Activities for Your Toddler that Assist Language Learning
Parents can incorporate virtually anything into an activity that promotes language skill development. The key is working on a skill that your child isn’t quite able to do independently, but they can do with your help. You can work on both expressive language (using signs, sounds, or words) and receptive language (understanding).
To target expressive language:
If your child is spontaneously using single words to communicate (“more”), work on 2-word phrases, providing direct models for imitation (“more please”).
To target receptive language:
If your child can follow 1-step directions consistently, work on 2-step and provide assistance to help your child follow through accurately.
Here are some helpful activities for early language learning:
Playing with bubbles is a great activity for your child. If your baby is just learning how to imitate sounds and words, bringing the bubble wand to your mouth and modeling sounds (e.g., “buh-buh-buh”) and words (e.g., “bubble”) brings their attention to your mouth to see how you are making these sounds. Then you can reinforce their attempts to imitate you by blowing bubbles.
If your child is already imitating sounds but not yet using words spontaneously, provide models of words to request (“more”). Model 2-word phrases if your child is consistently using single words (“more bubbles”) or 3-word phrases (“more bubbles please”). Every once in a while, put the lid tightly on the bubbles, encouraging your toddler to use words (e.g., “open,” “help please”) to request assistance to open them again.
Again, you may be encouraging single words or phrases based on your child’s level. You can facilitate early turn-taking by encouraging your toddler to request turns with eye contact or words (“my turn”) and hand them back to encourage sharing and practice at direction-following (e.g., “Give me,” “My turn”).
Puzzles are a great activity to facilitate learning new words and following directions. First, you can practice some direction following. For our early language learners, you can practice simple, 1-step commands. Have your child take out each piece (“Take out”) and hand them to you (“Give me”). For our more advanced toddlers, try multi-step directions (e.g., with an animal puzzle, “Take out the dog and the chicken and give them to me”).
Once the pieces are out, you can work on requesting pieces to place in the puzzle. For little ones, requesting “more” may be appropriate. You can provide two verbal choices (while holding each option up), such as, “You want the DOG or the CHICKEN?” and reinforce your child’s attempt to label their piece of choice. For older toddlers working on expanding their vocabulary, you may ask them “Which animal/piece next?” You can encourage imitation of environmental sounds associated with the puzzle with little ones (e.g., “moo,” “quack,” “vroom,” “beep beep!”) or “wh-“ questions with older toddlers (“Where is the BIG car?”).
Stacking blocks is another simple activity that can provide opportunities for requesting, direction following, imitation and turn-taking. Try starting the activity with you holding the blocks. The more items you have control of, the more your child will have to use words to request items. This is another activity where your child will have multiple, repetitive opportunities to request the same thing (much like the bubbles).
For our younger kiddos, requesting or imitating “more” or “block” might be appropriate. If your child already uses single words, putting 2-3 words together (“more blocks,” “I want block”) may be appropriate. Based on what kinds of blocks are available, you can work on colors with older toddlers (“Get the BLUE”) or counting while stacking (“1, 2, 3…”).
Stacking blocks is another activity where you can encourage turn-taking and requesting turns with words or phrases (e.g., “my turn,” “my turn block”). You can target a variety of simple 1-step directions throughout this activity, including “open” (the box), “put on” (top to stack), “push” (over the tower) and “clean-up.”
There are countless activities where your toddler can have practice using their words and understanding new ones. Have fun with your child and enjoy observing how their language skills grow!