How to Encourage Your Toddler to Talk

Exposing your child at an early age to vocabulary and sounds will really help them to advance their language development. Early Years professional Laura Hathaway reveals her favourite ways to encourage talking whether in a small group or just alone at home with your child.

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.

According to Speech and Language UK, around 7.6% percent of children have a speech or language delay* and unfortunately, this can affect development when children enter school if the right support is not put in place.

A few years ago, the government developed an initiative called Every Child a Talker (ECAT). This was designed to help practitioners and parents create a developmentally appropriate, supportive, and stimulating environment in which children can enjoy experimenting with and learning language. It was a useful framework and was something I felt added a lot of value, particularly in nursery settings. Here though are some of my favourite activities that you can use to encourage talking, either in a small group, perhaps when your child is on a playdate with other children, or just when you are alone at home with your child!

Distinguishing between 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 of the characters. You may need to ask questions to encourage them to create 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 and characters. 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. Singing songs and action rhymes is a vital part of language development and should ideally be an everyday event.

 Moving to music is a great way to develop tempo, rhythm and keeping a beat.

Be sure to include multi-sensory experiences such as action songs in which the children have to clap their hands, pat their knees, stamp their feet, or move in a particular way for example, The Grand Old Duke of York

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.

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. I don't necessarily mean bake gingerbread biscuits, but simply to use facial expressions, noises, hand, and body movements where you can enhance the fun. You could even add funny hats to get into character!

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 a make-up 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 these slavishly!

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


Laura Hathaway; Early Years professional with Tinies Childcare