Supporting speech & language development at home

Speech and language therapists are often asked by parents for toy recommendations or things that they can buy for their child to help develop their communication. However, different toys appeal to different children, and sometimes children love playing with things that are homemade just as much. This is also a chance to use and build imagination skills  with your child. Listed below are some ideas for using the things that you probably already have at home as a resource to develop your child’s language skills. 

Using a cardboard box 

Big cardboard boxes are one of the best invitations to play. There are so many creative things that can be done with boxes. Plus, with all the deliveries people are receiving at home since the lockdown, most people have many boxes lying around that can be used for this activity.

There are  a variety of things we can do with a box and there’s plenty of ways to squeeze in some language activities while we play. Whether your child is just beginning to say their first few words, starting to combine words  or having conversations with you, this will give you some ideas to support them along the way.

First word learners: 

You could try to make a big bus out of a box. Cut windows and a door, in the box, this can be as large or as small as you want. If you have a box big enough, your child could sit inside, pretend to be the driver as you gently push them around. 

Model simple phrases that match the activity:



Put in’ or “Take out”. 

Name the objects you are putting inside the box 

Use pause and wait, or give your child an expectant look to give your child the chance to name something without putting pressure on them by asking a question. 

Phrase talkers:

If your child is starting to use simple phrases, then it’s a good time to model positional language (e.g. in/on/under). Try to sit next to your child if you use ‘behind’ or ‘next to’, because perspective matters with these more complex position words.

You could try making car tunnels with boxes. Cut a hole on both sides of the cardboard box, open books into a  ^  shape, put them on the floor and take turns pushing the cars through the tunnels. 


As your child becomes more confident in chatting with you, it’s a great time to start developing their ability to use more descriptive vocabulary.  You can take turns to give each other hints of what’s in the box. This can be an opportunity to teach new descriptive words.

A box can also make for a puppet theatre, and an opportunity to create a pretend play situation with the puppets you have available.


Balloons are a really fun activity that captures attention and creates a motivating opportunity for children to practise some key words. Try to use different coloured balloons if possible. 

If your child is just starting to talk, you can blow the balloons up and make the sound “wheee” as you push them up into the air. Encourage your child to make the same sound when they perform the action. With this activity, we can also model phrases like “Blow it up” “Ready, steady, go!”, “Where’s the balloon?” and some key words like “more!”.  You can also use this opportunity to practice requesting skills with your child and model “more, please!”. Remember to praise your child for every effort they make in communicating. 

As children become familiar with the routine of this balloon play, we can start to extend it by creating options:

“Where should we make the balloon go?”

 “Should we blow big or small balloons?”

This is a simple way to make balloons a fun interactive activity for the two of you to play together whilst building attention and practising some key words. 

Kinetic sand/dirt in your backyard

If we are trying to get our children’s attention, it’s useful to start with something that they find really exciting and worth looking at. This sandcastle activity helps children learn to watch and listen to you, as well as learn some key phrases. If you have access to dirt in your garden, or you have kinetic sand, you might like to try out this activity. 

You could hide things inside the kinetic sand or in the dirt and get your child to help you dig them out. This is a great time to work on imitation skills with this kind of play. You have a shovel and you could show them how to copy what you are doing. 

Another idea is building a construction zone in the dirt or sand, and including your toy excavators/diggers and vehicles into the play as well. 


Apart from the usual colour vocabulary, there’s lots of other things that we can do with playdough to support communication, especially when we start adding other toys to it. 

For children who are just starting to put two words together/talking in phrases: Practising action words (roll, squish, stretch, splat, chop) is a great way to start practising simple ‘noun+verb’ phrases.

To work on following instructions: To help children be really successful with this early on,try acting out the instruction with my own playdough, so that child can see what’s happening as well as listening to the language involved. As children become more confident in their language skills you could ask them to give you some instructions. Explaining how we do something is a good way to practise sequencing language (e.g. first, then, last).

Another great aspect of playdough is asking for help. Many children need to practice asking for help, as they’re more inclined to simply struggle on by themselves.  The lids on playdough pots are notoriously difficult to open which makes this a great target for practicing this skill. 

Remember that to children, everything in their world is play. Pay attention to what captures your child’s attention and join them. Being curious and engaged in the world is how children learn. 

For any queries about speech and language, feel free to contact a speech and language therapist at The Energy Source.

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