Creative Ways to Build Your Toddler’s Language Skills While Quarantined

Like many families impacted by the Covid-19 quarantines, I have found myself bound to my home alongside a high-energy toddler, struggling to find ways to keep her two-year-old brain entertained (while also maintaining my own sanity). As many of us are finding out first-hand, homeschool life is not an easy one and finding ways to occupy our children’s time with fun, meaningful activities can be a difficult task. The learning has to go on, however, and one way to ensure that your child remains ready for the expectations of school is to work on his/her language and communication skills. This happens to be right up my alley since I am a speech-language pathologist, and I am happy to share some of the ways that I’ve put my skills to work each day with my own little one!

1. Tag Team Dressing

You’re probably already familiar with the growing independence of your toddler! Encourage this important development and also build expressive language skills by getting your toddler involved in the dressing process each morning.

Activity: Play “I Choose, You Choose,” where your child gets to select one clothing item that they would like to wear for the day, and you select another until a complete outfit is created. Spoiler alert: this game leaves NO room for meltdowns because your little one makes all the decisions — even on your turn! When it’s your turn to choose, make a show of not being sure which is the better choice (get as dramatic as you like!) and ask your toddler to help you pick something.

Language Booster: Use sentence-starters to encourage your child to use more complete sentences during this activity (e.g., Caregiver: “I choose…” or “I want to wear…” or “My choice is…”). Also, try giving your child 1 ‘silly’ option (e.g., a thick sweater as a choice in the middle of summer) and encourage your child to tell you why it’s a silly choice (e.g., Parent: “Is this sweater a good choice? No, it’s silly! It’s too hot outside! Tell daddy why this is silly.”). This exercise helps your little one to grow his/her critical thinking skills while also working on his/her ability to form more complex sentences.

Tips & Tricks: Present your child with only 2–3 clothing item choices at a time to avoid spending 2 hours on this activity!

2. Match It Up!

Categorizing is a great way to grow vocabulary and to teach basic concepts (words that we use to indicate location [in/out], descriptions [little/big], feelings [happy/sad], time [always/never] or number [more/less]). It is easiest to teach categorization skills using physical items that your child is familiar with, such as toys, clothing items, familiar foods, common household items or school items. The goal of this activity is to work on building your child’s ability to categorize items by their attributes (e.g., an item’s color, shape, size, use/function).

Activity: Start by picking an attribute that you want to focus on (I like to start with colors, so let’s use this as an example). Gather 2–3 items around the house that are the same color (red, for example) then hunt for 2–3 additional items that are a different color (e.g., blue) and finally, 2–3 more items that are another color (e.g., green). Place all the items together on the floor, pick one up and ask your child to find another item in the pile that is the same color. Each time your child finds a ‘match,’ he/she gets a point; collect five points and win!

Language Booster: Label and describe each item as your child selects it to teach new vocabulary (e.g., “Yes, this magnet is red!”) and basic concepts (e.g., “This magnet is big and shiny”).

Tips & Tricks: Before starting this activity, allow your child to select a toy, game or snack that they would like to receive as a reward for ‘winning.’ Use this as a motivator during gameplay to keep them working hard!

3. ‘WH’ Question Basketball

Increase your little one’s vocabulary skills, verbal reasoning skills, ability to understand spoken language and grow expressive language skills with this fun game that combines answering who, what, where, and what doing questions with basketball!

Activity: Grab a basket or bucket that you can use to toss a ball into (think laundry basket, extra storage bin, empty wastebasket), a ball (if your home is ball-free, grab some sheets of paper and ball ’em up!) and an age-appropriate picture book. The object of this game is to earn chances to toss a ball into the basket by correctly