Strategies for Speech and Language Development

Guest Post by Julie
Hi! I’m Julie from over at Breezy Acres Farm. I am a wife to a graphic designer/photographer husband and mom to two preemies. Ori, age 2, was born at 33 weeks and Calla, age 1, was born at 26 weeks. After teaching middle school English for five years, I am privileged to spend my days at home with my two blessings.
Because of the extent of her prematurity, Calla faces a few delays, mainly in the area of language development. Consequently, much of our intentional time together involves working on speech. I thought I would share a few strategies we have been taught because they are truly beneficial for interacting with all infants and toddlers.
Sign Language.
At 18 months, Calla only has two spoken, true words. However, she can sign “please,” “thank you,” “milk,” and “all done.” These few signs allow her to communicate with us and avoid some frustration. Our speech therapist recommended we continue to introduce new signs to Calla as we play (animals, toys, other common objects, etc.). The resource our therapist shared with us for learning sign language is Sign with your Baby by Dr. Joseph Garcia. This video makes signing seem much less overwhelming and models how to introduce and teach signs.
Talk out loud about what you are seeing, hearing, doing, or feeling when your child is nearby. For example, when you pick up toys and your child is nearby, say, “looking–looking for toys–see a toy–pick it up–put it in the basket.” I sometimes feel silly when I do this, but it really should help Calla learn.
Use a mirror to make sounds and gestures.
“P”, “B”, and “M” are the first consonant sounds children imitate. Exaggerate making these sounds in the mirror and see if your child will imitate them. You can also use the mirror to model puckering your lips (kiss) and blowing raspberries.
Name objects and imitate sounds while learning.
For each object, say its name and imitate its sound. For example, point at a picture in a book of a train and say, “Train. Choo choo!” This will build comprehension skills. Books teach language, concentration, and turn taking.
Don’t anticipate needs and desires.
Do not anticipate your child’s every need or desire. If a child gets what he or she wants without communicating, the child will probably not bother to point, sign, or possibly even ask. This is a hard one for me because I can usually tell what Calla needs and just naturally want to give it to her. However, I have noticed an increase in her communication since implementing this strategy. For example, sometimes at dinner I will place her cup out of reach. She will screech, point, and eventually sign “milk” to get her cup.
Calla is signing “milk.”
Take turns making sounds with your baby.
Imitate your child’s babbling and take turns back and forth. This will teach conversational skills.

Imitate environmental sounds.
While playing with a farm set, make the animal sounds. If playing cars, say “Vroom, vroom!”
“Horse. Neigh!”
Expand on what your child says.
By 18 months, most children should say 10-15 words. At this point, expand on what your child says. If your child says, “Book!” say, “Read book.”
Most importantly, focus on what your child can do and celebrate each milestone. Just the other day, Calla picked up a stuffed bee and said, “Bzzzz!” I cheered, celebrated, and told my husband when he got home from work. To us, that is a big deal.
Enjoy playing with your child today and make learning fun.


  1. julie is amazing! i love calla. wonderful post. are we swapping guest posts? i can't remember if we talked about it.

    this post was really good for ALL one year olds!

  2. This is great information, but remember that for children with true delays…it's best to talk to your pediatrician. You can get a referral for free testing at your local Regional Center for any speech or other developmental delays. Early intervention is key!

    Basic sign language is GREAT early communication for all young babies though!

  3. I love introducing sign language to my daughter. She is almost 2 and knows about 100 signs! She can speak pretty clearly, but sometimes when I can't quite understand what she is trying to tell me she will sign it while speaking and I get it! Def. reduced temper tantrums since she can communicate better with me.

  4. For teaching sign language, I highly recommend Signing Time – They have a Baby Signing Time series and my daughter with Down syndrome LOVES watching these videos. She is two and knows 50 signs. :)

  5. My son had some speech delays and started home therapy for a while when he was two. Now, he won't stop talking.

  6. This is very useful and timely information, I have been trying to form a plan to help my youngest. (she is one but really doesn't say more than 'hi'.)

    My older two children had all kinds of problems with pronouncing words, but could talk – We put a lot of work into sounding things properly.

    But this little one….no words, proper or otherwise!

  7. What a wonderful post. I have two boys – one who started talking early and never shut his mouth. Then the second came along and he smiled lots and spoke very little. I've used some of these same techniques with him and found them to be SO beneficial to him and the rest of the family. Thanks for this informative and well-written post!

  8. I used many of these word games with my grandchildren who are not delayed and they loved them. I have also used them with my 5 year old granddaughter who has cerebral palsy and may never speak. It doesn't seem to matter. She loves hearing words, trying to mimic them and watching my mouth move in a mirror or not. It helps all kids to play with language. The home school coach

  9. Love your ideas! As a speech therapist intern, I am constantly giving parents practical ideas to carry over at home. Don’t forget to work on her receptive language (aka understanding). Have her follow 1-step directions such as “Give me cow” and “Point to the monkey”. Work on prepositions while cleaning up or getting out of her high chair—IN the box, uh oh, you want OUT! And play Simon (or Elmo) Says to teach action words and body parts. Keep it up Mama!

  10. hi, thanks, this has given me some basic info for my final question i was struggling with on my children and young peoples workforce level 3 course….

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