Wednesday, July 31, 2013

9 car games to boost your child's speech development

This guest post is from Katie Yeh, M.A., CCC-SLP, a pediatric speech-language pathologist who blogs at Playing With Words 365 where she shares information about speech and language development, therapy ideas and tips, intervention strategies and a little about her family life too. She's mom to two kids ages 4 and 2, with one more on the way. Katie is a regular contributor to Pediastaff's blog (thanks to owner Heidi Kay for connecting us) and The Friendship Circle's blog. She is also a master of making the most of road trips, as you'll see. 

It's SUMMER, the most popular time of year to jump in the car for a day-cation, or better yet, a road trip! If you have children with speech and language delays, long rides can be a great time to play games that target these skills. Most of these activities have a language base but can be used to target speech skills as well. (Wondering what the difference is between speech and language? Check out my post What is the Difference Between Speech and Language?)

1. You Do, I Do
For children who are not yet talking or are just beginning to speak, a very important pre-verbal skill is imitation. Children need to be able to imitate to learn and use language. As your child sits in his car seat making different sounds, words, motor movements and facial expressions, imitate him! This may seem silly at first, but this can teach your little ones the power of imitation. It is always so fun to see a child's face when you realize you are imitating him. And soon, he will be imitating you!

2. I Say, You Say
This is the opposite of the above game—your child imitates simple speech sounds. The best ones to start with are baa, maaa, paaa, taaa and daaa, although if your child is working on specific sounds, be sure to include those. You can start with just one sound like ma ma ma, and then move onto more complex combinations like ma ba, pa ba and so on. When your little one imitates, get really excited so they get that positive reinforcement to keep it up! You can even do some fine and gross motor-movements to accompany the sounds like clapping hands or touching different body parts.

3. Sing Songs (With A Twist)
Of course, any song your child likes works on speech and language skills (yes, even a little One Direction). A few pointers
• If your child is working on producing specific sounds, try singing songs that have a lot of that sound in it. For example, if your child is working on the /s/ sounds or /s/ blends, The Itsy Bitsy Spider is a great song for this.  
• Fill in the blank: Stop singing at some point in the song and have your child "fill in the blank" or finish the line. 
• Sing at a pace that your child can keep up with. Some children with significant articulation delays or those with motor speech delays (apraxia or dysarthria) may need to start signing at a slower pace to be able to participate.

4. I Spy: Inside Version!
• Rather than playing I Spy with objects outside of the car, do objects in the car. This keeps the game a little more simple for children who are struggling with speech and language development. Items in closer proximity provide more easily accessible cues.
• If your child has flashcards from the speech pathologist for home practice, you can tape the cards around the car and play I Spy with the cards.
• Play the game with a picture book. You'll just need to sit next to him, and have a fun picture book handy. Just open to a page and play I Spy.

5. Silly Voices Game

This is another imitation game that focuses on intonation. Have your child imitate your words/phrases, but say them in silly voices: sad, mad, annoyed, scared, high pitched, low pitched, etc. This is a great activity to work on teaching emotions as well as practicing the actual words and intonation patterns. To get even more silly, try articulating words like a pirate, tiger or football player would—or in any fun way that will engage your child. 

6. The Category Game
Another simple word game, where you see who can name the most items in a given category. This one works well with toddlers all the way up to teens. The categories can be as simple as farm animals, things that have wheels or things that are green to more complex ones like, say, things that have bumps.

7. 20 Hints
The popular car game 20 Questions can be a little difficult for some children with speech/language delays. Another variation is 20 Hints. Rather than have your child ask you 20 questions to figure out what you are thinking about, instead give your child 20 hints about what you are thinking about. For example, if you are thinking of a strawberry, you can start with "I am thinking of something that is red" and then give your child an opportunity to guess something red. Then give another hint such as "I am thinking of something that is red and a fruit" and so on until your child has enough information to guess correctly. Like most games I am sharing here, you can make the targets easy or hard depending on your child's ability level.

8. The Opposite Game
This is a simple word game where you come up with a word and see who in the car can come up with a word that means the opposite. Start with simple concepts such as big/small, tall/short, in/out and then move up to bigger and more complex words, depending on your child's ability level.

9. Safety Info Game
So this isn't exactly just a speech and language activity, but it is one that I think is important and involves speech and language skills! I started teaching my own daughter some of these things in our rides back and forth to school, swim lessons and so on. To help your child memorize key pieces of safety information including their full name, parents and siblings names, city name, address and home phone number, teach them in the tunes of your child's favorite songs or in other sing-song patterns. Practice asking them for this information over and over in different settings to help with generalization—and keep the information fresh in their little minds.

Follow Katie on Facebook and Pinterest for more speech and language tips. 

Other posts from Katie to check out:


  1. Great games I especially love 20 hints.

  2. great info! thanks! -Genevie

  3. great tips My 3 1/2 year old son has Down Syndrome.

  4. What a lot of really interesting and fun sounding games! Thanks so much for sharing this.

  5. Those are great games! we played a lot of them with our sons when they were young. One of our favorites was a game we called linkages. Each person would say a word in turn that linked in some way to the previous word -- could be color, function, proximity, design, or whatever. We didn't really keep score, though we all praised really ingenious linkages, or ones that were unexpected but utterly obvious in retrospect. It seemed to be a pretty good vocabulary builder as well as an exercise for our younger son, who had a severe blocking stammer in addition to mild CP and difficulty in pronouncing words (lisp, t-sounds, etc.).

  6. Thanks for the list .. Its indeed very helpful !!! .. These games would make our boring driving time interesting ...

  7. I love that this list supports children at many different levels of language development! Thanks!

  8. Seems really good. Thanks for sharing this list with us.
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Thanks for sharing!

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