Speech Therapy for Babies

Congratulations!  You’re little bundle of joy is here!!  Keep in mind that it’s never too early to start promoting the development of good communication skills.  This is especially true if your child was born with a condition that makes him more likely to develop communication problems.  Things like hearing loss, pregnancy or birth complications, Down Syndrome, genetic abnormalities, or neurological problems can put your child at risk for speech and language problems down the road.  Here are some easy steps you can take now to promote good communication skill development in your baby, even if he doesn’t have any of these risk factors.  These are activities that an SLP would use to do speech therapy for babies but you can also do these same activities at home without a speech therapist.

For more information, keep reading below, or view the video version:

Speech Therapy for Babies Activity One:

Read To Your Baby

Reading to your child is one of the most important things you can do to promote the speech and language development of your children but you don’t have to wait until they’re old enough to hold the book!  That is why it is a part of typical speech therapy for babies.  Research shows that the children who were read to earliest in life tend to be those with the highest language skills when they get older.  How powerful is that?  It is such a simple thing that you can do for your child that could make a huge difference later in life.

It is never too early to start reading to your child!  In fact, you can even read to your baby while he is still in the womb!  Your baby can hear early in the pregnancy so reading books aloud to your baby can get him used to your voice or the voice of your partner.  Once your baby is born, you can start reading to him as soon as you want.  If you haven’t started yet, don’t worry, you haven’t done any harm, just start now!  When your baby is very little, he won’t be paying much attention to the book so feel free to read any book to him, including whatever you got from the local library for yourself.  He will be focusing on the tone of your voice and the sounds that you are making.  This is how he will learn which speech sounds are used in your native language.  He isn’t making sense of the words yet.  However, you should also expose him to baby books.  Buy durable books like board books and let him chew on them, bang them, toss them around, whatever he wants.  Then, when you read to him, hold the books so he can see the pictures, read to him, point to pictures as you name them, turn the pages, etc.  This will help him learn about books and how they’re used.  However you do it, make sure you read to your baby every day.

Speech Therapy for Babies Activity Two:

Tummy to Tummy Time

You may have heard about “tummy time” and how important it is to your child’s development.  Occupational and physical therapists encourage parents to help babies spend time on their tummies to promote good gross and fine motor development.  However, many babies don’t enjoy spending time on their tummies.  You can use “tummy to tummy time” to work your baby toward tolerating tummy time better while getting some good interaction with your baby.  This makes tummy to tummy time a great speech therapy for babies strategy, and your occupational therapist will love it, too!

Sit down in a slightly reclined position with your baby.  Lay the baby on your stomach and chest so his face is pointing toward yours.  You’re now doing “tummy to tummy time”.  Not too hard, right?  For babies that are very resistant to being on their tummies, you can start in a mostly upright position.  Then, each time you do this, lean back just a little more.  Eventually you should get it to the point where you are laying on your back and Baby is on your tummy, essentially laying on his tummy.  Then, you can transition to him laying on his tummy by himself.  Here are some ways you can promote good communication while in the tummy-to-tummy position:

  • Play with Sounds: While your baby is watching you, make a bunch of different speech sounds for your baby to hear.  Go through the alphabet and repeat each sound (such as “ah ah ah, buh buh buh, cuh cuh cuh, etc.”).  See what other silly sounds you can make too.  Babies love blowing raspberries so you can throw that one in as well (blowing air through your lips).  If your baby makes any sounds, repeat those sounds back to her.
  • Talk to your Baby: We will go more into talking to your baby later, but it’s never too early to expose your baby to as many different words as possible.  It doesn’t even matter what you say, you can talk about work, sports, or anything else that’s on your mind.  Just talk.

Speech Therapy for Babies Activity Three:

Sing Songs To Your Baby

Singing to your child is another great way to promote good language skills because music actually activates different parts of the brain than just talking to your baby does.  The music centers of the brain are located on the right half of the brain and the language centers are located on the left half.  If you are singing songs with words to your child, he must use both the left and right parts of the brain together.  This speech therapy for babies activity is a great way to activate your baby’s brain.

This one is easy, just sing!  It doesn’t matter to your baby if you can’t sing well or if you can’t hold a tune.  Your baby will benefit from your singing all the same.  You can sing any song you know, when your child is a baby, it doesn’t matter.  You can sing in the car, while rocking your baby to sleep, while cleaning or making dinner, or while doing tummy-to-tummy time.  Just sing!

Many parents ask me if they can just play a tape of someone else singing instead.  While playing music for your baby can also be helpful for brain development, it won’t be quite as effective at building good communication skills because you are taking the human connection piece of the puzzle out.  Face-to-face human contact is incredibly important to young children.  This is why it is so important to turn off the electronics and interact directly with your child.  Yes your child can learn things from screens and recordings, but your child will learn that same lesson more quickly with human-to-human contact and she will learn the important aspects of human communication that will be necessary for social interactions for the rest of her life.  So yes, you can play music for your child, but make sure you are singing to your child as well!

Speech Therapy for Babies Activity Four:

Play Social Games

Cute little social games like peek-a-boo tend to be second nature for parents of young children, but did you know that they can help promote communication skills as well??

Games like “peek-a-boo” and “so big” can help your child in a number of ways.  If you do these games enough, your child will learn to predict what will come next which can help them make sense of that social interaction.  This teaches them that they can learn to predict outcomes of other social interactions as well.  These games also give your child an opportunity to let you know they want more of what you’re doing without needing to use words.  Children will initiate these games by holding their arms up or pulling the blanket on or off their heads.  This is a great way for children to interact with you before they have words to express what they want.  Finally, these types of games can help babies who are reluctant to interact with others by rewarding their participation with physical enjoyment, such as tickles, hugs, smiles, and laughs.  Here are descriptions of the most popular social baby games:

Peek-a-Boo!  Pull a blanket up over your baby’s face and say “Where’s Baby?” (or use Baby’s name?).  Then, pull off the blanket and say “peek-a-boo!”

So Big: Hold up baby’s arms and say “How big is Baby?  Sooooo big!  Someone’s gonna get you, here come’s a pig!” and then make oinking sounds on your baby’s tummy.

Ride a Little Pony: Bounce Baby on your knee and say “Ride a little pony down to town.  Better be careful so you don’t fall down” then pretend to let your baby fall for just a split second before you catch her.

Speech Therapy for Babies Step Five:

Talk To Your Baby

Sounds simple enough, doesn’t it?  A research study showed that children from families that talked to their children more had larger vocabularies later in life.  Children from professional families heard an average of 2153 words per hour where children from welfare families only heard 616 words per hour.  By age three, the children who heard 2153 words per hour had an average vocabulary of 1100 words and children from welfare families had an average vocabulary of 500 words.  How amazing that simply by talking to your baby more, you can increase his vocabulary!

This activity is simple, too.  Talk to your baby all the time.  Talk about what you’re doing.  Talk about what your baby is doing.  Talk about what people around you are doing, or what you did at work, or where you would like to travel to someday.  It doesn’t matter what you say, just start talking more to your children.

The most important part of this step is to TURN OFF THE SCREENS!!  Sorry for yelling there but this is a point that is so important to get across.  Children who spend all of their time in front of a phone, tablet, computer, or TV screen may develop great technology skills or learn to read at a ridiculously early age, but they are missing out on critical time to develop human-to-human social interaction skills.  You should limit the amount of time that your young child spends in front of a screen as much as possible.  When you’re riding in the car, turn off the radio and DVD player and talk to your child.  When you’re at a restaurant, put away your phone or tablet and talk to your child.  When you’re having down time at home, turn off the TV and talk to your child.  See the theme?  Your child needs to learn words, language, and communication styles from real people, not screens.

Where to Find More Info:

This guide, along with 38 others, is included in Ms. Carrie’s E-Book: Speech and Language Therapy Guide: Step-By-Step Speech Therapy Activities to Teach Speech and Language Skills At Home or In Therapy.  This guide includes detailed information on teaching various speech and language skills, including this one, along with worksheets, handouts, sample IEP goals, data collection, and video demonstrations.  For more information, click here!

Speech Therapy for Babies References:

DeBaryshe BD. Joint picture-book reading correlates of early oral language skill. J Child Lang 1993;20:455–61.

Payne A, Whitehurst GJ, Angell A. The role of home literacy environment in the development of language ability in preschool children from low-income families. Early Child Res Q 1994;9:427–40.

Hart B, Risley T. Meaningful differences in the everyday lives of American children. Baltimore: Brookes Publishing, 1995.

More Resources for Speech-Language Pathologists:

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