When you’ve got a toddler at home, it’s not always easy to think of new activities and games to play together. Sometimes you just run out of ideas (and energy!). And if your child is in speech therapy, when it comes to practicing their speech and language at home, you really need to find something fun and motivating.
When work feels more like play, everyone is happy. That’s why we’ve compiled a list of five simple speech therapist-recommended games you can play to keep the learning going.
1. Touch and feel activities
This is one exciting activity that your child won’t want to stop playing! Take a box, a bag, or any container that your child can’t see into. Grab some items from around the house to place inside. Here are a few ideas: A small stuffed animal, Play-Doh or slime, an apple, a ball, a toy car, and a hairbrush.
Place each item in one by one, without your child seeing. Then have your child reach in, feel the item, and guess what it is.
To target speech and language skills, they can try to describe what they feel by using words like “cold” or “soft.”
You can also help your child guess by giving them clues about each item. For example, “We use this to comb your hair,” or “This is one of your favorite snacks.”
This game is great for helping your child practice saying new words and growing their vocabulary. It’s OK to throw some items in the box that they don’t know the name of. This helps them learn even more!
2. Freeze dance
Who doesn’t love freeze dance? Your toddler or preschooler definitely will! Turn on some of their favorite music and dance together. Depending on your child’s age, you can vary this game slightly. Here’s how to play.
For toddlers or kids working on more basic vocabulary, use words like “stop” and “go” throughout the game. Explain that when you say “Stop,” your child should stop dancing and stand completely still. You can show them what you mean to help them understand.
Then go on to explain that when you say “Go!,” they can start dancing again. This helps them learn the meaning of these words. And if they aren’t already saying these words, they may begin to use them, as well! So cue up the music and dance together. Say “stop!” and “go!” throughout the song.
For older preschoolers, feel free to use the word “freeze” each time you want them to stop dancing. You can even say words that rhyme with “freeze” to work on their listening abilities and word discrimination skills. You might try saying “Cheese!” or “Keys!” Your child will be anticipating the word “freeze,” so they’ll really have to listen to your words before moving. Check out this kid-friendly video for an example of how to play this game.
3. Movement and physical games
Never underestimate how much kids enjoy physical games that involve movement. These can be simple activities like having a tickle fight, giving a piggyback ride, having a race, or building an indoor fort.
Children love spending time with their caregivers. The one-on-one attention you give them during these activities–not to mention how much fun they are–can help your child in different areas of speech and language development. Let’s look at some things you can target during these games:
Tickle fight: This is a perfect activity for children learning to talk. They can request “more” or “stop” by verbalizing independently, imitating after you, or even signing! They may request “more” tickles but quickly say “Stop!” when it’s just too much. The giggles and smiles from your little one will make this a favorite game to play!
Piggyback rides: Most kids love a piggyback ride. You can work on having your child use single words to request what they want, like “up.” For older children, you can focus on sentence structure and length, such as, “I want a piggyback ride.” Having a race: Racing each other is a helpful way to practice verbs. You can have one race where you run, one where you skip, one where you spin to the finish line, or maybe even one where you roll!
For younger children learning to talk, you can work on naming the verb in the race you just completed and using it in small phrases, such as, “We run!” or “I skip!” For older preschool children, you can work on using the right verb tense, such as “We ran a race” or “I skipped to the finish line” for past tense. You can also practice present tense: “I am skipping.”
Building a fort: This is a good opportunity to work on spatial concepts. You can say things like, “Go in the fort,” “Stand behind the fort,” or “Put the pillow on top.” See how well your child can follow these directions. It’s OK if you need to help them out.
4. Scavenger hunt
What’s great about a scavenger hunt activity is that you can play indoors or out! Give your toddler or preschooler some clues of items to find. You can make the clues as easy or as hard as you want, depending on your child’s age.
You may say something like, “Go find something that keeps us warm.” Your child may find a blanket or a coat.
If you’re outside on a scavenger hunt, you can give your child clues to find items like sticks, leaves, or flowers.
For children practicing sound production, have them look for items that use their target sounds. For example, if your child is working on the /k/ sound, they can practice saying that they found a “rock.” Or if they’re working on the /b/ sound, they can practice saying they found a “bug.”
You can also practice receptive language tasks with your child, such as identifying items or following directions. Ask your kiddo to find the “hose” or pick the “flower.” Or target following single- or multi-step directions. Give a direction such as “Pick up the ball,” or “Pick up the ball and then put it by the door.” See how easily your child can follow these directions. If they need a little help, try repeating the directions or gesturing to show them what you mean.
5. I Spy
A classic game like I Spy can be easily repurposed for speech therapy practice! As you and your child find items to “spy,” you can focus on whatever goals may be most beneficial to them.
For instance, if your child is working on sound production, practice “spying” items that begin with or have the target sound in the word.
If your child is working on imitating phrases or learning to use phrases on their own, they can practice saying “I spy…” over and over. Repeating a familiar phrase like this, and simply adding one new word each time, is a great way to practice.
As you can see, speech therapy games and activities at home don’t have to be anything elaborate. The key is finding a game that will interest your child, then working your child’s specific goals into the activity. The more fun they’re having, the more practicing they’ll complete. Plus, the two of you are enjoying one-on-one time together. That’s a win for everyone!