pop into language

Sitting there on the red monkey blanket that my son loves, I felt like a kid all over again. I dipped the florescent green wand into the soapy liquid and pulled it out too fast; the water splashed me in the face and I shouted YIKES! In that moment my son laughed hysterically and I hadn’t even blown the bubble yet! He was having a blast just watching me get ready…. I counted “One, two, three” and blew THE biggest bubble I could. He observed in fascination as this bubble floated in mid air, gently falling down on his knee and…… POP!

In all the time I have been working with babies and toddlers, a bottle of bubbles has never failed to get a coo, a babble, or loads of talking out of a little one. Children need to be motivated to speak, engage, and communicate with their caregivers. Bubbles can just be that motivation your little one needs. But it’s more than that. 

Often times I have a worried parent asking me “Why isn’t my toddler using words yet?” and before I ask the list of questions that might indicate an actual speech and/or language delay, I always want to know how motivated is this child to WANT to talk. Are mom and dad over anticipating their needs too often, preventing the child from making a decision for themselves or formulating a thought, opinion, or question?

It’s easy to over anticipate the needs of your child when you’re trying to teach them about the WORLD. So here are a few tips on how you can start guiding your little one to begin using language to communicate their wants, needs and observations at age level.

1. Model SLOW and SIMPLE language. 
Your 10 month old is processing information at a much slower rate than you are. Rather than speaking in 4-5 word sentences, keep it simple and use 1-2 words at a time to point out your thoughts and/or observations. Example: “Big bubble!” (instead of: “Look at the big bubble, it’s going to pop on your face!”)  I also like to over exaggerate the word BIG and this naturally SLOWS down the word and teaches intonation at the same time…


2. Ask “More?”
Rather than anticipating that your child wants more banana and cutting them more and more pieces (leaving it on their tray), cut a couple slices, wait until they finish it, and then ask them if they want more. Teach them the word MORE and do this by pairing the word MORE with the basic sign that represents the word MORE (refer to American Sign Language) -- You are also now teaching your child to communicate their needs and desires. If you had initially anticipated your child wanting more, by cutting all the banana and leaving it on the tray for them to finish, you weren’t really giving your child the opportunity to ask you for anything. 

3. Be Consistent. 
Whether you’re speaking in one or two languages with your little one, make sure you’re being consistent. Model the names of familiar people and objects in the home, consistently and on a daily basis. Your child is “bombarded” with these titles and labels everyday, processing these words again and again, and hopefully imitating you within a few weeks. Being consistent with these titles and labels goes a long way. For example you may introduce Grandpa as “Papa” one day and then “Grampie” another day. By using two different names for Grandpa Joe, you may confuse your little one into thinking that Grandpa has two names OR they may just take longer to process the fact that Grandpa can be called by two different names and then take longer to say the name for Grandpa.  So stick with “Papa” or “Grampie” but don’t mix the two…

4. Listen and Wait.
Listening to your baby or toddler can be rewarding in so many ways. During play, I encourage parents to stop talking for a little while and to wait for their child to INITIATE talk. You will be surprised by what you may hear and often times this can turn into the best part of your play session. 


5. Make Meaningful Interactions.
During play, make as much eye contact with your child as you can. Important for social language and social development is the use of eye contact in communication. When talking and playing with your baby, whether it’s a verbal or nonverbal interaction, make eye contact, gestures, and exaggerated facial expressions to teach your baby about nonverbal communication cues. Don’t be afraid to get silly with this one! 

These are just a few general tips on how to guide your baby into the world of language.

Just be mindful that when you’re teaching your child about the WORLD, you need to put yourself in their shoes for a moment. Are you having fun? Are you in the moment… listening and waiting? Are you motivated to learn or to know WHY something is the way it is? Be that child who is in awe of that floating bubble…Be in awe!

half naked in the middle of the day

I hear a knock at the door and I start to rehearse what I am going to say when I open it. “His socks JUST disappeared. Shirt is all soiled. The pants have travelled to space,” I want to tell Granny as she greets me at the door with a look of worry and mere disappointment.  I have run out of excuses for why I like to have my son play half naked in the middle of the day. It’s not only because it is absolutely adorable, usually warm, and just easier sometimes, but there is more to it. I believe it’s important for him to find and feel his body in space, to feel and experience textures, temperatures, and learn what his body parts are all about. I want him to UNDERSTAND the world….to COMPREHEND what he needs to comprehend in order to communicate his most basic needs, thoughts, and ideas. And yes, this involves a lot of half naked play.


Important for development, communication, and cognitive growth is sensory play.  Areas of the brain that involve touch, smell, taste, sight, and sound are crucial to nurture during everyday activities. I often see children with major or minor sensory deficits such as gagging at the sight of a banana for it’s slimy texture, or refusing to touch a scaly crocodile toy. When I work with parents and children I always promote early exposure and desensitization of textures and consistencies. I also TALK about, DESCRIBE, and EXPLAIN what is happening, consciously using verbs, nouns, and adjectives, while the child is engaging in a sensory driven activity. The more you do this, the more they become AWARE. Awareness, another important cognitive skill, is the foundation for developing language comprehension skills. If your child can differentiate his knee from his ankle, when you ask him about the “boo-boo”, then he can tell you exactly where he might be hurting. He can tell you about his earache, or how he may be hungry….the list goes on. In order for your child to able to do this, there needs to be a level of comprehension in place. The more you talk about WHAT is happening, and WHEN it is happening, the stronger their comprehension skills become. 


Often times when I am coaching parents, they ask me, “What do I talk about?” I tell them about the five senses. Whether your child is at the zoo or playing half naked in the kitchen, you can always talk about what they are seeing, hearing, touching, feeling, smelling, and tasting. This sums up their entire experience and provides them with the building blocks for language expression and comprehension skills.




Allow your child to touch what they are reaching for, looking at, or whatever mommy might be handling at the moment. Let them safely explore, for example, gentle and rough textures so they can problem solve (a cognitive skill) and decide whether or not something is preferable/safe/hot/cold, etc… Your child will go from being stationary and not touching much, to crawling, walking and touching almost everything in sight. This can be scary sometimes. However, find it in yourself to safely allow them to experiment with their sense of touch to stimulate their cognitive skills, and to soon be able to tell you WHAT they want to touch.



Talk to your child about smell. This is a sense we usually forget to talk about, we introduce sometime later, or one that the child just simply discovers on their own. Take control and have your little one smell unusual and more common items - good smells and bad ones.  I like to communicate about YUCKY vs. YUMMY smells, using nonverbal facial expressions and words to describe the smell--toddlers have FUN with this.



Tasting the sweet AND the bitter, among other flavors, helps your baby develop preferences and become aware of their taste buds. Not only is it great introducing foods and textures that you love, but also introduce ones that you don’t normally eat or don’t like. Your baby might love it! TALK about the specific taste your child is experiencing. For example: “SALTY cracker!”



What does your child see? What do they not see? TALK about both. If you’re playing indoor or outdoor, there is plenty to talk about. Point out what you see near or far and use your finger to POINT. Pointing is an important skill and is a form of communication; help your child point to what they see in the world, in books, up in the sky, or under the bed! Talk about things your see in the dark and things you see when the lights turn on!



Loud sounds. Soft sounds. A whispering sound. These are all fun to enact. Be goofy with your child and imitate the loud lion or the soft purr of the cat. Teach your child how to whisper in your ear. Being able to understand how to use an inside voice versus an outside voice is key for social language. How does your child use an excited voice? Do they understand a stern voice? Can they tolerate various noises? Expose your child to the loud coffee grinder and the roaring vaccum, and also the quiet humming of the fan or the constant ticking of the clock.


So….. my son plays without his shirt, socks, or pants….SO WHAT!? He’s essentially learning that his feet are TOUCHING the cold tile, he might be SMELLING his dirty diaper,  TASTING the leftover puffs stuck to his big toe, SEE’s his cute little belly button usually covered by his long shirt, and HEARS his stomach slide on the tile as he sways his body back and forth, back and forth, back and forth to the sound of the music in the background!


Let your baby play and explore freely. You’re doing them a favor. Without a shirt. Forget the socks. Leave the pants behind!


Nahal A. Papehn MS, CCC-SLP