Are you looking for easy and free ways to teach your toddler to talk?
Perhaps your little one is just on the cusp of speaking, or maybe they have said their first word or two and you want to encourage them to speak more.
It could be that your toddler is a bit older and you are worried they are getting behind in their speech. This was me with both my kids. Now at 4 and 7, their speech and vocabulary is the same as their peers and they are both top of their class for reading. This is mostly because I did these 7 things with them as toddlers and 3 year olds.
These are easy things that anyone can do!
You, as their parent or carer, are actually in a better place to help them with this than a professional because you spend the most time with them.
It’s all about consistency and lots and lots of reptation.
It doesn’t actually take up too much time either, if you integrate it into your daily life together, and it’s easier than you think. Once you start doing them, they become second nature so quickly.
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Why is it so important to teach your toddler to talk?
There are so so many benefits both now and in the future for your toddler learning to talk and communicate clearly.
Communication is such an important life skill that affects almost all areas of our life. Talking is a big part of that for most of us.
There are so many easy ways you can teach toddlers to talk and the majority of them are completely free.
Talking confidently and having a good vocabulary helps your kid with their reading and writing as they get older. It is a good strong foundation in language for them.
Kids whose speech and language is good, are often feel more confident, which is never a bad thing!
Tantrums are often reduced when little kids have the ability to put into words how they are feeling and the reasons why they are upset. This helps with their emotional development and our relationship with them.
What speech therapy exercises can I use to help my toddler’s speech development?
I am not a specialist or expert in any of this. I am a childminder and mum to two little kiddos who both needed some help with their speech at the age of 2.
By doing these 7 simple things, I was able to help them catch up with their speech and vocabulary before we reached the top of the speech therapists list!
This is not intended to replace professional speech therapy, if that is what your kid needs.
1. Teach your toddler to talk with nursery rhymes
I actually attended a training recently for childminders on the importance of music and singing nursery rhymes to our little kids.
It has huge benefits for babies right up to school aged kids. Not only does it help with their speech and language but in lots of other areas too, especially academic areas.
There are so many nursery rhymes you could sing and you probably know many already, or can remember some from your own childhood.
Nursery Rhyme Books for Toddlers
If you need a hand brushing up on your nursery rhymes, or just want a fun nursery rhyme book to look at with your toddler while you sing together, then check out my favourite nursery rhyme books on the market right now!
Mother Goose’s Nursery Rhymes, from Amazon, is my favourite as the illustrations are so beautiful and detailed. This creates so many opportunities to encourage your toddlers speech as you look at the pictures together, as well as singing the rhymes.
Nursery Rhymes for your Toddler’s Daily Routine
If you’re short on time and prone to forgetting things, like me, then how about getting some easy nursery rhymes that you can fit into moments within your daily schedule each day. It makes it easier to remember to do it each day and you’re not actually needing to find any additional time to fit it in.
If this sounds good, but you’re not sure where to start, check out, The Best Daily Routine Songs for Toddlers for ideas.
Sing and Rhyme Groups
Sometimes it can be hard remembering the tunes for nursery rhymes or you feel self-conscious singing to your little one if it’s not something you’ve done before.
Try not to worry, your toddler will most likely be delighted as most kids love singing, even if, like me, you can’t sing in tune. The great thing about little kids is they don’t care! Don’t tell them you can’t sing and they will never know!
I found that going along to a local toddler sing and rhyme session was really helpful as a new mom. It helped to be surrounded by other moms and kids and relearn all those old nursery rhymes, and some new ones, together. My kids both loved the sessions too as there were puppets, toys and books.
In the UK, we have these sessions provided free through ‘Book Bug’. These are often offered at local libraries or community halls. If you’re not in the UK, then it’s worth checking what’s available in your local area.
2. Social Opportunities with other toddlers
Social opportunities with other toddlers and older kids give your little one an opportunity to practice their speech in a social setting.
It also helps them hear and understand other people. They learn the rhythm of conversation as they hear you converse with others, taking it in turns to talk and respond.
You can find these opportunities through playgroups, library story times, toddler sing and sign classes, and through arranging playdates or even going to your local playpark.
3. Encouraging a love of reading
If you do one thing, commit to reading to your toddler at least one story a day.
This will have a massive impact on their development. Nurturing a love for reading in your kid is so important. It also helps to expand their vocabulary and speech.
You can do this through reading books together, and creating a little reading corner in their bedroom or playroom. This can be as simple as a small bookshelf or crate for books, and a cosy rug or beanbag to sit on.
Visits to the local library to encourage a love and excitement for books too.
Most kids sections of libraries have other things as well as books now. Ours has toys, puppets, blocks, puzzles, colouring in and board games. My own kids and those I childmind just love trips to the library and choosing books to take home with us. All completely free too of course.
The young toddlers I childminded and my own kids, when they were little, all loved these felt lift-the-flap books, from Amazon, when they began reading. They are beautiful, interactive and so strong – virtually impossible to break!
Although audio books don’t replace you reading to your toddler, as they learn as much from the act of reading together and you modelling enjoyment of reading, they are another useful resource.
They are great for car journeys, especially if you have the book too for your kid to ‘read’ along. They can also be great for your kid to listen to while they play and you get jobs done around the house.
You can borrow audio books for free from your library or find them online. We personally love this Julia Donaldson Audio Book Collection of fun rhyming stories, from Amazon. It’s brilliant to listen to on road trips with little people.
4. Teach your toddler to talk through play
Our little ones learn so much through play, hence why in Scotland, early years education is through play-based learning. Learning to talk through play is easy and free.
Imaginative play is a fun way to engage your toddler and expand their vocabulary. Dressing up adds to this as you talk about what you’re both choosing to wear and the colours, or feel, of the clothing. Narrating what you are both doing in play helps your toddler associate words and language with action and meaning.
Sensory play is another brilliant way to get your toddler speaking. Not only does it help them with their speech and language but it actually supports their brain development too!
If you’re interested in learning more then check out, Action for Children’s article, What is Sensory Play and Why is it Important?
5. Sharing meaningful conversation one-to-one
Speech and language is essentially social. The best way to learn to speak is to engage in meaningful conversation.
Setting aside quality time each day to spend giving your toddler undivided attention, whilst being good for their mental well being and helping with their attachment and behaviour, is great for their speech and language.
Try to give them your undivided attention and focus on asking them open ended questions and really listening to their answers.
Mimic how conversation works, by taking your turn to speak and then pausing and giving them a chance to talk. Even if they only respond with one word, or point to something, try your best to engage and hold up your side of the conversation.
If they don’t want to talk you could ask them some ‘yes’ and ‘no’ questions to get the ball rolling, and pause before guessing what you think there answer is, if you get absolutely nothing back.
This one will take a bit of time, but as your toddlers speech takes off, they will soon be chatting away to you, and it’s a great opportunity to practice turn taking and the social etiquette of conversation (i.e. not interrupting one another).
I find a good time to do this can be at dinner time, when the family gather around the table and all take a turn to share about their day. Or at bedtime when it is one-to-one before lights out and we chat about our favourite part of the day, what we found tricky, and something we are looking forward to the next day.
6. Narrate their non-verbal communication
This is something quick and easy that you can add into your day without needing any extra time.
You’ll naturally notice and respond to your toddler’s non-verbal communication anyway. For example if you pass them a banana and they throw it on the floor, you know that they are communicating they don’t want the banana.
A simple way to help your toddlers speech and language is to narrate what happened to them.
For example, I might ask my toddler, ‘Would you like some carrot’, whilst holding a carrot up for them to see. If they pull a face and turn away from it, then I might say something like, ‘Oh I can see that you have turned away and made a yucky face. That means you don’t want carrot. No carrot.’
This also applies to emotions. Give them the words for what they are thinking, feeling and experiencing, as well as you can.
If you’re not sure what they are feeling, you can begin sentences with, ‘I wonder if you feel…’
This also helps your toddler learn to recognise and name their emotions and to begin to understand cause and effect. For example, ‘I can see you feel angry. I said you couldn’t have any more cake and you feel angry about that so you’re shouting.’
Modelling this use of language to them helps them find the words to express themselves as they get older.
7. Expand on their speech
This is such an easy one once you get used to doing it. I find myself doing it all the time with the little ones I childmind.
Expanding a kids speech just means that when they point to an object or say a word, you repeat back what they have said and add a few extra words.
I’ll share an example from teaching my son. When he was 2, he would point at a duck on the pond and say, ‘duck’. Instead of just nodding or telling him that he was right, I might say, ‘Can you see a duck on the pond?’ Alternatively, he might point to a car and say ‘car’. I might respond with, ‘Oh yes, a big red car.’
Reapeating back to a toddler what they say is so important in helping them learn.
However, if they pronounce something wrong, then repeat the word they have said back in the correct form. Don’t make them repeat it or anything, but just don’t repeat back the wrong pronunciation. This is something a speech therapist told me once. However cute it is when they say, ‘farties’ instead of ‘parties’, it doesn’t help them to have the wrong word repeated back to them!
Adding to that repetition, a descriptive word like a colour, size or shape of the item they are pointing to helps grow their vocabulary. Using the word they have said in a sentence helps develop their language and understanding skills.
These are both easy things that you can do as you spend time with your toddler, playing or exploring on trips.
7 Easy and Free Ways to Teach your Toddler to Talk
Teaching your toddler to talk is such an exciting parenting milestone. It’s just amazing seeing how fast and easily they pick up language when fully immersed in it in these ways.
And the thing I love about all these simple methods is that they are either things we are already doing a bit of and just need to do more, or they are simple things that can easily be added onto our daily routine.
Anyone can do these things with our kids, whether its us parents, eyfs and nursery staff, childminders, or family members. The more your kid is engaged with language and surrounded by it, the easier and quicker it will be for them to pick it up.
They’ll be chatting your head of in no time!