How to Challenge & Empower Toddlers to Talk

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I’m back with an update on the Twins’ speech and language therapy and sharing some activities to help challenge and empower toddlers to talk more… there’s even some freebie printable flashcards! I have tried a number of different approaches and activities to help my boys broaden their speech skills and there are two things I’m sure of… To empower toddlers to talk they have to feel confident and it has to be fun.

How to challenge and empower toddler to talk more pin

Our Speech & Language Development Progress

It’s been over six months since we started therapy through the Early Intervention Program and last week we completed our progress review. When we started therapy at age 21months I set our goal to be “communicate anything to me using words.” Pretty vague and basic, but at that point, we had zero words… not even mama. They also had so sign language so were very frustrated at not being able to communicate at all.

Now at 27months, the twins can say Mom and Dad.  They can say No perfectly (and frequently), and they have a slightly quirky version of Yes. They are working on their words for colors and numbers and say Blue and Two pretty well. They can say Please and Cheese although they sound the same, haha. Hi and Bye are also used appropriately but again, we’ve got a mashup of the two for both!

I often hear them using words when talking to each other too, totally adorable, even if it’s using ‘No’ when fighting over a toy. They enjoy practicing words, which they weren’t very interested in before. They often instigate talking activities like pulling the color pencils from their box… check out how they’re doing with saying their colors in my short video below: 

Signing has been great for building confidence too, they sign for More, Please, Crackers and Apple. Their motor skills for copying signs has greatly improved so I could teach them more quite easily at this point.

Activities to Challenge & Empower Toddlers to Talk

As I mentioned earlier, the key to empowering toddlers to talk seems to be about confidence and fun. It took some time before the Twins would just give it a go, even if the sound that falls out of their mouth is completely wrong.

Because every child is different, consider how activities can be tweaked to appeal. My boys are all about the funny stuff… as long as it’s funny they’re into it. Using silly voices and pulling silly faces when working with letters and flashcards really helps keep them stay interested. Our therapist always recommends incorporating movement with words too. 

Bath Letters

The Twins love bathtime, and it’s the perfect time to work on speech and language. They really enjoy playing with their bath letters, we use them to work on the letter sounds themselves and colors too. At first I couldn’t decide if it was better to work on the phonetics of the letters (‘ba’ for B) or the actual word for the letter (‘bee’ for B). As a teacher, I was always told it is better to start with the sounds, not the letters. However, these are special circumstances and we have particular goals in mind.

We are not focused on teaching the boys to read at this point. What we’re doing is building on their mouth motor skills, empowering them to move their mouth in new ways to make new sounds. The sound ‘bee’ is more challenging and useful for learning new words (eg ‘beetle’, ‘beach’). So, for now, we are using the bath letters to learn the symbol names and it’s going pretty well. 

empower toddlers to talk with bath letters

Any bath toy (or general toy for that matter) can become a tool for speech therapy, and the boys love to work on words as their cars are crashing and splashing and flying into the bath!

Flash Cards

Once the boys started to give sounds a go during therapy we started to use flashcards. I have a number of sets I have been given by our therapist and it was also suggested I create some for the fridge showing their favorite foods. We started with the word Eat on the fridge with a picture of someone eating. The boys could come to the fridge and point at the card when they were hungry instead of whining. We’d always respond by saying the word and eventually, they started saying the word when they went to the fridge and pointed at it. The card has empowered them to make a request using a word.

empower toddlers to talk fridge cards

This week I finally got around to making a set of flashcards with different food items. The Twins are now challenged further to use their words by being able to be more specific about what they want. The cards are fixed to the fridge… their go-to location when they are hungry. Some of the words are difficult… we are a way off being able to say Sandwich but it gives us an opportunity to practice.  Arthur was a little disappointed my sandwich didn’t look exactly like the picture but hey, he happily ate it!

You may want to make your own cards with your kids’ faves but you are more than welcome to print your own copy of mine. I hope they help, download them –> here.

empower toddlers to talk flash cards

What I like about this exercise is it not only helps empower toddlers to talk, it also empowers them to make independent decisions. Maybe Arthur fancies a yogurt and George would prefer cheese… they can decide and tell me themselves!

Colors & Numbers everywhere Empower toddlers to talk!

Although I have speech therapy ‘homework’, I have also trained myself to ask questions to challenge the Twins’ speech. Conversation with your child is the most basic yet effective method of learning to talk. My boys don’t have the capability to answer a lot of my questions because although they can have a go at plenty of words when prompted to repeat, coming up with the word from scratch is tough. 

Because I know they can say some colors and numbers (or at least have a go without having to mimic me), I make the most of it. There are colors and counting opportunities everywhere! They honestly never get tired of telling me what color things are… the color pencil exercise shown in the video above was instigated by them, not me.

empower kids to talk colors

When I read, I ask what color things are in the pictures, because I know they can answer… I’m giving them the opportunity to succeed and build confidence in talking. The same goes with numbers, there is always something to count: “How many sheep are there in the picture?” “How many chicken nuggets do you have?” “How many shoes are you wearing?” Seriously, it never gets old.

Find something they can say and give them as many opportunities to use it as possible.

Our Next Steps In Speech Therapy

The Early Intervention Program only applies to children under three. That means when the Twins turn three later in the year we will need to move on. Although the boys have made great progress, they have not caught up with their age group and continue to struggle with translating thoughts into the mouth movements required to talk. 

We have made an appointment (through our EIP representative) with our school district because if they qualify, the Twins can attend Special Education Pre-School four mornings a week from when they turn three. As with the Early Intervention Program, these state-funded systems take time, so I’m pleased we have the ball rolling so we can continue therapy uninterrupted if they require it. Even the talk of pre-school makes me realize how big my boys are getting!

We will see how the next few months go. The boys work really hard but there is a concern they may be struggling with Childhood Apraxia of Speech. This is officially undiagnosable before the age of three so for now we can keep our fingers crossed that they can catch up on their delay. However, there is a chance we will be continuing therapy for a long time to come. If you would like to know more about Childhood Apraxia of Speech check out the Apraxia-Kids Website –> here.

I’ll keep you posted, I hope the tips and flashcards can help empower your toddler to talk your ear off!

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About the author

Katherine is an electrochemist, hiking enthusiast, and family lifestyle blogger. As a mom of three, including twins, she enjoys DIY, travel, and eating good food. British born, Katherine moved to the US in 2014, and now called Las Vegas home.

6 thoughts on “How to Challenge & Empower Toddlers to Talk”

    • Oh great, do share your journey because although there are a lot of formal websites and resources out there, I haven’t heard many personal stories. It really helps to hear how other kids and parents have handled it!


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