Use these 3 simple language games to improve your toddler’s speech and help develop their articulation, language, and pre-reading skills.
The following post “Improve Your Toddler’s Speech” was written in collaboration with my own mom, Jamie Bott, M.A., C.C.C. Licensed & Certified Speech & Language Pathologist / Reading Endorsed by the State of Florida.
Every parent wants their child to grow up to become a great reader and articulate speaker. Luckily, there are so many simple things parents can do to accomplish this while also developing strong early literacy skills.
Your toddler’s speech is closely linked to language and can be properly developed early with simple activities.
Making sure your child is exposed to varied experiences and concepts through play as well as the activities of daily living is a crucial part of their speech and language development.
Toddlers don’t need fancy electronic toys, “educational” TV shows, or even a library that is bursting at the seams in order for them to develop healthy language skills.
Related: How To Improve Your Toddler’s Expressive Language
What they do need, however, is for their parents to transform basic, everyday tasks into learning experiences. Yes, you read that right. No expensive tutors or batteries required.
What toddlers (and babies for that matter) need most is for their parents to talk to them, A LOT.
In order to properly develop early literacy in babies and toddlers, parents (or primary caregivers) need to do the following things on a daily basis:
- Read, every day (in varied tones, with diverse inflections)
- Limit screen-time and electronic toys
- Teach children how to “read” books using the illustrations
- Speak in clear, full sentences
- Play the following 3 “games” below!
How to Improve Articulation and Pronunciation (Toddler’s Speech)
I often hear from parents of toddlers who are worried that their child has articulation or pronunciation issues – or both!
Rest assured that this is very normal. Most toddlers will mispronounce words. Most toddlers are difficult to understand until they learn to speak slowly and clearly.
So what can parents do?
Continue to speak clearly and articulately themselves! When you communicate with your toddler, talk slowly and pronounce your words as you would if you were talking to a peer.
With newborns and infants, baby babble is everything – they think they are having an entire conversation with you! When your 3 month old babbles, babble on back. But once baby starts using real words, drop the baby talk.
This is essential to their language and vocabulary development. Toddlers learn to talk by repeating what they hear.
If you are calling the dog “wittle wuppy” rather than “little puppy” – they will learn by emulating you. This is not a desired outcome. So remember, once you start hearing actual words, drop the baby babble.
What about when your toddler mispronounces a word? Your instinct might be to correct them. However the best thing you can do is to repeat what they said correctly, without actually saying that you’re correcting them.
Toddler: “Mommy, at preschool my friend MAFF-HEW played with me on the playground!”
Mom: “Oh fun! You got to play with Matthew today? I bet you two had fun!”
In this scenario, the mom simply pronounces Matthew’s name correctly without pointing out to her toddler that he was wrong.
The best thing you can do, though? Get your toddler talking. As much as you can. Engage them in conversation as much as possible.
Practice makes perfect and the more they talk, the better their pronunciation will be and the more articulate they will become.
3 Simple Games to Improve Your Toddler’s Speech & Language
Play these language games below and play them often – you’ll be setting your preschooler up for success every time you do!
1. Grow Their Vocabulary:
While you’re putting laundry away, talk about and demonstrate clothes going in the top drawer, below, above, between, in front, etc.
- “First I put the socks in the top drawer. Then, I put the undies in the bottom drawer.”
- “When I’m done with the laundry, I’ll put the basket back on top of the laundry machine.”
Cooking can also be a terrific language growing activity. You can easily teach before and after by simply describing what you are doing.
- “Before I put dressing on the salad, I’ll put the salad in a bowl.”
- “After I boil the water, I’ll put the pasta in the pot.”
Teach them easy superlatives such as differentiating big, bigger, and biggest or thin, thinner, and thinnest while making cookies or cutting slices of cucumber for lunch.
- “This piece of cucumber is the biggest piece on your plate. Can you show me the smallest piece?”
- “Each cookie came out to be a different shape and size. Let’s put all of the small cookies in one bowl, and all of the big cookies in another.“
Toddler Parenting Tips You Need in Your Life
- How to Get Your Toddler to Eat More Leafy Greens
- When Your Toddler Won’t Nap: Battles Fought & Lessons Learned
- The Ultimate Guide to Potty Training Your 2 Year Old
- How To Get Your Toddler To Say “Yes” More
2. Sentence Expansion:
When your child says a one or two word sentence, expand upon their thought aloud.
So if you’re playing outside and your toddler points and says: “big bird” then you would say:
- “Look at that big red bird in the tree!”
Then you would gradually expand further to talk about the bird’s nest, eggs, worms, parts of the tree, etc. So the next time you’re outside you could say:
- “Look, there’s the big red bird in the tree we saw yesterday. I wonder if today she is building a nest for her baby birds?”
The more often you play this expansion game, the better. With lots of repetition, you’ll find that your toddler’s language begins to explode and all of a sudden it will feel as though they are speaking in full sentences!
It should go without saying that you don’t have to expand upon their every thought, but as with anything, consistency and repetition will teach your toddler that the more words they use, the better.
3. Compare & Contrast:
Teach your little one to compare and contrast concrete and then eventually more abstract items by talking about similarities and differences, as well as the attributes of various things:
For example: size, color, function, shape, composition, location, and other details.
You can easily do this by categorizing their toys, clothes, and other household items.
Start with broad concrete objects to help improve your toddler’s speech & language:
- “Let’s put all of your red toys in the big bucket and all of your blue toys in the small bucket.”
- “Time to sort our clothes! Socks go in the sock drawer and shorts go in the shorts drawer.”
Then move onto more abstract objects:
- “Let’s put your summer clothes on the right side and your winter clothes on the left side.”
- “Time to clean up! Mommy will put away the heavy toys, and you can put away the light toys.”
- “Can you please take the toys out of the kitchen, and put them away in the playroom?”
Teaching a toddler to categorize items can help improve your toddler’s speech immensely. The more they understand about any given object, the more they can describe it.
Learning this particular skill can also help improve their receptive vocabulary. After playing this particular game with your toddler, you may find that they respond easier to simple requests such as:
- “Can you bring me the little orange cup from the kitchen, please?”
- “Let’s clean up our blocks. I’ll clean up all of the big green ones, and you clean up the small blue blocks.”
So the next time you are cooking dinner or folding laundry, remember to “play” one of these easy language games to engage your little one and help improve your toddler’s speech in the process!
More on Life with Toddlers:
- Feeding Schedule & Meal Ideas for a 2 Year Old
- Help! My 2 Year Old Doesn’t Listen
- How to Potty Train Before Two
- My 2 Year Old’s Daily Routine
Debbie @ Mom Simplified says
Thanks for your post! These tips are SOOO easy to do and I can imagine what good result they bring. I have a 3 year old and I want to try these, especially the expanding the sentence trick. Thanks!
Yay! I will be sure to tell my mom!
Nichole Snellgrove says
Marla, please let your mom know how much I appreciate this post! It is so great and I will be trying all of these activities with my son. Thank you for sharing and I love your website. There are so many posts I can relate to and the information is so easy to follow! Thank you.
I definitely will! Thank you so much! That is so good to know. I am obsessed with your style!!
Sabra Casey says
Such a great article! Thank you for the tips!
Thanks for reading and commenting!:)
Nazia Afreen says
This was such a useful piece. My mom used to sing nursery rhymes to my daughter and thankfully she remembers the words with actions.
Thanks, Nazia! Yes, it is amazing what they remember! Especially when they learn the motions with the words. Thanks for sharing!
Hi Marla, this is a good article, however the title is misleading… as it says how to boost ‘speech’ I assumed it would contain tips for improving pronunciation/making sounds clearer. Surely it should be called how to boost ‘language’ instead?
Hi Saleema, thank you for the suggestion!