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Give Them Something to Talk About

Rogers Bridge » Receptive and Expressive Language Delays » Give them something to talk about

My 2 favorite activities that motivate toddlers to talk

"Jessie is AWESOME! She is very patient and has done some serious progress with my son in very short time!"

— Eldijana Muhovic Karačić

Every therapist has a “bag of tricks” with activities proven to motivate a child to talk. It is important to understand that what the adult thinks will be motivating may not be what motivates the child. It is not enough for the child to want to play with a toy or activity. We must have the toy or activity that a child loves enough that it becomes the catalyst for communication.  In other words, is the child willing to respond to your prompts and requests in order to receive the reward of a particular activity or toy? If the answer is no, you have not found the right activity, or your child may not be ready for this level of demand.

In addition to finding the right activity to motivate a child, it is important to understand a child’s capabilities before placing a demand on them. Communication occurs in many different ways and it does not always mean using words. If a child is unable to imitate words, try using eye gaze (looking at the desired item), pointing at the item, sign language, or vocalizations in response to your statement or question. 

Our favorite, fun activities are designed for children that are able to imitate and understand.  While a child may imitate a word without understanding its meaning, they do need to understand the meaning of the word to successfully work on requested and spontaneous word productions. To be sure we are incorporating meaning making in our activities we start with modeling language.  Next, we encourage imitating a word to make a request. Finally, we can encourage spontaneous productions of words by asking questions, asking questions and using gestures (pointing or holding the item) or by giving choices.

When working on language, it is important to target all types of words. Using nouns, verbs, adjectives, and pronouns will help your child combine words into phrases and sentences.


Bubbles are a staple in any therapist’s bag of tricks for good reason. Children loves bubbles and this means therapists love bubbles too. During a session, the therapist or caregiver is in control of the flow of the bubbles. So, the child relies on the parent or therapist to blow the bubbles. This is different than using a bubble machine where the child can press a button to release the bubbles. A machine allows the child to participate in this activity independently and without communicating with an adult which reduces the opportunity for verbal practice. 

Common single words that can be targeted when playing with bubbles:

  • Nouns: bubbles

  • Verbs: open, blow, pop, go, turn

  • Adjectives: big, little

  • Pronouns: I, you, my, your

Once your child can produce one-word utterances, we start modeling two-word utterances:

  • Open bubbles, go bubbles, blow bubbles, big bubbles, little bubbles, my bubbles, I

   blow, you blow, my, turn, and your turn.

Questions to encourage spontaneous productions:

  • What do you want?

  • Do you want a big bubble or a little bubble?

  • Whose turn is it?


We love using toddler swings in speech therapy. These swings keep the child secured leaving you free to focus on language and having fun! I like to be in front of the swing to establish joint attention and gauge the child’s interest or distress. If you notice any distress, modify the activity or stop completely. Not all children enjoy swinging and it is important to determine this before using this activity to work on language. To make swinging even more exciting, we use exaggerated facial expressions to heighten anticipation. The goal is to encourage the child to look to the adult in anticipation of the swing being pushed, stopped, or turned.

Common single words that can be targeted when swinging:

  • Nouns: swing

  • Verbs: push, go, stop, spin, help

  • Adjectives: fast, slow

  • Pronouns: me, you, I

Once your child can produce one-word utterances, we start modeling two-word utterances:

  • Push me, go fast, go slow, you push, I go, push fast, push slow, stop me, spin me, spin fast, spin slow, help me.


Questions to encourage spontaneous productions:

  • Do you want to go fast or slow?

  • What do you want?

  • Who should push?

  • Uh oh, you stopped! What should I do?

Your child may not be motivated by typical toys and activities. If you are having trouble motivating your child to use words, please call us for a free phone consultation. Speech therapy may be beneficial for your child.


"Jessie is such a loving and caring therapist. Her passion for helping her patients and families show every visit. She is open to what works for each patient while being effective and productive. She is responsive and able to adapt to her patient's moods. Speech therapy has never been my son's favorite, and he has been to known to be a bit difficult, but it never slowed Jessie down. She was always so loving and made the sessions fun for him. I would recommend her to anyone looking for a great therapist."  – Belinda

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