In order to improve your toddler’s speech delay, or help them catch up to their peers, you will need to FIRST figure out if there is a delay and what that delay includes. Speech therapist, Sharon Baum, shares 17 tips and tricks you should try at home to support you with toddler speech delay exercises.
First, speak to your doctor and get a referral to a speech therapist if warranted. If a delay is revealed after an assessment, it is crucial that you practice with them daily. That may sound overwhelming, but incorporating daily practices into routines they’re already engaging in, keeps things simple and time effective! Remember that you can be their communication partner at any part of the day that you are with them.
What activities help develop speech in toddlers?
There are many simple activities that can help your toddler develop their speech. Reading books cannot be overstated, even wordless picture books where toddlers are forced to look at pictures and let you know what they are thinking. From labeling objects to describing them using colors and other descriptors. This is a way before bedtime that your child can develop their speech and language skills.
How can I improve my toddler's speech delay?
If your child has a speech delay, you can encourage them to communicate. Also, remember to give them time to communicate; wait and see if they will initiate communication. Especially for their specific wants and needs with you, while also trying to bombard them with speech!
Focusing on activities that are of interest to your child already is a good starting point. Joining them in your child’s activities of interest by acting as a facilitator of communication. This will help the child develop the speech and language skills that they are delayed in. This means that optimizing play, reading, bedtime routines, morning routines, and outdoor activities (i.e. being in the car together and at the park) will be your opportunities for engagement and facilitation.
Let’s get more specific about how we can turn these everyday activities into speech and language moments that will help our toddlers with their speech and/or language delay!
What activities help with speech delay?
Catching up to peers. Here are 5 toddler speech delay exercises.
Play: This cannot be reiterated enough. During play, you can model expanded phrases to build up their language skills. For example, if you are in the play kitchen, and you are playing with the “fruits” and “vegetables”. You can model: “apple, pass the apple to me”, or “carrots, let’s eat carrots”. You can also watch your child play and let them guide you. If your child says “more oranges”, you can add on to this while playing and say “you want more oranges”.
Reading: Read to your child and let them “read” to you. This can mean that they are telling you a story based on the pictures they are seeing. Encourage them to tell you what they are seeing in both a wordless picture book and books with words in them. Add on to the ideas that they are conveying through words. Nursery rhyme books can help them remember words, which will build up their vocabulary.
Listening activities: you want to make sure that your child is building up understanding so that they can develop their speech and language skills. Checking for listening/attention can be done at any moment of the day. In the younger years, you can use a toy that makes noise and put it out of sight. Check if your child acknowledges this through body language or by saying something that indicates that they have heard it.
Attention/Listening: Another way to check for listening and attention is to incorporate music and dance. Tell them to freeze when the music stops. Are they still dancing or have they stopped? This is a fun way to get your child to build up attention and listening. Since singing is a great tool, you can also start singing and then stop. They should indicate to you that you have stopped or they want more singing!
Barrier games/understanding language and following directions: Yes, just as it sounds - there is a barrier in place. A barrier such as a box where you can’t see each other’s objects is an opportunity for your child to follow directives as well as administer directions that they want you to carry out!
7 speech therapy exercises for toddlers at home
Select your child’s favorite hands-on arts and crafts activity or objects. For example, let your toddler tell you what to do with the car on your sheet of paper. For example, “color the car brown”. You then reciprocate by telling your toddler what they should do with the car on their paper. “Cut out the car and put it next to the teddy bear” (this incorporates multi-step directives and spatial concepts).
Incorporate any target sounds into any activities you are doing. Reinforcing the correct production of sounds while you show your child how you’re producing difficult sounds will help the child learn how to say the sound(s) in error correctly and become easier to understand.
If your toddler is missing and dropping sounds at the end of the word, then teaching them about rhyming really helps. Model to your child pairs and groups of words that rhyme. For example, a dog and a frog. You can ask your child to show you a ‘thumbs up’ if the sequence of words rhymes and a ‘thumbs down’ if the sequence does not rhyme. For example ‘chair and bottle’. That’s right, ‘thumbs down’. Tell your child that we're going to focus on the final sound of the word. What sound did they hear at the end ‘Matt, cat, bat’. "Well done, it's a "t". For more **Top Tips For At-Home Speech Sound Practice read here.
Online platforms can be motivating, but remember that screen time should not be an entire session. Online games can always be a motivating support. Especially on those tough therapy days when your child is being resistant to engagement despite your enthusiasm.
Get back to the basics. Bubbles and balloons are great companions as they can be used to strengthen articulators (mouth, lips, tongue) when oral motor weaknesses are present. These items can also be rewards to complement efforts and successes after activities. You may find our **Speech and Language Activities for Parents to Try At Home blog useful.
Set up an environment that encourages your child to speak (comments or requests). For example, at mealtimes don’t provide a spoon to eat – so they have to ask. If they don’t ask, model the response you need “uh oh, you need a spoon, “here is your spoon”.
When sorting out washing or getting dressed you can comment and talk about what you have found, “is it a sock or a hat?” or “mummy is wearing a top and you are wearing your… vest”. These can encourage short sentences and Wh questions. For example, “where is my sock” or “what is a hat”.
3 Speech Therapy Techniques for Toddlers
Praise all your child's attempts at verbal communication. Do not correct your child or make them repeat their errors. Just model back the correct form.
Use forced alternatives to encourage your toddler to talk e.g. ‘Do you want water or milk?’ or ‘Are you playing with the sand or the water?’
Once your toddler is using lots of single words, model how to build utterances by repeating back and adding to their single word. Just add one extra word at a time. For example, if the child says ‘car’ you could say ‘big car’ or ‘red car’.
Can a toddler recover from speech delay?
Each child is different. Sometimes a speech delay exists in isolation and at other times it co-exists or is comorbid with other developmental delays. The rate at which a speech delay ceases to exist, or is even able to be removed is dependent on the child. While a question mark still remains as to who will catch up without intervention and who won’t, three predictors that have received attention include; severity of initial impairment in expressive language, degree of impairment in receptive ability as well as expressive, and degree of impairment in gestural communication (Dale, et al. 2003).
Research has indicated that when an expressive language delay is present, 70-80% of toddlers will recover. Indicating that a percentage won’t catch up without early intervention. This is why collaborating with your doctor when you first notice a “delay” is very important.
The good news is that you and your toddler can work together with a speech therapist to help them develop communication skills that they are lagging behind. You may see results quickly or very gradually, but keep going. Each time you practice, you are giving your child a better chance at getting caught up as they enter their foundational pre-school years, mitigating pre-reading and writing difficulties.