Enhancing Daily Routines to Improve Speech & Language Skills

As a parent of a young child, among your many, many responsibilities, teaching your child to communicate is near the top of the list. But how do we do this?

By incorporating simple strategies into your everyday routines, you can help your child learn new words, understand concepts, increase attention and focus, and jumpstart his/her reading and mathematical understanding.

And you can do all of this naturally, while having fun together!

In the presence of young children, adults often wonder, “What am I supposed to say now?”

As children listen to the speech and language around them, they are learning important lessons in how to speak, whether it be pronouncing sounds and words correctly or formulating grammatically appropriate sentences. You can facilitate your child’s skills by verbalizing more often and with greater depth, describing what’s going on around you, and wondering out loud.

Courtney and Niece

Aunt Courtney and Sloane


Describe what you see:

Try to refrain from asking a never-ending sea of questions, but rather, comment and describe what you see.

“You’re pouring sand into the big, red bucket.”  vs. “Are you pouring sand?”

“That’s a big, blue circle!” vs. “Are you drawing a circle?”

“Your ball is so bouncy! My ball is heavy. It can’t bounce. Let’s roll my ball and bounce yours.”

“Baby boy has many more blocks than baby girl. She only has a few. Let’s help baby boy share with baby girl so they both have the same.”

Your child will learn many words and concepts when you describe your shared experiences with specific vocabulary. And for the pre-verbal set, pointing is a critical element of communication. You can model pointing anywhere and everywhere. It’s helpful to pair the pointing gesture with a verbal label.

“Look! A big dog!”

“Fire truck! It’s so loud! Wee-ooh-wee-ooh!”


Give choices:

Giving choices empowers children but allows you to maintain control.

“You can wear your Uggs or your rain boots today. Which pair of boots would you like to wear?”

“Would you like some watermelon or a banana?” vs. “Do you want this or that?”

Using specific words facilitates vocabulary development.


Talk about objects:

Watermelons are so much bigger than bananas! Watermelons are heavy and round. We have to peel this banana before we can eat it.

Give the child the banana. Wait. Look at him expectantly. “Oh, you want me to peel it? You say, ‘peel banana.’ I’m peeling the banana!”


Self-Talk:  Taking your inner monologue outside

Let your child hear your process. This will help them to develop logic, reasoning, and advanced language skills.

“I wonder how we will get all these bags of groceries from the store to our apartment. They are too heavy to carry. Let’s look for a taxi.”

“Wow, this is the same kind of sandwich we ate at the beach last week. I remember going to the market with you and picking out lots of yummy vegetables. We bought….”

Make connections from books to your life, notice similarities and differences, compare and contrast whenever you can!


Parallel-Talk: Become a play-by-play announcer

Talk about what your child is doing in the moment:

“You’re pushing the big truck into the tower!”

“You’re mixing red and white paint. Hey, that looks like pink! Red and white together make pink!”

When engaging in parallel-talk, you can interpret your child’s actions:

“You’re pointing to the top shelf. I see Elmo up there! Do you want Elmo? Tell me, ‘Elmo.’ You say, ‘Elmo.’ ‘Elmo.’”

Repetition, repetition, repetition is the way to learn and hold on to new words.



You may associate the word “imitate” with childish play, but imitation is an integral component of teaching and learning. For many children, mutual imitation (i.e., going back and forth imitating each other’s sounds, facial expressions, movements) is the most significant form of sustained social-interaction that they can achieve. When you imitate your child, for example, following his/her lead with a train set, you are demonstrating focused attention on your child. By reflecting his/her actions, you can experience a wow moment of connectedness and fun! The next time your child picks up a toy drum and bangs out musical beats, join in and mimic his/her rhythm. Pause and wait for your child to continue. Creating music together can be magical!

For many parents, letting go of your own control and allowing your child to lead can be a new and difficult concept. But don’t forget — practice makes perfect! You need not be the director of your child at every moment, especially during play. Take a step back and see what your child can show YOU. You may be surprised! Furthermore, by imitating your child, you are highlighting the concept of imitation (i.e., “I’m doing what you’re doing.”) and setting the stage for him/her to reciprocate in imitating you.


Drill it!

Focused stimulation is a term used to describe the purposeful incorporation of goal-oriented practice into natural routines. Focused stimulation is based heavily on repetition. Repetition is helpful for learners of all ages.

For example, if your child is working on his/her use of the verb is, then work to incorporate this into your play – drill it!

“Let’s introduce our Beanie Babies to one another. Here is Pinky. Pinky is a Flamingo. Stinky is a skunk. Here’s Speedy. Speedy —-“

Cue your child to fill in the rest of the sentence. Rehearse this sentence formation many times while having fun!

Don’t be afraid to make it clear that you both are working on the target word by putting emphasis on the word “is.” Focused stimulation is a terrific strategy in helping young language learners to correctly formulate questions.

“Now we’re going to find out what our Beanie Babies like to eat! Find out if Scorch likes bananas.”

Cue your child by modeling — “Do you like…?” questions to all of the animals.

When you begin to engage in focused stimulation, you may find yourself feeling silly when you exaggerate the ssss sound that your child is struggling with or when you repeat the word is in every other sentence you use. But keep at it and remind yourself that you are doing exactly what you’re supposed to be doing to improve your child’s speech and language skills.


Be Silly!

This is my favorite communication strategy of them all! Parents often lose sight of their playful and imaginative side in the midst of the busyness and complexities of day-to-day life. Kids love it when adults act silly and make mistakes. So how about next time you head out of the house with your child, leave your shoes behind and walk a few steps out the door…

“Oh silly me, I walked out of the house without my shoes!”

Would your child have noticed your error? If she didn’t, try this trick again another day and see if you can prompt her to pay attention to your snafu. By violating expectations and mixing up a solid routine, you’re inviting your child to both notice and comment. At breakfast, give your child a fork with yogurt… Wait. Look expectantly. How will he respond to this scenario?

I gave you a fork instead of a spoon. Oops! It’s so hard to eat yogurt with a fork because the yogurt will ooze through, silly me!”


Courtney Family

Bringing It All Together

In time, these strategies really will become second nature, as they give you a solid framework to connect and communicate with your child. Describing what you are doing, wondering out loud, making associations, describing the how and why… this is how children become active and engaged communicators. For children who need extra support, focused stimulation, repetition, and opportunities to recall and rehearse information are helpful strategies to incorporate into your dialogue.

And remember, when in doubt:

More Comments, Less Questions!


Beanie Babies Galore!

Beanie Baby Collection

Beanie Babies in

Speech, Language

& Learning



Remember that Beanie Baby craze back in the 90s? Did you obsess over your collection, organizing and playing endlessly with those cuddly stuffed animals? Did you know ALL their names? Whether or not you had a few or a few hundred, you can’t deny these little guys are just adorable. It seems that boys and girls of all ages really connect and engage with these toys. Beanie Babies have proven to be a valuable learning tool here in the Clubhouse — a means to encourage and expand symbolic play, a way to target speech articulation skills, an avenue for rehearsing social skills, and an excellent manner to address receptive and expressive language skills. Motivation is always the key factor in a successful learning environment, and Beanie Babies have proven themselves to be inherently motivating!

Majestic the Seahorse

The Beanie Baby names are a perfect jumping off point for a fun, educational speech-language activity. Majestic the Seahorse, Eucalyptus the Koala Bear, Pouch the Kangaroo, Stinky the Skunk, to name a few favorites. Children love to engage in conversation about the origins of Beanie Baby names — how they were chosen and why. I often introduce the animals by having my student venture a guess at the name, before providing clues to help them guess. What do you think this bulldog might be called? Look at his skin. It’s not smooth at all. It’s really — (wrinkly!) Guess what, his name is Wrinkles! Questions, answers, and creative thoughts abound! Can you guess where Majestic lives? What do you think Eucalyptus would like to eat for lunch today? Do you think we could see a dragon in real life? You’re right, we saw dragons in the book we read yesterday! Those dragons really do love tacos, don’t they?! (Side note: run to the library and check out Dragons Love Tacos, by Adam Rubin & Daniel Salmieri.)

Making associations, illustrating similarities and differences, and building connections through our own descriptions and conversation provide important language models for children. Igloo the Polar Bear is white, and so is an igloo! An igloo is made out of —(ice). Who else do you think lives near Igloo and his friends? Yeah, Frigid the Penguin! Conversations about these friendly animals inevitably stoke the imagination and lead to loads of questions and many pretend play scenarios.

Beanie Baby Play

A popular activity among Communication Clubhouse clients is creating a “mock school” environment for the Beanie Babies. Our friends are set up appropriately in classroom rows with name-tags (written or transcribed by the student) and are taught words, read to, and posed questions. Arranging the classroom often involves quantitative concepts, spatial awareness, and simple math computation. Let’s put Chip in between Fetch and Wrinkles. Sarge wants to be near Fetch but far from Prickles. Let’s make two even rows: there are ten friends, how should we arrange them? Once our school is set up, we’re ready to rock and roll!

An important component of this “mock school” activity is that it allows children to take the voice of the characters, rather than answering my questions themselves. Through voicing the character’s response, the child is given an opportunity to venture a guess with less pressure. Children appear more confident in offering a guess when they are speaking through one of the Beanie Babies. For example, a Kindergartner, acting as my co-teacher to the Beanie Babies, was asked, “Does Pouch remember this word that we taught her last week?” (we hold up a card with the sight word “that”). The student can either shout out the word enthusiastically, attempt to decode it, or shyly respond with, “Pouch doesn’t remember.” This tactic is used instead of directly asking a child, “Do you know this word?” Beanie Babies act as a “middle man” creating a sense of comfort and security for children. That’s okay Pouch, this word says “that.” We’ll teach it to you!

Beanie Baby "Mock School"

Word play is an important tool in speech-language therapy and early childhood education. Rhyming, listening for the first sound/last sound in a word, counting syllables, adding, deleting, and manipulating sounds are all important components of a pre-reading program (aka phonological awareness). We are constantly engaging in word play here in the Clubhouse, and the Beanie Babies sure provide so much material for us! Every Beanie Baby comes with an official personalized poem attached on a ubiquitous heart-shaped tag, recognized even by the under 4 set. These poems give us information about the character, helping us learn about its likes/dislikes, behaviors, habitats, and backgrounds. Take a look at this Beanie Baby poem below.

 Speedy ran marathons in the past,

Such a shame, always last,

Now Speedy is a big star,

After he bought a racing car!

Speedy the Turtle

Before reading the poem, we talked about why a turtle might be named Speedy, since we know that turtles move slowly! With an older student, we might talk about the concept of irony.

These given poems are a great segue into our own rhyming activities. We will brainstorm all the words that rhyme with the animal’s name and then put together a unique sentence. What rhymes with Chip? Flip, dip, hip, rip, ship, slip, skip, nip….

Chip hurt his lip when he did a flip. Oops! Did he slip?

Rehearsing our pals’ names is an excellent means of addressing articulation goals. The later developing difficult sounds like CH and J are found in abundance within the collection: Fetch, Majestic, Banjo, Sarge, Scorch, and Pouch, to name a few! Many of the names have an “s” in the final position, like Wrinkles and Prickles.

As mentioned earlier, writing their names is also a marvelous way to work on spelling and dictation skills. We can make comparisons that get us thinking about spelling rules, like final –y (Baldy and Nibbly) and the suffix –er (Topper and Whisper). What’s most exciting is the organic nature of infusing learning into play, whereby the ideas are often sparked between teacher and student together in the moment.

We frequently use the computer to create collages with our favorite friends. From finding the images to organizing them and adding text, incorporating technology can really be lots of fun for kids and adults alike. Designing posters about particular favorites, delving into research to find out more about particular animals, and making connections to books are other ways we expand this play.

Next time you find your child playing with Beanie Baby friends or for that matter, any stuffed animals or dolls, see how you can join in and use them to work on speech and language skills.  You’ll be surprised at how much fun you can create!

Beanie Babies

Color! Color! Color!


The Power of Color in

Speech & Language Therapy

Razzle Dazzle Rose, Tickle Me Pink, Outer Space, and Eggplant are just a few of the hundreds of Crayola crayon colors that captivate us. Crayons are classics. Don’t you just love that new crayon smell? When we think of crayons, we think immediately of coloring, of course! However, crayons can be utilized for much more than that. Crayola has done a fantastic job naming its crayons. When you take a look at these names from an educator’s perspective, you’ll see that they can be used as a fun teaching tool and a wonderful way to connect with children. Through examination of these color names, we are able to target many speech and language goals, including: categorization, phonological awareness, articulation, word play, and beyond. With one crayon comes an ocean of creativity and fun.


How Far Can You Go with a Color Name?

crayola color names

Imagine looking at a box of crayons. Not a small box of ten crayons, but the big box of 50+ (or even a tower of 100+!) that includes all the shades in a rainbow and at least 20 shades for each basic color. What are the differences between all of the shades of orange? Why were they each given a separate name? How was each name chosen? Do you also envision Bittersweet as a shade of red? These thoughts only scrape the surface of the countless questions that can overflow within your mind when looking at one crayon, its color, and its name. Children’s imaginations are wild and untamed, which is what makes them magnificent. Examining a single crayon can lead to an array of ideas and topics of conversation.

Let’s take “Pink Flamingo” as an example. Imagine looking at this crayon together with a child, then asking, “Why do you think this color is called Pink Flamingo?” “What color do you think of when I say “flamingo”?” “Do you like flamingos?” “What do you know about them?” “Let’s look at the name. How many syllables are in Pink Flamingo?” “What else do you notice about the name?” The list of questions continues with no end. From a speech-language pathologist’s perspective, the name “Pink Flamingo” contains the consonant blend “fl” which is often challenging for young children. By rehearsing the names of the crayons, we are working on articulation in a hands-on, fun manner.

Color names can also be used for ‘Question and Answer’ activities. Many children in speech therapy are working on responding to “wh” questions to target their receptive language and comprehension. For example, you can ask a child, “What do we call the pasta that has orange sauce?” The answer is “Macaroni and Cheese”, which is a Crayola color! “What’s the name of the medal that is given to the person who wins first place?” “Gold!” If one color’s name can lead to many conversations on its own, imagine how much learning can arise when we dig into all the many shades available to us.


The Emotional Tie

Along with targeted efforts in the areas of articulation and language, crayon colors can be used for increasing conversation skills. Synchronous and collaborative coloring activities allow us to work on asking and answering questions, sharing thoughts and opinions, and making connections. Color is also a fantastic means of self-expression. Linking colors with emotions can give insight into a child’s thoughts and feelings as well as deepen a relationship with another individual. By referencing blue, a child can express his or her emotional state of “feeling blue.” Likewise, yellow can refer to “happy” or “playful.” We can help to cross gender boundary lines by giving boys experience with the more traditionally feminine colors of pink and purple and vice versa for the more masculine colors of blue and green.


Reasoning Skills & Venn Diagrams

Going back to the use of crayons in language therapy, the many categories (e.g., animals, flowers, food, nature) allow us to explore and work on visualizing, defining, describing, and sorting. We can use Venn diagrams as a way to organize our information. A Venn diagram is a figure that shows all possible logical relations between a finite collection of sets. Rather than only seeing black and white, Venn diagrams exemplify the importance of grey areas. By using Venn diagrams for educational purposes, children are taught to be imaginative and creative by learning that there is not always one answer or one correct place for an item, rather an item can be a part of many groups and multiple categories.


How do Venn diagrams relate to our crayon topic? How can something be a part of two groups? Venn diagrams allow for great conversation and exploration. At Communication Clubhouse, children often use the large dry erase board to draw two circles overlapping in the middle (portraying a Venn diagram) and engage in activities that ask them to place various items into different sections of the diagram based on their categories. This is one example of a wonderful learning process that opens up children’s minds to the grey areas, the in-betweens, and the question marks of life.


Extending the Fun

Crayola colors are a fantastic jumping-off point into to the world of color. If this topic is of interest to you, you can extend it far beyond crayons.


The Pantone matching system is a wonderful resource. It is publicly referred to as the “world-renowned authority on color” — it is THE book of colors. If you Google search any of its colors, they will pop up immediately with official, codified names. The Pantone: Colors children’s book introduces children to nine basic colors and 20 shades for each. The book teaches a child about the idea that one color name refers to a variety of dark, light, and in-between shades. Children can work on naming the colors of the monochromatic images, expanding the colors conversation, and developing their sense of visual discrimination. Furthermore, the Pantone matching system can align with the Crayola colors because there is an overlap of many color names between the two, such as Pink Carnation and Fuzzy Wuzzy! One of my favorite things to do is have the child think about all the names that might come up on the page before we take a peek.

Another superb resource is the Montessori color tablet system. Montessori education is characterized by an emphasis on independence, freedom within limits, and self-motivation as well as decision-making skills. As part of the extensive collection of Montessori products, the color tablets are traditional, powerful items to work with. This product is a set of colored tablets that include many shades of all basic colors. The tablets do not vary in size or shape but only in color, which makes it easier for children to understand the difference between colors. With these simple color tablets, we can explore colors through a hands-on approach by matching like shades as well as grading colors from darkest to lightest and vice versa.


Color systems can be incorporated into your child’s everyday life quite easily through simple conversation and observation. When you walk down the street with your son or daughter, be aware of all the color surrounding us and be verbal about it. Point out the bright yellow sun (but sometimes the sun is orange, isn’t it?!), the plump red tomatoes at the fruit stand and all the vibrant colors of other fruits and vegetables, the fresh green grass, the pink polo shirts in the shop window. Strike up a conversation as you notice that all stop signs are red or that most street signs are green. Share your curiosity with your child about why that may be. There is so much color in our world. Color is what makes our lives feel bright or gloomy at times; it is how we express ourselves. The color system is a very powerful resource and when used for educational purposes, it can lead to even more beautiful outcomes than the colors themselves.