Setting Up Your Toddler’s Environment for Speech and Language

Setting Up Your Toddler's Environment

While many toddlers learn to request, comment, and question naturally in their environment, children with speech and language delays may need more direct assistance from those around them. Your child may see a speech therapist who will work directly with you and your child and will provide suggestions for ways to work on their goals at home, but if you see your child’s therapist in a clinic setting, they may not have a chance to look at your child’s environment and offer you suggestions. Here are some tips and tricks for setting up your toddler’s environment to encourage their speech and language development.

  1. Sabotage: In this context, sabotage means setting up your child’s environment in a way that encourages them to ask for what they want, rather than just getting it. Placing their favorite toys in clear plastic bins that are difficult to open will let your child see the toys without being able to get to them, which will encourage them to ask for your help. You can also place your child’s favorite toys up high where they can’t reach them (but watch out if you have an adventurous climber!) or remove the batteries from their favorite toys. Even if your child simply points or pulls you to the desired toy, this still gives you the chance to model the words, sign, or use alternative/augmentative communication and encourage imitation from your child. After doing this a number of times throughout the day, your child is much more likely to begin to do this on their own!  
  2. Visual Schedules: If your child has a regular schedule throughout the day, put a copy of it in their environment. You can find basic pictures for things like mealtime, playtime, bath time, screen time, and outside play online and print them, or you can draw your own. To help pictures last longer, use clear contact paper, tape, or a laminator on the pictures. If you don’t have access to a printer, you can also draw your own basic pictures, such as a sun for playing outside, a plate for mealtime, or a bed for nap time! Talk with your child throughout the day, showing them the pictures and letting them remove or cross out activities that are finished for the day.  
  3. Setting Limits: For your child’s most motivating activities, whatever they may be, set some basic limits. If your child absolutely loves playing with Magnatiles, provide them with only 4-5 at a time to encourage them to ask for more. If fruit snacks are a favorite, offer 2-3 at a time instead of the whole bag. If your child is motivated by their daily screen time allowance, set up guided access on your phone/tablet, or a sleep timer on your television so that it turns off on it’s own after a set amount of time. Your child can request more when that happens, as long as you set the expectation that they can only ask for more a certain number of times!  
  4. Separate the Pieces: If your child has some toys and activities that they can reach to play with independently, place some of the pieces in a separate area. Give them access to the puzzle board, but not the pieces, or to their train set but not the trains. Make sure that the activity that you’re separating is a motivating toy for your child. If it’s one that they’re not that interested in to begin with, they’ll be much more likely to just give up rather than ask for assistance.  
  5. Shhhhh: While adults have years of practice in filtering out things we don’t want to pay attention to, toddlers haven’t learned that skill yet, particularly in the case of background noise. Keep your child’s environment free of background noise like television and music, and use these only when actively watching or listening with your child.  
  6. Choose Wisely: If your child is working on a particular speech sound, make an effort to offer them toys that include their sound! One great way to do this is to let your child decorate a “surprise box” and then fill it with items including their speech sound or sounds. Let them scribble or add stickers to a shoebox or empty shipping box and then you add the items. If your kiddo has trouble saying their ‘s’ you might add items like socks, a spoon, blocks, a baseball, or soap to their box.  Leave the box in your child’s play area and when they go to open it, sit down and think of silly ways to play with the items. 

With these tips, you can help set your toddler up for speech and language practice throughout the day…but don’t forget! If you have concerns about your child’s speech and language skills, reach out to us at The Clubhouse for a free screening! 

Written by Kate Gilliat, M.S., CCC-SLP

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