How to Encourage Your Toddler to Talk

Early Years professional Laura suggests ways to encourage toddlers to talk whether in a small group or alone at home.

Early exposure to vocabulary and sounds is so important for children's language development and this is often underestimated in a child's early years before starting school.

Here are some of simple activities that you can use to encourage talking, either in a small group, perhaps when your child is on a playdate, or just when you are alone at home with your little one!

Recognising sounds

Place between four and six familiar noisy items (e.g. a set of keys, a crisp packet, or a squeaky toy) into something you can't see into, like a box or paper bag, pausing to name each of them and demonstrate the sound each one makes.

Use your child's name and sing the the tune of 'Old MacDonald': For example...

"Laura Hathaway has a box e-i-e-i-o

And in that box she has a..."

Then stop singing and ask the children to listen.

Pick up one of the items in the bag and, while keeping it hidden, make the object make some noise. Have the children guess what they think it is and then continue the song but, this time, imitating the sound using your voice.

"With a zzz zzz here and a zzz zzz there..." .

Allow the children to take a turn making a noise from inside the box and use their names as you sing.

Sounds in stories

When you're telling a familiar story or making one up, have the children associate sounds with each character. You may need to ask questions to get them to come up with their own ideas. For example, why not ask "How might Cinderella's broom sound when she's sweeping the floor? And what noise would the birds make while they help her make her dress?"

The children will become familiar with the story as you go along and you can assign different sounds to different children. You can add a twist by asking the children to make the noises in different conditions e.g. "How might Cinderella's broom sound if the floor was wet?" or "What would it sound like if her broom was made of sticks?" or even "What noise would it make she used a vacuum cleaner?"

Rhythms in songs

Children need to develop a wide repertoire of songs and rhymes.

Be sure to include multi-sensory experiences such as action songs in which the children clap their hands, pat their knees, or stamp their feet, or move in a particular way.

Add body percussion sounds to nursery rhymes, performing the sounds in time to the beat. Change the body sound with each musical phrase or sentence. Encourage the children to be attentive and to know when to add sounds, when to move, and when to be still.

Singing songs and action rhymes is a vital part of language development and should be an everyday event.

Find time to rhyme

Use books with predictable rhymes that children are familiar with and then stop as you come to the final word in the rhyme. For example, using the story of The Gruffalo, you can say "It’s terribly kind of you, Fox, but no...I'm going to have lunch with a.....". Then invite your child to complete the sentence and encourage them to use plenty of intonation and expression as the story rhyme is recounted.

Do include rhyming books as part of the time you spend reading each day. And remember that by using your own intonation and expression you will really help your child tune into the rhythm of the language and the rhyming words. Encourage the children to join in whenever you can, for example. with repetitive phrases such as "Run, run as fast as you can, you can't catch me; I'm the Gingerbread Man."

Wherever possible make the activity multi-sensory to intensify learning and enjoyment. You don’t necessarily have to bake the gingerbread biscuits, but simply to use facial expressions, noises, hand and body movements where you can to enhance the fun!

Look, listen and note how well your child recognises the rhyming words and catches on to rhyming word sequences and phrases.

Word sounds

Well-known and familiar songs are always a staple of learning and development, but it's very easy to also create - make-up - a song of your own to your own invented tune. You could sing, "What have we got in our sound box today?" and then show objects one at a time. With each one you can emphasise the initial sound - e.g. s-s-s-snake, s-s-s-snake, s-s-s-sausage. Make collections of objects with names beginning with the same sound to get them used to making that sound over and again.

Look, listen and note how well children:

  • Can recall the list of objects beginning with the same sound
  • Can offer their own sets of objects and ideas to end the story
  • Discriminate between the sounds and match to the objects correctly

Keeping it fun

These are just some ideas and you don't have to follow them slavishly!

The main idea is to enjoy the time you spend with your little one and where you can to encourage their language development through the fun activities you do with them everyday anyway.


Laura, Early Years Professional