Encouraging Toddlers to Make Sentences with Their Words

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As parents, we can’t wait to hear those first words, it’s one of our most anticipated developmental milestones. But once your toddler has a bank of vocabulary under their belt, the next step is to start putting words together. I’m focusing my mom thoughts on encouraging toddlers to make sentences this month because I’m keen for my boys to start getting specific… Which car do you want to play with? Where exactly is that boo-boo? You can add a please to that request young man!

Encouraging toddlers to make sentences with their words twins speech delay

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The Twins have been in speech therapy for nine months now and the past month has been fantastic for progress. Like all development, there seem to be bursts of excelled learning as they crack those milestones. I feel like I’m doing less and they are doing more, which is fantastic for everyone involved!

The Difference Between Flash Cards and Conversation

At 2.5yrs, the Twins finally have a good list of words they can say. Our stack of flash cards is pretty bulky and the Boys will give nearly all of them a go without verbal prompting. Their pronunciation is pretty bad but I’m told this is typical of children with speech delays. And hey, pick your battles right? Words are words!

Despite being able to say lots of different words, they still instinctively opt for their default sound when making requests. “Duh… duh-duh… duuuh!” This is a habit which has proven difficult to break, but we’re starting to get some unprompted words. Eat, No, Yes, Blue, Red, Eyes, Mouth, Boo-Boo, Ball, Mine, Two (they are slightly obsessed with pairs… maybe it’s a twin thing!).

Getting toddlers to use words
The Twins love pointing out the color of EVERYTHING!

They are now armed with the words they need, but we must give them skills to use them in context.  They are far from stringing a sentence together or even using multiple words to be more specific with their requests. So how do I go about encouraging them to make sentences?

Working on Two Syllable Words

Two syllable words require the same mechanics as two separate words. We have been working hard at two syllable words for a couple of months now and it’s tough going. Although words like Bubble and Baby come quite easily, they have the same consonant sound repeated so the mouth doesn’t have to work very hard.

Physically transitioning their mouth from one sound to another other is extremely difficult for my boys. Words like Marble, Apple, Table, Dino are challenging. We usually get one sound or the other… so for ‘Marble’, we will get either “Mar,” or “Bo” sounds. Choosing the crucial moment to intervene with the second prompt has really helped. Get your toddler saying “Maaaarrr…” and then get in with the second sound prompt while they’re still talking!

The visual aids really help with this… they have something to focus on while they’re working on saying the word. I show them the card, let them have a go, congratulate their effort. Then, however, I need them to have another go with me breaking down the sounds for them… this is when the timing of those prompts is important. My boys will usually only do the same words two or three times before giving me the grumpy face to move on!

The attention span of a toddler will only give you so much and I find activities like painting help them keep busy while we talk colors and shapes. Mixing casual and formal speech therapy activities is perfect, we don’t want anyone getting fed up with the process.

encouraging toddlers to talk in sentences with painting

How to Encourage Unprompted Language

The trouble with flash cards is they are only practicing those words when you’re doing the flashcards. And if you do the flashcards too often they get bored and lose interest. I do our flashcards few times a week and that’s really not enough for them to be practicing sounds t make progress.

I need them to be working on the words without my prompts… have the confidence to use the language they have worked so hard for. To help our toddlers take their language to the next level, our speech therapy homework has been:

Give them frequent opportunities to make choices.

“Would you like the red or the blue ball?” Once this is mastered… “Which ball would you like?” For ages, the response has been “duh!” while pointing to the object they want. But we have broken the seal this month and they are finally using a word to make simple choices without prompting!

Create opportunities to put two words together.

The Twins will sometimes point at things in books and say the word if they know it. If they do this, I’ll try to follow up with another word to tag on to it. “Yes, that is an eye… What color is it? It’s a blue eye. Can you say blue eye?” Naturally, the next stage is three words… “Two blue eyes!”

encouraging toddlers to talk in sentences
Our recent visit to the zoo was perfect for practicing two words! “Brown Camel!”
Use visual cues over verbal ones

If I get the default “duh,” response to a question, I used to step in a prompt with the correct word. “Oh, you want the red one… can you say red?” This worked great for practicing the words yet their spontaneous response was always “duh.”.  I was advised by our therapist to try visual cues for the sounds… press your lips together silently as if you’re about to say “Marble”. This prompting worked such wonders during therapy it’s like a switch flipped and they are suddenly giving me word responses to questions! 

Resources We’re Currently Using

As well as the flashcards assigned to me through therapy, we have been told the Boys are officially ready for regular early language vocabulary flashcards, hooray! And for $4 they are a pretty fantastic resource!

I have also found books, drawing and stickers to be fantastic for working on two-word combinations. One of the Twins’ favorite books at the moment is ‘Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?‘ and its perfect for practicing colors next to animal words. They are also totally mad for face sticker books… Melissa and Doug do a fabulous range and they are great for practicing face words as you go! 

If you missed my post with the free printable food flashcards, head over to my post on how to challenge and empower toddlers to talk!

Final Words on encouraging toddlers to make sentences

I feel like I could ramble on endlessly about our little wins recently, but I just wanted to give a few pointers for simple techniques that have made a big impact. All this stuff is so simple really, but the difference between pressing your lips together and making an “mmm” sounds and doing it silently makes a huge difference! Stripping back those cues and giving them just enough to succeed is building their confidence as well as their skills.

Our journey through the Early Intervention Program is coming to an end in a few more months. We will be assessed again soon for special needs pre-school, and it will be interesting to see how severe their delay is considered to be. I feel like the gap between a ‘normal’ toddler’s speech and the Twins grew quickly from 18months, and it was slow progress. But now they are really making headway. I’m keeping my fingers crossed for an actual sentence soon!

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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.

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