There are many ways parents and families can support speech development at home.

Click the topics below for more information.

How You Can Help Facilitate Your Child's First Words


How You Can Help Facilitate
Your Child's First Words

  1. Find time to sit down and play with your child every day.   Follow your child’s lead, playing along side of him and imitating what he does in his play and vocalization.        
  2. Play with your child using noise-making toys, noisy environmental objects and toy animals and imitate the sounds these toys make, encouraging your child to do the same.  Reinforce your child by responding with more imitation and verbal praise for any attempts at imitation. 
  3. Play interactive games with your child and encourage turn-taking by initiating such activities as peek-a-boo, tickling, banging, and beeping appropriate toys, blowing bubbles, sharing a cookie or a drink, combing each other’s hair and rolling a ball back and forth--talking and laughing while you play.
  4. Imitate your child’s nonspeech and speech vocalizations in play, gradually introducing slightly different sounds and words for your child to imitate.
  5. Stimulate your child’s lips and tongue before your little play sessions, making Native American War Hoop sounds by patting on the mouth while saying “ah,” blowing lip, and or tongue & lip raspberries; play mouth part identification games saying, “Where’s your mouth, lips, teeth, tongue?”, opening wide and saying “ah” sticking tongue way out.  
  6. Continually attempt facilitation of the ability to blow and then have him do blowing activities for bubbles, instruments, whistles, party toys, etc.  Begin to try to facilitate straw sucking as soon as your child is ready as well.  Offer tart, sour liquids, spicy foods, ice chips and popsicles, (variety of texture, temperature, taste) that are safe for him to eat without choking.
  7. Talk to your child.  Make your talking important and meaningful.  Talk about the here and now:
    • What’s happening in the immediate environment, eg. “Here comes Daddy.  Daddy’s home”
    • What you are doing (self-talk), eg. ”Mommy looking for shoes.  Oh, here they are.  Under the chair.  Mommy puts shoes on.”
    • What your child is doing (parallel talk), eg. “Justin has cookie., Justin eating., Uh oh, cookie fell., You want more cookie, Mommy give you more cookie”
  8.  When talking to your child, always make sure you have his attention--get down to your child’s level and call his name before you speak.  Make sure he is listening to you.
  9. Reduce own speech, (often, but not always), to a very simple level when speaking to your child.  Use simple, short, clear sentences, eg. “Bring coat here,” “Let’s go bye bye,” “See the doggy.” “Doggy barking so loud.”
  10. When introducing new words, use shorter, less complex words which are fairly easy to pronounce (eg. jamies [not pajamas], bike [not bicycle], corn [not vegetables], fridge [not refrigerator], T.V. [not television]).   Start with the most natural, common use of a word, (eg. “bird,” not goose or penguin; “car,” not van; “bear,” not panda.)  As vocabulary develops you will begin to use more and different words.
  11. Talk distinctly and slowly, pausing between words, every three or four, when sentences are lengthier, and between sentences(i.e.  “What…would…you like…to read?......Let’s …find… a good book.”)
  12. Especially, when attempting to facilitate a two-way conversation, pausing between sentences and at natural pause times, will allow time for your child to process what you’ve said and time for your child to attempt to use gestures or say true words to communicate.  (Do not pause so long that you frustrate your child).
  13. When modeling simple language that describes ongoing activities, “car go” , “boy fall” use words that are basic nounsand verbs; simple location words,  (here, up, in, out, on); easy descriptive words, (big, hot, more, mine); pronouns (you, me).  In the beginning avoid words like above, between, before, she, their, herself.
  14. Exaggerate articulatory contact when your child is looking at you, “pop” “mmmore” “ssssstop,”           
  15. Use lots and lots of repetition when teaching new words in different phrases (eg. During the course of having a snack, “Juice”, “Want juice”, “Here’s juice”, “Juice is cold”, “Take the juice”, “Drink juice”, “So much juice”, “Juice all gone”, “More juice?”).
  16. Use the same gestures and signs consistently when teaching new words, (eg. holding out your hand when you say “give”, holding arms out widely to show “big”, pressing hand into your tummy to show “hungry”.)
  17. Keep background noise to a minimum when interacting with your child, turn off loud music or televisions.
  18. Slightly exaggerate intonation and stress.  Change your tone of voice and use different facial expressions to help your child learn the meaning of different words and the function of language.
  19. Wait with obvious anticipation for your child to respond to you (by gesture, vocalization or word) during your interactions.  When your child wants you to blow more bubbles, for example, you say “What ?”, then wait with anticipation and confusion in your facial expression, pretending you are not sure what he wants -- Then say “Want more bubbles?”--Wait again --Even if there is no verbal response so you do not frustrate your child, blow the bubbles.  If he does communicate with gesture, vocalization or word, praise him and quickly blow the bubbles, (using the appropriate words, “bubbles, more bubbles”).
  20. Recognize and praise all attempts at imitation and spontaneous use of gestures and words!  Respond immediately to any attempt at gestures or words!  The best “pay-off” for your child’s use of words is your natural spontaneous response.
  21. Always supply the appropriate gesture and word for your child’s vocalization when he is saying something to you.
  22. As your child begins to use words and develops use of more and more words and phrases, respond to his utterances with what is called “minimally discrepant modeling”.  Expand or build upon what your child says by giving him models that are only slightly more complex than his own utterances.  When your child says “More”, you say “More milk,” when he says “More milk,” you say “Want more milk?”  Add new information as well.  When your child sees a dog and says “A dog”, you say, “Yes, a dog.  Dog barking, ruff, ruff, Dog sooo loud.”
  23. Read frequently and use books that have big bright simple pictures, one or two on a page and use lots of repetition when naming and/or describing the pictures.  Select books that have fewer words on a page, are repetitive, have rhythm or rhyme, and begin to leave off the last word in a phrase or sentence for your child to fill in.  Use lots of inflection and expression, “Oooh, look at the... Where’s the...  ooh, What’s this?”.  Read the same books over and over. 
  24. Use lots of rhythm and music and sing songs which have simple finger and body movements which accompany the words, and/or are repetitive, (repeating words and phrases), ie. Wheels on the Bus, Open Shut Them, Little Bunny Foo Foo, Three Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed, etc.  Use songs that have simple words and leave off the last word for your child to fill in, “Get those monkeys off the …” stopping the action of the song to allow your child time to fill in the last word.

Important Note:  Do not correct your child by saying “No, it’s __” or “No, say __”.  Instead model the correct utterance during your natural turn in the conversation (eg. Your child holds up the train car and says, “too too.”  You say, “I see the choo choo or I see the train.”  Your child needs a spoon and says “Boo,” you say, “Ssspoon, You need a ssspoon”; Your child says “Me no wan”, you say “ You don’t, okay, you don’t want it”; Your child says “tootie”, you say, “Yes, cookie, bite the cookie,” Your child says, “Him ky”, you say, “Yes, he is, he is crying.” Always emphasizing the sounds and words you have corrected.  When modeling in this way you are reinforcing your child’s speech by showing that you are listening, are interested and at the same time you are keeping the flow of conversation going.


Auditory Processing Characteristics - Red Flags


If a child has a problem with auditory processing, they have difficulty making sense of what they hear.  The following is a list of red flags that may suggest Auditory Processing Disorder, (APD).

  • Reacts unusually to sudden or loud noises and/or is bothered by loud, sudden, metallic, or high-pitched sounds.
  • Has difficulty identifying people's voices.
  • Has difficulty locating the source of a sound.
  • Is easily distracted by noises.
  • Has difficulty paying attention when he is playing or involved with something, (e.g. coloring, reading, building).
  • Appears to fatigue easily in listening situations and/or has a poor attention span.
  • Has difficulty listening and/or understanding when there is noise in the background.
  • Appears to be anxious or stressed when required to sit and listen.
  • Has difficulty attending to, understanding and remembering what is said or read.
  • Misinterprets words, (i.e. hears tear for dear, sun/fun, old/cold, or any for many).
  • Gives incorrect answers to questions more than I would expect.
  • Often looks at others to/for reassurance before answering.
  • Frequently asks for questions, directions and comments to be repeated, says What?, huh?.
  • Is slow to respond to questions, comments or verbal instructions.
  • Has difficulty following more than one or two sequential directions at a time.
  • Performs better when shown more than when told what to do.
  • Speech and language development is/was delayed.
  • Speaks too loudly.
  • Has poor speech and language ability, when compared to children of the same age.
  • Has difficulty articulating and speaking clearly, and/or mispronounces words, using words that are close to the target word but not accurate, (i.e. nake for make, hind/behind, chree/tree, han/hand, ahind/behind).
  • Has difficulty putting ideas into words, (written or verbal), and/or has difficulty expressing herself/himself in an organized manner that you can follow.
  • Often talks out of turn or "off topic."
  • Has difficulty carrying on a conversation.
  • When speaking, sentences are sometimes unintelligible or difficult to comprehend when compared to his peers, he may produce strings of jargon-like speech past eighteen months, and, as he gets older, he may ramble on endlessly with disorganized, run-on and/or tangential speech that is non communicative.
  • Echoes or repeats what is said to him/her.
  • If not understood, has difficulty re-phrasing.
  • Has poor memory for the names of numbers, letters and/or word labels.
  • Does not like having someone read to him/her, (tries to turn pages when being read to).
  • Is very literal and has difficulty interpreting abstract information (i.e. does not understand non-literal language, jokes, sarcasm, ambiguous statements or multiple meaning words).
  • Does better in small groups.
  • Has poor musical abilities (i.e. can not carry a tune, has poor rhythm, has difficulty learning to play an instrument).
  • Has difficulty learning nursery rhymes or simple songs.
  • Spelling is not where it should be for his/her age or grade. 
  • Invented spelling when learning to read and write could not be interpreted.
  • Reading ability is not where it should be for his/her age or grade.
  • Is not able to write at the level he/she should for his/her age or grade.
  • Has difficulty understanding and completing math story problems.
  • Often appears confused.
  • Is distractible.
  • Gets frustrated, angry, and gives up more easily than you would expect.
  • Has difficulty making friends.
  • Misinterprets tone of voice and gets hurt easily.
  • Has a poor self-esteem.


Note that many of the characteristics are also suggestive of other deficits, such as ADD or ADHD, or sensory processing disorders.  If you suspect that your child is having a problem, seek consultation now. A trained professional can guide you to the help your child may need.



Guidelines for Reading to Your Young Child


Guidelines for Reading to Your Young Child

by Caryn S. Burstein, MS, CCC/SLP


How to Choose a Book:

  1. The books should have pictures that are colorful, but clear and bold, with not too many objects or too much going on on one page.
  2. The story should not be too wordy, or have too many sentences on one page. The illustrations should out-weigh the script.
  3. The book may be recommended for a child who is slightly younger or less advanced than yours, but not much older or more advanced. A mix of picture-naming books and picture-story books is good.
  4. The story line should be something your child can understand.
  5. Experiment with books by different authors and illustrators and discover what holds your child’s interest.
  6. Pop-up, flip, and other kinds of interactive books, are great choices in the beginning. You can make any book a flip book using the big square post it pads.
  7. Most of the most popular books for preschoolers come as a board book.  Children love to turn the pages and it keeps them more engaged.  The pages of board books are much easier for your child to turn, and will make it possible for you to let your child flip through the pages of their favorites on their own when you are not reading.
  8. Books that are repetitive, and have rhythm or rhyme also help to keep a child’s attention, and provide numerous chances to leave off the last word or phrase for your child to fill in, (i.e. Go Away, Big Green Monster by Emberley, Brown Bear, by Carle, Good Night Moon, by Brown, Very Busy Spider, by Carle, Dear Zoo, by Campbell).
  9. Include books that teach new speech sounds, concepts, grammatical structures or vocabulary that your child needs to develop.
  10. Gradually increase the complexity, and slowly move toward books that have more and more narrative.
  11. The store clerks at children’s bookstores and child librarians are usually very helpful.

Note: Even once your child is reading on his or her own, it is good to continue to read to him. Gradually move toward books that have fewer and fewer pictures and require more and more auditory attention. Your child will never be too old for you to read to him.  


How to Read:

  1. Let your child choose from a group of preselected books.
  2. Sit close with your arm around your child, or on your lap, unless your child doesn’t like those positions, and let your child hold the book and turn the pages.
  3. Point to the pictures as you talk about them. 
  4. Speak slowly and clearly, pausing between phrases, but not so slowly that you don’t keep the pace going. Go less slowly when reading phrases you know they understand, and more slowly for words and phrases you think are more difficult. A mix of pace will keep their attention. Look at your child, and read their facial expressions and body language, to be sure they are staying with you.
  5. Take note of how loudly your child likes you to read. Be sure that you are not too loud, or too quiet, and use a gentle, natural voice. Make sure that your child is enjoying you.
  6. To help keep your child’s attention, show delight and enthusiasm, and, without getting overly loud, use lots of inflection and expression in your voice. Emphasize words you want to be sure they hear.
  7. Let your child talk about the pictures, too. Do not discourage your child from stopping you to comment about the pictures or the story.
  8. You tell the story, but leave out words or parts of sentences for your child to fill in. Books that rhyme or are repetitive are very conducive to this idea.
  9. Read the same books several nights in a row. Kids love repetition, and the more familiar they are with a book, the more they will enjoy having it read to them.
  10. Try to encourage your child to last one or two pages past the page at which he has lost interest, and wants to stop reading, but no longer. Praise him for having stayed with you for that extra bit of time.
  11. Paraphrase when necessary, leaving out excess narrative, simplifying and sometimes repeating vocabulary or phrases that may be over your child’s head, and correcting incorrect or incomplete grammar, (i.e. In Eric Carle’s Grouchy Ladybug, “Hey you, wanna fight?” can become, Do you want to fight?), especially when there is something particular you are trying to teach your child.
  12. Stop as you read, and ask questions which get your child thinking, or requires your child to use his memory. Stop and ask why something might have happened, if something could have happened in real life or is just silly, what they think might happen next, what should have happened, or pretend you don’t remember something and ask for details read earlier in the book. Talk about how the characters feel in the story. Read a page without showing the picture, and then guess together what the illustration might be. Look to see if you chose the same thing to illustrate that the illustrator had chosen. Try to retell favorite parts of stories from memory.
  13. Let your child see you reading your own books, and be sure they see how much you love it.

Childhood Disfluency and Stuttering -- Suggestions to Parents


Childhood Disfluency and Stuttering —  
Suggestions to Parents


Most children between two years and five years experience some periods of hesitant, broken, uncertain or repetitive speech.  Typically children will simply repeat whole phrases, words or parts of words, and use filler words like “ah”, “um”, “well” while they are trying to formulate their thoughts. 

Some children however show involuntary repetition, prolongation or blockage of the consonants or syllables of the words. They may have difficulty getting words started, usually at the beginning of a sentence and may tend to repeat the parts of words, sounds or syllables,  (rather than whole words or phrases), sometimes three, four and more times before they are able to say what they want.   They know what they want to say and may have said it fluently thousands of times, but on occasion, in spite of all efforts, they are unable to say the word smoothly and effortlessly.  Sometimes a child may give exaggerated, prolonged stress to a sound in a word, they may change their pitch or intensity to help themselves force the word out or seem to be stuck with no sound or word coming out at all.  They may show tension in their lips, tongue, throat or chest while they are trying to say certain words.  They may look away just as their speech is disrupted or appear to be avoiding speaking.  The dysfluent speech is highly variable and may come and go throughout weeks or months.

This difficulty in producing fluent speech is usually just a phase and these characteristics are generally overcome within a year’s time. If the casual dysfluency described in the first paragraph persists for more than six months, you should consult a speech pathologist for advice.  If you observe your child, not merely effortlessly repeating whole words or phrases and/or interjecting “filler words”, but exhibiting the characteristics and behaviors described in the second paragraph above, you should contact a speech pathologist who is able to consult and direct you.  

Whether your child is exhibiting more normally dysfluent characteristics, or the behaviors that are more typically considered “stuttering”, there are things that you should do and should not do in order to help your child through this period.  You can help lessen the length of time he or she is dysfluent and help to decrease the severity of the dysfluency.  Suggestions follow:




  1. Listen patiently to what your child says, not how it is said.  Respond to the message rather than the stuttering.  Being an attentive listener is an important part of the communication process; it makes your child feel that you really care about what he has to say.
  2. Allow your child to complete his or her thoughts without interrupting. Try not to talk for your child or rush him or her in any way.  Give your child time to plan, program and execute speech.
  3.  Keep natural eye contact while your child is talking.  Looking away could be interpreted as a negative reaction to his dysfluencies.
  4. If your child begins to talk to you while you are doing things that require concentration (for example, driving a car, using a knife to cut vegetables) tell him that you can’t look away right now but that you are listening to him and that he has your attention.
  5. Provide an easy, relaxed speech model.  Keep your speech calm, slow and at a low loudness level.  Children react to tense speech with tense speech.
  6. Talk at a language level that is slightly above the child’s language level, avoiding advanced vocabulary, complex sentence structure and long sentence length. Provide  a speech model which is within his ability to understand or produce.
  7. Talk with rather thanto or at your child.  Provide verbal interaction by exchanging opinions, ideas, experiences and feeling.
  8.  After your child speaks, reply slowly and unhurriedly, using some of the same words.  For example, if she says, “I w-w-w-ant to g-g-g-go outside.”  You reply in an easy relaxed way, “O.K., you want to go outside.  Let’s get our coats.”  The last thing your child hears is a calm fluent sentence or two.
  9.  Find time each day to devote to talking with your child, and speak in an unhurried, easy, relaxed manner.
  10. Speak more quietly, more slowly, with gentle onsets of sentences.  Wait a second or so before responding to your child’s questions and comments.  This helps to calm and slow things down and lets your child know that he has plenty of time when he talks to you. Pause often, after every possible phrase, for two to four seconds.  (Watching Mr. Rogers and studying and modeling after him, will help you to develop this skill.)  Gradually find a happy medium between this and your natural way of speaking, to talk to your child throughout the day.   Even read to your child this way.   At the very least, at all times, speak less hurriedly to your child.
  11. Turn off the television or radio at dinnertime or any other time that would be a good time for conversation.  Help your child not have to compete when he or she is trying to express himself or herself.
  12. Provide ample opportunity for your child to talk in a relaxed one to one situation.  Teach turn- taking to this child and his siblings.  Make it clear that everyone has their turn to talk without being interrupted.  (Rules of the House:  We don’t put feet on the furniture, We don’t throw the football in the house, We don’t talk for others, We take turns talking, Two people don’t talk at the same time.”)
  13. Try to provide as many situations as possible in which your child tends to be more fluent; try to identify and take advantage of those times of the day in which he may experience the most “relaxed” speaking time.
  14. Try to provide a calmer, less hurried life style in your home.
  15. Try to identify factors that tend to disrupt fluency and work to eliminate those factors. Some things that may contribute to dysfluency may be: putting your child on stage, asking a lot of questions, setting your child up to have to vie for attention, rushing around, busy schedules, competitive learning demands, getting too little sleep, criticizing often, excitable events.  Try to identify your child’s fluency disrupters and strive to reduce as many of them as realistically possible, understanding that  many will be out of your control.
  16. Help him express his feelings verbally.  Anxiety and tension may contribute to dysfluencies.  Anything you can do to lesson anxiety and tension may help.
  17. Avoid situations in which other adults or children may tease, make fun of, ridicule or call attention to the dysfluency in your child’s speech.
  18. On days when your child is being particularly dysfluent, suggest or direct activities that require less talking, (i.e. television, apps, movies, puzzles, coloring, building, etc.).  On particularly fluent days, suggest activities that allow more speech, (i.e. playing house, puppet show or restaurant, etc.).  Let your child hear his fluent speech.
  19. On good days, ask open ended questions such as “Tell me everything you did at school today?” or “What did you have for lunch today?”.  On bad days, ask questions that require one word answers such as, “Did you have a good day at school today?, Did you eat your lunch?, Who brought show and tell?”.
  20. If you know your child is feeling anxious about the way he is speaking, and feel he is developing any fear or negative feelings toward speaking, discuss your child’s frustrations right when they happen, ie. “That’s O.K.  Sometimes I have trouble talking, too.  It’s O.K. to repeat words.  Many people have trouble sometimes.  It’s fine. We love you and just want to hear what you have to say.  We don’t care how you say it.  We just want to talk with you.”


While the behaviors below do not cause your child to ‘stutter’, they can exacerbate their dysfluency.  The following behaviors should be avoided.

  1. Do not finish your child’s sentences or talk at the same time as your child.
  2. Do not to rush your child to finish his or her thoughts or sentences.
  3. Do not interrupt your child while he or she is talking.
  4. Do not coax your child to talk rapidly, precisely and maturely.
  5. Do not correct, criticize, or try to change the way he or she talks, or pronounces sounds or words.  (If your child is producing immature speech or language, there are ways to model correct speech and help facilitate language development without correcting.  You can consult a speech pathologist for these suggestions).
  6. Do not speak to your child using a rapid rate of speech, especially when telling him or her to slow his or her own rate of speaking down.
  7. On bad days, do not ask your child to make little speeches, plays or read aloud to visiting friends, relatives or neighbors.
  8. Do not ask your child to repeat a word until he or she can do it fluently or ask your child to stop repeating words.
  9. Suggestions to “Relax”, “Talk slower”, “Take a deep breath before you speak”, “Think of what you want to say before you start to talk”, etc., DO NOT HELP.
  10. Try not to show emotional reactions to your child’s dysfluencies. (Just talking with a speech pathologist for support will help you lessen your anxiety).
  11. On bad days, do not ask open-ended questions that require specific response or long explanations.
  12. Do not require your child to talk when he or she is fatigued, upset or excited.  If your child gets hurt, don’t ask for explanations until he or she has quieted and/or calmed down. 
    If your child misbehaves, wait until he or she has calmed down before initiating an inquiry.  Be sensitive to his or emotional state before making verbal demands.

Games to Enhance Vocabulary, Retrieval and General Knowledge


Games to be played to enhance vocabulary, retrieval and general knowledge:


  • Outburst Junior
  • Pictionary Junior
  • Charades Junior
  • Blurt
  • Head Banz
  • Apples to Apples Junior
  • Trivial Pursuits for Kids
  • Password Jnior
  • Twenty Questions
  • Cadoo
  • Tribond Junior
  • Scattegories Junior
  • ASAP
  • Brain Quest
  • Taboo Junior
  • Don’t Say It
  • Catch Phrase
  • Buzz Word
  • It Fits
  • Funglish
  • A to Z Junior
  • Last Word
  • Rags to Riches, (Figurative Language/Idioms)
  • Go for the Dough
  • Patty’s Cake
  • Word on the Street


For Older Children and Adults

  • Encore
  • Win Lose or Draw
  • Tabou
  • Password
  • Channel Surfing
  • Pictionary
  • Hink Pink
  • Sort It Out

Note:  Check age levels for individual games.  Know that most games can be played on teams with adult direction even if your child is not at the level of a particular game. 

Also, for strengthening SPELLING:

  • Hang Man
  • Wheel of Fortune
  • Scrabble Junior/Scrabble
  • Boggle Junior/Boggle
  • Upwards
  • Concentration
  • Smart Mouth
  • Bananagrams
  • Word on the Street

Also:  Purchase books at your child’s level with word searches, cross word puzzles, word puzzles, and mad libs.

Other spelling games:

  • Little Words:
    Everyone tries to find as many little words as they can in one big word, (Note: The more different vowels in the word, the more words that can be found within it).
  • Word chains:
    Given a designated category, (ie. Movies, Restaurants, Book Titles, T.V. Shows).  Everyone has to think of a word or title that starts with the sound the last person’s word ended with.  Whoever messes up is out.
  • Word Scramble

Learning With Enjoyable Apps


Learning Through the Use of Enjoyable Apps



For Phonemic Awareness/ Reading Readiness

  • Goodnight ABC
  • Rhyme Sorts
  • Buzzle
  • Hairy Letters
  • Sky Fish
  • Syllable Awareness
  • Syllable Splash
  • Word Wonderland
  • ABC Magic
  • Reading Magic
  • Abby Monkey First Phonics
  • Super Why


For Auditory Discrimination

  • Meek a Moo
  • Little Ears


For Auditory Memory

  • Hamaguchi Picture the Sentence
  • Simon Says
  • For Following Directions
  • Prepositions Journey
  • Hamaguchi -fun with directions
  • One Step Two Step Following Directions
  • Lunchbox
  • My Play Home
  • Cookie Doodle
  • Cake Doodle


For Word Retrieval and Word Play

  • Hamaguchi-Talk About it Objects Pro
  • Smarty Ears Go Togethers
  • Smarty Ears Categories
  • Seven Little Words Kids
  • Mad Libs


For Articulation

  • Flip Books
  • Artik Pix

Suggestions to Parents (and Teachers) Of Children with Word Finding Difficulties


Suggestions to Parents (and Teachers) Of Children with Word Finding Difficulties



Compiled by
Caryn Sachs Burstein, MS., CCC/SLP

If you have a child that is having difficulty retrieving the vocabulary they have in order to express himself or herself, you can help. Your child might show this to you by blocking and not saying anything, by demonstrating long delays before responding, by having a tendency to be excessively verbal and easily go off on tangents, by frequently using words like stuff and thing, by repeating the first word or words of their first phrases over and over, by starting and stopping and revising the beginning of their sentences, or by using words that are close or similar to a target word or sound like a target word, but are not the right or best words needed to answer your question or tell you about something specific. 

The following is a list of suggestions that will help:                                 

  • Present a non-rushed, low-key atmosphere, so that the child can be assured that he or she has time to respond.  Give and sustain your full attention.
  • Allow him or her time to process and respond after you ask or tell her something.
  • Give your child extra time to give you information.  Let him know that when he is ready you would love to hear about ...... what he did at school today, etc.     


  • Be sensitive to how the child might feel when being called upon to speak, and minimize those situations, (i.e. Let the child volunteer information; Ask questions ahead of time and allow the child to respond when they are willing and ready, whenever possible).
  • Tell him sometimes it takes you time to think of what you want to say.  Say to him, when it is appropriate, “I am thinking, give me a second to think,” or “I know that, but I need some time to think.”   Encourage your child to tell you the same.  Tell him every one has trouble thinking of what they want to say sometimes.
  • Modeling appropriate language in response to the child’s verbalization will allow your child the chance to hear the correct vocabulary and sentence formulation
  • Modify specific questions of your child to include multiple choices.  Rather than asking, “What do you want?’ ask, “Do you want ___ or ___?”  Rather than asking, “Where are you going?” ask, “Are you going to ___ or ___?”
  • Include an outline of what you would like your child’s answer to include when asking general questions.  Rather than asking, What happened on the playground? say “Tell me who was with you on the playground today?” or “What did you try on the playground today?” Rather than asking What did you do at school today?, ask, “What project did you do?” or “What did you talk about on the rug today?”
  • Help your child to rehearse.  Go over with him what he might say to his grandma or friend on the phone, a teacher when he gets to school, or practice his show and tell presentation, or his oral report, with him before he goes to school.
  • Point out conversation topics.  Encourage your child to join in by helping him to know what he can say.  (I.e. Say, “It sounds like they are talking about animals they love.  What animal do you love? Tell them.”  “It sounds like they are making suggestions about how to build that house. What idea do you have? Tell them.”).
  • Strengthen your child’s vocabulary knowledge through reading and telling stories, talking about pictures and books, continuing to expand his personal experiences and using verbal language whenever possible.  The more words he knows and experiences, the more easily he can substitute a word, or use words to describe, if he’s having difficulty, (several examples follow below).
  • Try to determine what cueing devises are effective in helping your child retrieve words most effectively.  When your child is not experiencing any overt signs of frustration, experiment with one or more of the following ways of cueing him.  After you’ve identified any successful cueing devises, utilize them, when needed, to facilitate his naming.  Eventually, he may learn to adapt these cues to stimulate his own self-cueing:
  1. Provide the beginning sound or syllable of the target word.
  2. Provide a rhyming word (i.e. Does it rhyme with book?).
  3. Provide a carrier phrase using the opposite of the word (i.e. Hot and ___;  Day and ___, Not the light one but the        one).
  4. Provide a carrier phrase using a familiar word frequently associated with the target word (i.e.. Peanut butter and ___; Fork and ___; Bat and __).
  5. Provide the category name or function (i.e. It’s a red fruit; It’s a pet, It’s a tool; You wear them in the winter to keep your hands warm, You eat your ice cream with it).
  6. Provide a carrier phrase to introduce the word (i.e.  You pound with a ___; When you’re thirsty, you want a __; You build a tower with the ___).
  7. Use familiar nursery rhymes or carrier phrases to elicit certain words (i.e.. Eensy Weensy ___;  Mary had a little ___; Twinkle, Twinkle little___: Three little monkeys jumping on the ___).
  8. Clap out or hum the number of syllables in the word
  9. Verbalize aloud examples of memory mnemonics, (i.e. From now on I’m going to think of Tigger from Winnie the Pooh every time I see a tiger, so that I can remember that the orange animal with the stripes is a tiger, and not a lion; From now on when I see spots, I’ll think of Spot the dog and his spot, so I can remember that those things are spots and not stripes; From now on I’ll remember that my tricycle has three wheels and tri means three, so I will know that the shape with three sides and three angles is a triangle; From now on I will think of green like grass, and every time I see the color of grass, I will remember green).

When your child shows awareness, concern or frustration over his or her labeling difficulties, let him know it’s okay to have difficulty and it’s okay to be wrong. 

Reinforce the fact that everyone makes mistakes and we all have difficulty thinking of words sometimes.  Point out your own difficulties when you misuse a word or can’t think of someone’s name.

By supporting him/her in this way you can help avoid his withdrawal from naming situations.


The following is a list of suggestions that will help to provide a rich language experience, expand vocabulary and expressive skills, as well as help to minimize word-finding difficulty:

  • Help expand your child’s classification skills.  Help him or her see and understand grouping and categorization and see associations between objects, (It’s a lot easier to retrieve a word from a specific category than from one’s entire wealth of words):
  • Sorting by color, shape, and/or size;
  • Dividing up objects by category (sorting toys at clean up time for instance is a great time to use category names and sort objects--all the animals go in this basket, the building toys in this basket, the clothes in this basket and the food in this basket); 
  • Discussing where different objects should be placed (such as the cars on the street, the trains on the track and the boats in the water);
  • Naming things found in different places such as “Let’s think of all the things we see in the sky” or “All the animals that live in the zoo”, making smaller groups within the big group as you name, so that when naming in the sky, list animals, then vehicles, then nature/weather words, etc, and at the zoo, the wild animals, then the really big animals, then the farm animals and water animals, etc.;  
  • When teaching new words, in addition to providing the label for words, also provide the category name to        which it belongs (e.g. “That’s a hammer, it’s a tool”; “This is a lemon.  A lemon is a fruit”; “Let’s pick all the wild animals, the tiger, the lion and the elephant are all wild animals”, “This is a stapler, a stapler is one kind of tool that holds things together);  
  • Talk about the different components of different categories.  For example, when you go to the grocery store with your child, talk about what different vegetables you might buy for the salad, what foods you might buy for breakfast; 
  • When driving in the car or spending quiet time together, play word games.  See how many animals you both can think of that live in the zoo, how many different types of things you can think of that move, what things you need to wear to play outside in the snow, or what you might want to pack to take to the beach; 
  • Read to your child!!, whether or not they can already read.  For the younger child select well-illustrated books.  Talk about the pictures.  Move through the book naming the pictures and talking about what is happening in the pictures; ask a lot of questions-- “Who is in the picture?” “What are they doing?” “Where are they going?” “How did something happen?” Why did something happen?” “What might happen next?”   Choose word books that sort objects by category, books that are repetitive, have rhythm or rhyme.  For older children discuss the plots, the characters, why something might have happened, what might happen next, what unfamiliar words mean, etc.
  • Engage your child in memory narratives, discussing together the past events you’ve experienced together.  Elicit conversation by adding information to your child’s responses, modeling details and organization, using simple but complete sentences, as you volunteer your own memories.
  • Strengthen your child’s ability to describe objects by appearance, function and other distinctive qualities.  If your child is unable to think of a word, he could keep his dialogue going by describing what he’s unable to think of. 
  • Play verbal games with him to reinforce these descriptive skills and help him learn to focus on specific primary features (e.g. I’m thinking of an animal that lives in the zoo; it’s gray and very large.  It has a long trunk and it likes to eat peanuts.  What am I thinking of?).  
  • Descriptive words are also used when identifying similarities and differences between objects.  In everyday activities talk about how things are the SAME or DIFFERENT.  Talk about like characteristics of the people, animals, foods, toys, clothes, etc, (e.g. “This bike has three wheels, but this one has only two,” “This one is red but this one is blue-- heavy-light, tall-short, soft and cuddly-hard and rough, shiny or new-dull or old).
  • You can play word games, once your child is ready, as a family, when sitting around together, (i.e. Waiting in restaurants, doctor’s offices, driving in the car, vacations)
  • I’m Going On a Picnic: (“I’m going on a picnic and I’m going to bring”, or “I went to the zoo and I saw”, or “When I’m grown, I’m going to be a”).  Take turns naming everything already said up to your turn and adding one new one each time.
  • I Spy: One player picks something in the room and describes it so that the other player can guess, or play as Twenty Questions.  One person thinks of something in the room and the other players ask yes/no questions until the object is guessed.
  • “Who Am I?”  Put a name of somebody or something on each player’s back.  The players ask questions about themselves until they can guess what or who they are.
  • Freaky Drawings:  One person draws a simple object or scene while the others are not looking.  Then that person gives instructions on how to draw the object and everyone tries to draw what is being described.  The player whose picture most closely matches the speaker’s drawing is the winner.   
  • Play “Make a Story”.  While sitting around the dinner table or driving in the car, go around having each person add to a made-up story.
  • Play Charades.  There is also a store bought game, Charades Junior for younger children.
  • Secret Square:  Place fifty cards depicting pictures of single objects within a variety of categories such of clothes, pets, wild animals, farm animals, toys, household items, foods, vehicles, things in the sky, etc.  Cards are placed in rows face up on the table or floor.  One player places a chip secretly under one square.  The other players begin to ask yes/no questions which will eliminate cards, (i.e. Is the chip under something in the sky?; Is it under a toy?, Is it under an animal?, Is it under an animal that lives on the farm? Is it under and animal that has feathers?, Does it swim?, Then is it under the chicken?).
  • Provide and partake of opportunities for the discussion of abstract ideas, contemporary issues, and other matters that are removed from direct practical family agendas, (i.e. Well kids, according to the news, …what do you think, do you agree with that?)
  • Encourage your child to elaborate, avoiding conversational deterrents like “stuff,” “thing,” and “yeah.”  Make it a rule in your home that “We are only allowed to use words that make pictures in our heads, and we do not use empty words like stuff and thing.”  Use meal time, bedtime and time in the car as opportunities for verbal enrichment.  Turn off the TV at dinner, or the radio in the car, and JUST TALK
  • Help your child to create lively verbal-visual associations in their minds.  Having them listen to books on tape or attend storytelling sessions can help to facilitate this.
  • Help your child to strengthen their summarization skills.  Summarize TV and movie plots, stories you’ve read, newspaper articles, the baseball game you’ve just watched or attended, highlights of a field trip, or even the events of a family party.  Summarizing binds understanding to remembering, and enhances language ability.
  • Encourage your child to keep a journal or diary.
  • Talk about language and how language works.  Especially when your child is in the second or third grade, talk about words, morphemes, sentences, or paragraphs.  Explain how words need to be marked or changed to express meaning such as tense and pluralization.  Talk about word meanings and word orderings. Give your child opportunities to manipulate and play games with the sounds of their language and to create their own poetry and rhyming musical lyrics.  

Play commercially bought games, which involve playing with words.  These would include but are not limited to:         

For younger kids: Ravensburger’s Differix, Mystery Garden, Tell a Story, No Peeking, What’s Missing, Head Banz, Cadoo, Apples to Apples Junior                  

For older kids: (Read the box for ages and game directions to determine if the game is something your child is old enough for and would enjoy.  While many games may be too advanced for the child to play alone, they can be played on a team with a parent or older sibling, and your child can benefit).



Outburst Junior

Twenty Questions

Pictionary Junior


Charades Junior

Tribond Junior

Smart Mouth

Scattergories Junior

Tabou Junior

Apples to Apples Junior



Trivial Pursuits for Kids

Brain Quest

Tabou Junior

Tribond Junior

Secret Square

Password Junior


It Fits

A to Z Junior

Buzz Word

Word on the Street



You’ve Been Sentenced

Word on the Street



Once your child is learning to read and spell, word games and activity books for young children are excellent vocabulary/language builders, as well as great ways to enhance spelling. 

Purchase books with simple word search, cross word puzzles, word puzzles, ad libs;


Scrabble Junior/Scrabble


Hang Man

Wheel of Fortune

Pick Two

Smart Mouth

Boggle Junior/Boggle

Snap it Up, (My rules, ask me)

Word on the Street

Ad Libs


Have contests to see how many little words can be found in one big word or sentence;

Write each family member’s name down the side of a piece of paper, and have everyone try to think of a word that describes that person, that begins with each letter of their name, writing the answers across the page;

Play word chains: Given a designated category, i.e. Movies, Restaurants, Book Titles, T.V. Shows, everyone has to think of a word or title that starts with the sound the last person’s word ended with.  Whoever messes            up is out.

Play “A My Name is Alice”-a bouncing ball game, that chants the following for each letter in the alphabet.  Each player can continue through the alaphabet until they miss the ball for another bounce.  Whoever gets the farthest in the alphabet, wins.  i.e. A, my name is …Abby and my brother’s name is …Aaron, and I come from …Alabama and I love …apples.   B, my name is … Ben, and my sister’s name is … Betsy, and I come from … Boston, and I love … bicycles, C, my name is …

It is also suggested that you ask the school for support. 

The school speech and language pathologist may help to enhance overall verbal language skills and learn retrieval strategies. 

School assignments, classroom work and tests can be modified to accommodate for slow processing and word finding difficulties.  The focus needs to be on your child’s knowledge rather than on how well he/she can express the knowledge.  Tests that are of recognition versus recall formats are suggested, such as multiple choice and True/False, rather than fill in the blank and open questions or essay. 

Time extension for slow rate of processing should be provided as necessary.  Additional time to respond to oral questions during class discussion is helpful.  When asking a question, which requires a specific answer, it is beneficial when the child is presented with the question ahead of the time he/she is expected to answer.  This allows time to retrieve the information and formulate an answer.

Teachers need to be sensitive to how your child might feel when being called upon to speak, and minimize those situations whenever possible, (i.e. Letting the child volunteer information, rather than be called upon).

An alphabet strip can be provided and taped across the outside edge of the inside of your child’s desk for phonemic sound cueing. 

To assist learning and storage, teaching strategy should be as hands-on and experiential as possible.