Say words clearly and slowly and use plenty of intonation. If your child attempts a word and it is not pronounced correctly, praise him for trying. Do not try and get your child to repeat the word or correct it. Repeat the word back yourself to show you have understood and to give your child a good version of the word. One other important thing – TAKE THE DUMMY OR PACIFIER OUT!!!.


To find out more about good modelling and other activities to develop speech and language development go to the Child Development category of our Downloads Section.

Symbolic sounds
Some easy words and sounds to introduce when your child is young are what we call symbolic sounds e.g. “moo” for a cow, or “beep beep” for a car. These are fun sounds that you can incorporate when playing games or looking at books. Symbolic sounds are short one syllable sounds and words that are easy for the child to produce. They encourage vocalization, imitation, early vocabulary and understanding of routine language.


Motivating sound games
Sometimes, using games can motivate your child to make sounds. For instance play the game – ready… steady…. GO!! Blow up a balloon, hold it, then say “ready….steady….GO”, and let the balloon go. Do this a few times and then pause after you say “ready…steady….” and see if your child steps in and says “GO”.


Communication temptations
Often by tempting your child with something motivating you can elicit some speech or a vocalization. For instance, holding onto the biscuit tin, but not opening it until he vocalizes a request, or only blowing bubbles when you get a vocalization from the child. In the early stages the child does not have to use the correct words or sentences, but just vocalize or make an approximation of the word. We want the child to learn that he can use his voice as a tool to initiate and request.


Recommended Reading – Let’s Talk Together – Home Activities for Early Speech & Language Development
by Amy Chouinard and Cory Poland

Let’s Talk Together offers over 55 home activities for early speech & language development. Let’s Talk Together includes favorite language activities that take place in a child’s natural environment including but not limited to mealtime, indoor play, outdoor play, car time, and night time routines.
Click the book to buy now for a discount or checkout our bookshop for online bookshops in your area.


Listening, attention and observation
Listening and attention skills are the building blocks of speech and language development. The acquisition of these skills is vital in the early years if you want your child to be successful at school. The development of these skills is facilitated by interaction with others, with having a shared focus with others, and playing in an environment that is free of distractions. Listening, is not the same as hearing. A child can have perfect hearing, but be a very poor listener. Children with Autism, Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder or Auditory Processing Disorders will have difficulties with listening, remembering, and following verbal instructions. (see for more information and strategies to facilitate listening , attention and communication). Children that have had a lack of social interaction or poor role modelling in the early years of their lives may present with listening and attention difficulties. Studies are also showing that over exposure to television from a young age can have detrimental long term effects on listening and attention skills.


Some children find these skills more difficult to master than others. There are lots of ways to enhance your children’s listening and attention skills, not least by turning off the television and spending some quality time with them. Try to find activities that share your attention that you can both enjoy and focus on together. Also, don’t forget to praise good listening and good looking.


Observation skills
These skills require the child to stop and focus on a particular task. Having a shared focus helps this process. The activities mentioned below require your child to focus on a task for a few minutes and really use their observation skills. These tasks would preferably be done at a table-top as a shared focus activity. The type of task will depend on the age of your child.

If you think your child has a speech delay or disorder, see our Milestones sections on the left handside menu. If you continue to be concerned about your childs speech and language development visit your local speech and language therapist / pathologist.


Language – how to develop language skills

Remember your language level
One of the biggest things to be aware of when using language around your young child is the level of language you use. Remember, with young children, just use key words, and if you use a small sentence emphasize the important word. Talk slowly and point to what you are talking about. If you are talking about something that is not in sight, it is likely the young child will not know what you are referring to.

Watching, waiting and listening
You can enhance your child’s development of language by sometimes taking a step back during play and letting them take the lead. This gives the child control of their environment and builds their confidence. Although you are still involved in the play you are not dictating what is happening. However, you can still be feeding language into the play as it is happening. So the takeaway here is not to feel you have to fill in any gaps of silence, just watch and listen and add language.


Add language
Adding language is an easy thing to do and can be done in all types of different situations, not just play. You comment on what the child sees, commentate on what your child is doing, or expand on what they have said e.g.

Child: “car”
Adult: “fast car” or “red car”


The environment
The environment in which your child learns also has an impact on how they learn. Try and reduce distractions and background noise – TURN OFF THE TV!!

A busy household with lots of children will be noisy, but has benefits because the young child will be getting to play with others which is itself will be beneficial. However, sometimes you cannot beat some adult input and if you get half an hour to have some one-to-one quality time with your young child then make the most of it.
To find out more about ways to encourage speech and language skills during play and everyday activities go to the Normal Development category of our Downloads Section, and you can get access to more resources by becoming a member.


Games & Play

Simple Games
There are lots of simple games you can play and indirectly work on speech and language. These can played while driving in the car from Kindergarten, when you are at the park or in the supermarket. Learning language does not have to be done in a structured environment. Don’t forget when you are playing games to focus on speech and language, you will also be working on social skills, turn-taking, observing, listening and attention, so it’s a win win situation.


Toys are fun and great for involving your child. The type of toys that are beneficial to your children will obviously be associated with their age, but even with the simplest toys you can create fun activities and provide lots of situations for learning and developing speech and language. Imagine building a tower with wooden blocks – a simple game, but with loads of opportunities:

Building a tower
Speech and Language opportunities – adjectives (higher, up), verbs (fall down, build), prepositions (on-top), nouns (colours, numbers)
Social skills – turntaking, joint focus, sharing
Listening, attending, observing

Here we can see even a simple game with wooden blocks involves all sorts of language and play skills.


Look at books
Books are great for having a shared focus and for learning new words. Books can also play a key part in developing speech and literacy skills later on. As with language games and games with toys, there are many ways to use books and the pictures to focus on language. You can focus on books with symbolic sounds for early speech or storybooks to focus on language. Books are a great way to work on lots of skills and children love them.


Role play
Dressing up is great fun and playing different roles will expand your child’s imagination. In fact you do not even have to dress up to do role play. Games involving different characters will allow you to introduce lots of new related language and stretch your child’s creative play skills. For instance, if you pretended to be firemen putting out a fire, think how many related words you could use” fire, fireman, fire engine, ladder, water, hose, burning, building, driving, climbing, up, down, smoke, hat, boots, jackets, save, squirt, bucket, fire out, hero, etc etc etc. Role play is great for expanding your child’s imagination and introducing new vocabulary.

Most types of interaction through play will have a positive effect on speech and language acquisition. The child’s social skills will also benefit because they will be using eye contact, turn-taking and listening skills. By letting your child take the lead in a game, they will gain confidence in communicating and feel that they are in control, so be relaxed in the communication environment.

Depending on your child’s language competence you may want to set a goal for each game, although it is important not to make it too structured because we want the game to be led by the child. Any goal should be simple and flexible. Language needs to be fed into the game, rather than trying to encourage the child to say particular words. This means we don’t want to be continually saying to the child “what is he doing?” or “what are you doing?” or “say running, say running”. Children do not learn language this way, children learn language by hearing it first and making associations between the word and the action. As adults we want to just feed the language in at the appropriate times.

Example of a language role play game:
Bus Driver game: Let your child be a bus driver and you can be the passenger. Set up some chairs for a bus and act the roles. As an example, just look at all the verbs you might use in this game:
Steer the bus, Press the horn, Ring the bell, Sit down, Pay the driver, Drive the bus, Find the change, Walk down the aisle. If your child finds a game complicated, you could be the bus driver first and model it for your child, then your child can take a turn and you add language to the situation.


Music is also a great way to involve your child and can be used in many ways to enhance speech and language. Music is good for getting your child to listen, and experiencing a shared focus. You can read books and follow music singing the songs as you point to the pictures. Songs also focus on intonation and stress and have a beat to them which helps with aspects of speech development. These are skills we all use when talking and syllable awareness is important when learning to talk. Music can be used to enhance language and some songs can be sung involving actions and thus creating the link between words and actions.

Using everyday activities as a language learning opportunity

Using everyday activities can be a great way to practice speech, language and literacy skills. These activities can also change a mundane event into a pleasurable one. The child may also not realise that you are practicing speech and language skills because the activity will be fun.

Using everyday tasks to promote speech and language is relatively easy, you just have to use your imagination.
Bathtime – Use lots of vocabulary during bath-time, talk to your children, and model the words for them. Introduce vocabulary: Verbs: wash, scrub, rinse, clean, brush, dry, splash, sink, float. Nouns: soup, towel, water, tap, flannel, bath, sink, body parts. Sing songs in the bath.

Cleaning the bedroom – Play “I-spy” to practice initial sound awareness (good for speech and language development).

Talk about what the people on the street are doing (e.g. walking, working, riding etc) to focus on verbs, or name as many different occupations that you can see (driver, policeman, road-worker, shopkeeper etc). These are just simple ways to use everyday opportunities to find entertaining and simple ways to focus on speech and language.


Remember, if you make speech and language sessions into games your child enjoys it more, is more motivated and may not even see it as speech and language practice, but as a game. Children like games and are motivated when it becomes competitive. This means you can create ideal situations away from the table-top activities to work on speech and language. Just use your imagination because almost any daily event can be turned into an educational game.

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