Parents often ask me what they can do to model language skills and encourage language growth in their young children outside of speech therapy. There are so many great answers to this question! I find it’s best to start with a practical activity/toy that is readily accessible and easy to play with just about anywhere. The more entertaining your child finds a toy, the more likely he or she is to focus and participate in cooperative play with you. As we all know, the simplest of toys are often the most entertaining! One of my all-time favorite toys a container of bubbles. Bubbles seem to be almost endlessly entertaining for all kids and can be played with inside and outdoors. They also afford endless language opportunities. What a perfect combination! Here are a few tips for maximizing your bubble time.

1.) You are the language boss.

Your child is hanging on your every word at this young stage is his or her life whether you realize it or not! You are modeling to him or her how to communicate effectively, and that is extraordinarily valuable information. There are many ways to maximize this language learning. To focus on language production, you, the parent, have to remain in control of the toy (in this case, the bubbles). Open the container, blow a few bubbles with the wand and excitedly pop them with your child. Close the top (and hold the container tight, those little hands are strong!) and wait to allow your child to make a communication attempt that he or she wants some more bubbles. If you place the container down and allow the child to pick it up and use it right away, you may miss a great opportunity to encourage the use of language.

2.) Acknowledge communication attempts.

As soon as he or she sees the bubbles, your child is going to want MORE! Here comes your role in growing your child’s language. Younger children may indicate they want more by reaching for the container, vocalizing (open ended vowel sounds i.e. “ah” or “oh,” syllable shapes like “muh” or “buh”), making eye contact, signing for “more” or a combination of these. When you see your child attempting to communicate (even nonverbally), praise his or her attempt, indicating that you “heard” the request and acknowledge it while you follow through with his or her request for “more!”

Parent: (blows bubbles) “Wow! Look at the bubbles! Pop, pop, pop! There go the bubbles!” (close container and pause silently for a moment, allowing child time to respond).

Child: (reaches for container with his or her hand) “Ahh!”

Parent: “You want more bubbles! More bubbles!”

3.) Expand it!

Early nonverbal and verbal communication can be expanded by you so your child is presented with an appropriate model of communication. Expanding your child’s message can be done throughout the day, but when he or she is especially motivated, carryover is more likely. Remember, take all attempts at communication as actual communication 🙂

Expanding Nonverbal Communication
Parent: (blows bubbles) “Wow! Look at the bubbles! Pop, pop, pop! They are floating up and up! There go the bubbles!” (close container and pause silently for a moment, allowing child time to respond).

Child: (reaches for the container with his or her hand)

Parent: More! (show child sign for “more”) You want more (say “more” simulaneouly while placing child’s hands together to make sign for “more”). Here are some more bubbles! (blow more bubbles immediately).

Expanding Verbal Communication
Parent: (blows bubbles) “Wow! Look at the bubbles! Pop, pop, pop! They are floating up and up! There go the bubbles!” (close container and pause silently for a moment, allowing child time to respond).

Child: “More!”

Parent: “More! You want more bubbles! More bubbles! (Child’s name) says it, ‘More bubbles!’”

Child: “More buh!”

Parent: “More bubbles! You said ‘More bubbles.’ Wow!”

**In these examples, notice that the parent is not interrogating the child (i.e. “Can you say ‘More bubbles?’ It’s your turn to say ‘more bubbles!’ You say ‘More bubbles,’ please!”). When a child is forming his or her language skills, using fewer, more effective words and allowing for pauses is crucial. These pauses in your speech are teaching your child that you are waiting for his or her response and that the response is a very important part of your interaction. You are teaching your child the power of his or her words. How wonderful is that?!

Pro tip: the tiny bottles of bubbles made for weddings you can purchase from craft stores or online here are the absolute best. After many purchases of “spill proof” bubbles (ugh, yeah right), these have passed the spill test. They really do not spill when they are bouncing around in your bag or when they are turned upside down at the bottom of a toy box. The wand is connected to the top so it makes quickly opening and closing the bottle a snap. Also, when tiny hands do happen to grab and spill an open bottle, cleanup is as easy as it gets with less than a fifth of an ounce in each one! As always, make sure that you, the parent, are holding the bottle and are not allowing your child to ingest the bubbles in any way.