Language Rich Outdoor Activity Center for Toddlers

Hello Speechbaby friends! It’s been awhile since I’ve blogged, for no reason other than my busy, energetic, curious and often naughty speechbaby himself. Raising a toddler is many things, but boring is not one of them. Anyone that has spent time with a toddler would surely understand. It’s non-stop and demanding. I’m not complaining because it’s my dream come true, however it leaves very little time for myself. Anyway, here I am in front of my computer with the clock ticking away at nap time so let’s go.

When I first started blogging, it helped me to have scheduled writing days. I used to do a “Try This at Home” language activity post each Tuesday. As my son has gotten older and requires much more of my undivided attention, this has proved impossible to keep up with. We still do tons of language enriched activities throughout our day, unfortunately I just don’t have time to type it all out in an organized manner. However, this outdoor container full of opportunities for language development is too good not to share. Also, it’s Tuesday, so here’s a fun language rich activity I challenge you to try with a little one.

Materials: large container, lots of dirt, garden tools, faux flowers, weather resistant items, pinwheel, watering can, bucket

What’s more fun than playing in dirt?! I could think of many things, but it’s my toddler’s favorite pastime. As Spring has sprung, I’m slowly rejuvenating my soil and dead plant filled flower pots with new plants. In doing so, I had one over-sized pot full of soil, which of course my son kept going for and slinging dirt everywhere. This got me thinking about how I could turn his desire to do this into more controlled, functional activities. I purchased garden tools (shovels being my son’s favorite-he’s so into shovels at the moment), silk flowers, pinwheels, a small watering can (this was hard to find in little people size-finally found one at TJ Maxx), some buckets (he loves moving things to and from) and small items for hiding. I used rubber ducks, lizards, alphabet letters, shapes, seashells and fish. You can use anything. At first I wanted to do bugs and things naturally found in dirt, but was unable to find any rubber bugs….wtf?!?! I discontinued that mission and ransacked my house for random manipulatives. My little man couldn’t be happier with what I came up with.

You’ve got the materials….now what?!?! Put them all together and add language!

  • Cover the items with dirt-little ones can follow directions to uncover the items (“where’s the duck?” “find the lizard” “give mommy the seashell”) and practice naming them, make sound effects and actions with the items
  • Pick and smell the flowers-talk about colors and scents
  • Have babies follow directions to give the flowers to someone (“give daddy the purple flower”)
  • Plant the flowers-talk about the feel of dirt and the act of planting
  • Water the flowers and talk about what you’re doing, change in feel (wet/dry)
  • Dig and shovel dirt-talk about amounts (that’s a lot of dirt, that’s a little bit of dirt, big scoop/little scoop)
  • Talk about the different garden tools and give directions (rake the dirt, dig a hole with the shovel)
  • Spin the pinwheel while saying “spin, spin.” Blow the pinwheel and talk about the wind.
  • Encourage little ones to use all of their senses and talk about them. They’re going to eat dirt, might as well talk about it!
  • Ask little ones to follow directions for cleaning up when finished playing (“put your tools inside the flower-pot” “sweep off the dirt”).

Tips: Don’t place the container directly over your air conditioning unit below the deck, it will fill with dirt or let your little water while daddy is underneath the deck. Doesn’t end well….I know from experience! Also, play music while playing. 

My son loves to be outside more than anything. Being outside always shakes the grumpiness right out of him. There’s so much to look at and do. There’s always something new to discover. And, I much prefer messes outside than in, so we spend lots of time outdoors. I love flowers and plants, which is why I love Spring. Other than the explosion of pollen, I very much enjoy watching things come alive and grow. In efforts to share this love with my baby boy, I made it my mission to make our back deck (minus the grill) a toddler friendly play space. One where my son can go outside and play freely and safely without having to be told “no” for every move he makes. He spends lots of time at his water table and is really into transferring water and dirt from place to place at nineteen months old. I have flowers for him to smell, pick and water, herbs to smell and taste, chalk for coloring, chimes for listening and bird feeders for bird watching. Of all the fun things to do on our deck, this container activity center provides the most entertainment for good amounts of time-both mommy directed and independent…..yes please! If you have a busy toddler driving you crazy indoors, get outside and give this a try. It’s worth the mess! You may also like to check out my post 8 Reasons to Get Babies Outdoors.

Cheers to playing outside!



I’ve been working on my son’s Christmas list per the request of my family. I was supposed to have it ready to pass out at Thanksgiving, but couldn’t get it together. I put a lot of thought into the toys we use with our son. One, because we live in a town home and have very limited space, so the toys we do have must be worthy. Two, because I want my son to play with toys that support and enhance his cognitive development. Toys that require him to think and do, not just push a button and get immediate gratification. Three, because I look for toys that we can interact with together.

From a Speech-Language Pathologist perspective, I’m not a big fan of toys that use batteries. In my experience, I’ve found that they limit speech, language and socialization opportunities. Often times toys with lots of lights, bells and whistles consume children in their own little worlds, leaving minimal reason for kiddos to have to communicate or engage with others. Also, I want my son and the kiddos I work with to make actions, sounds, noises, music and words themselves, instead of the toy doing it for them. As I’ve been out doing my Christmas shopping I’ve noticed a lot of battery operated toys in carts, so I felt it important to share this post. Not only to help me get my ideas out for my own son, but to spread the speech and language love with littles and parents. Also to save you some money and reduce obnoxious toy and battery replacement headaches. Don’t get me wrong, battery operated toys have their place. I’ve added a few to the list, but not many.

The toys on this list are ones I recommend to support speech and language development and I hope my son gets for Christmas! I’ve broken this list up in to four groups: toys my son is getting from Santa, toys on his wish list for friends and family, toys he already has/loves, which I recommend for toddlers and a couple of battery operated toys that I use in speech and language therapy and am giving my son.

Note: This post contains affiliate links to items I personally find useful. I have not been compensated by the manufacturers for purchasing or promoting any of these products. I may receive a small commission if you make a purchase using my link at no cost to you. If you do, thank you!!

What Santa is bringing my son, Shhhh don’t tell:

Little Tikes Basketball Set (Essential toddler toy! Lots of turn taking and following directions to be done with this.)

Melissa and Doug Hand Puppets (Yes, hand puppets! Had to sell my husband on these, but I know my son will love them. Get ready to make animal sounds!)

Edushape Sensory Balls (Can’t have enough balls, love the extra sensory input of these. Check out my post on The Benefits of Rolling Balls with Babies.)

Lego Duplo Building Blocks (My son loves putting things together and taking them apart. Big blocks are great for little hands and minds. You can work on on/off, naming, colors, following directions etc. These were daddy’s idea.)

Melissa and Doug Table and Chairs (These just arrived and I want to give them to him now! Toddlers quickly learn and wish to sit by themselves. I highly recommend a table and chair set for this age. It’s a great place to sit down, chat and do fun things with your little.)

Toys on his Christmas Wish List that I hope he gets AND my husband cut me off from buying:

Melissa and Doug Latch Puzzle (Any puzzle with latches and doors is great for this age. You can work on “open/close,” “knock knock,” naming and counting.)

Anywhere Chair (My parents ordered this from The Land of Nod. So excited, my son loves sitting in big boy chairs now and reading his books.)

Toddler Shopping Cart (My son loves playing with these at friends houses. I have him “go shopping” for the things I name.

Toddler Slide (I want my son to have this! It’s so developmentally appropriate right now! He LOVES to climb and slide, but we have nowhere to put it. It’s a great toy to work on saying “ready, set, go.”)

Squigz (Awesome, awesome little suckers that kiddos just love! Talk about and choose colors, together/apart, take turns and just be silly-they stick to your face!)

Toddler Stepping Stool (My little loves going up and down on steps, plus I want him to start having access to wash his hands more independently.)

Toys my son has and loves that are developmentally appropriate for young toddlers:

Fisher-Price Corn Popper (Not sure what the attraction is, but he plays with it daily. We say “pop pop pop” as he goes goes goes!)

Melissa and Doug Nesting and Stacking Blocks (I use these in therapy tons and my son loves stacking and knocking them down while saying “up” and “down.” Any toy that stacks is good for this age.)

Water Table (We gave our son one for his first birthday and he loves it. Now that it’s cold out we don’t have water in it, but he still plays with the toys. You can also use other fillers such as sand.)

Board Books (You can’t go wrong with board books! My son is really into lift-the-flap and touch and feel books. Please make sure at least one book is under the tree for your little!)

Battery Operated Toys:

When it comes to battery operated toys, I choose ones that require communication to be turned on or have parts such as balls that have to be asked for. I look for ones that encourage engagement with others, turn-taking and reciprocal communication. Below are the toys my son is getting for Christmas. I generally stay away from battery operated toys that he can operate independently.

Fisher-Price Laugh and Learn Piggy Bank (This is a great toy to work with littles on requesting “more” or “money.” I use it in therapy quite a bit and I think my son will enjoy it. I usually don’t turn it on, kiddos just love to put the coins in and take them out.)

Toy Vacuum (Any push and pull toy is great for toddlers. I’m not sure how my son will respond to this toy Dyson vacuum, but he loves our vacuum and oddly enough it was one of his first words. We will work on asking to turn it on and pretend play with it.)

Ball Popper (I think putting the balls in, wondering where they will come out, then putting them back in will be fun for my little man. Of course, I plan to work on using the words “ball please” and choosing which color ball he wants.)

Most all toys have the ability to support speech and language development. It’s the person that sits down with the child that unlocks their potential and makes the magic happen! I hope you found this list helpful and that it makes your Christmas shopping a little easier! If you have a toddler on your Christmas list, you may wish to consider these toys. They are developmentally appropriate and support speech and language skills. Happy shopping! And may you want to buy gyro bowl.


We’ve been busy getting in the Christmas spirit around our household. I love this time of year! Spending it with my fifteen month old is so much fun but also quite the challenge. We had a successful first trip to visit Santa Claus and got a Christmas tree. Christmas tree + toddler = challenge! Everyone has different ways of dealing with littles and their Christmas tree. Some do table top trees that are out of reach, some barricade the tree with cinder block presents, some rule the tree off limits…period, others offer littles their own Christmas trees, or my friend displayed only her Christmas cards on her tree, which I think is a great idea. There are many ways, to each his own.

My husband and I talked about our approach and we decided to let our little guy be involved with decorating and interacting with our Christmas tree. With this in mind, I set out on a mission to find baby safe ornaments. I personally LOVE glass ornaments and have a beautiful collection that I’ve been working on for years. Obviously this isn’t best case scenario, so I placed my glass ornaments on the top 1/4 of our tree. This way I get to enjoy them but they are out of my son’s reach. He gets the lower half of the tree all to himself! While perusing at Target, I found “shatter resistant” fillable ornaments. I literally jumped for joy in the store and my wheels started turning. Here’s what I came up with.

Filling Ornaments with Exciting Manipulatives:

1. Gather Materials: Fillable plastic ornaments, manipulatives that will fit inside (I used foam stars, jingle bells, pompoms and cut up pipe cleaners), clear packaging tape (a must for toddlers, probably don’t need for older kiddos)

2. Sit down with baby, fill the ornaments and TALK all about it! Be sure to tape the tops on.


What’s on the menu this week?! Thanksgiving leftovers, lots of Thanksgiving leftovers. I’m still stuffed from Thanksgiving and can hardly think about cooking much less eating more, BUT I had tons of leftover turkey that I needed to do something with. My son loved eating it at Thanksgiving, so I came up with this cheesy turkey noodle casserole. Here’s what I got into.

Ingredients: 6 oz egg noodles, 2 cans cream of mushroom soup, 1 cup whole milk, 12 oz pkg cheddar cheese, 2 cups cooked turkey, 1/2 cup frozen peas, 1/2 cup diced carrots, 1/2 cup frozen corn, 1 sleeve Ritz crackers, 1 tbsp butter, salt & pepper to taste

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Boil 6 oz (1/2 of 12 oz bag) of egg noodles per package directions. Drain.

2. Chop cooked turkey and carrots. Combine cooked noodles, turkey, soup, milk, cheese, corn, peas, carrots, salt & pepper. Mix well.


Try This at Home Tuesday: Eat and pray with your baby!

The spirit of Thanksgiving inspired me to write this post. Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays. It’s filled with family, love and fellowship. It’s a time to reflect and think about the things we are grateful for. I’m so thankful for the life I’ve been granted and having the privilege of being a mother is icing on the cake.

Thankfulness and appreciation are learned behaviors which must be taught. This can be taught by role-modeling the behaviors you want and expect from your child. The meal environment is a great place to instill values, morals and appreciation. It’s an excellent time to teach by doing. I want my son to understand the power of prayers and thankfulness, so we’ve started saying prayers together when our family sits down to eat. This only happens a few times a week, though my goal in the new year is to do it more. The reality is, it’s very difficult to get everyone around the table at the same time, especially when a cranky, hungry toddler is involved. I’m sure any parent can attest to this. But babies are part of the family and it’s important to include them in family dining times. It’s never to early to do this. When you can make it happen, it’s good for all involved. Here’s why.

1. Prayers of Thanksgiving: We started engaging our son in mealtime prayers when he turned twelve months old. I realize he doesn’t have a clue what’s going on, but it’s all about creating value and painting the bigger picture. One year olds understand way more than they can express. You can believe that your baby is learning everything you are putting down. We want our son to recognize the importance of being thankful and the power of prayer, so we model for him. We don’t do it everyday, but every chance we get. The more we pray together, the more engaged our son gets. We don’t do a serious, long church prayer. We make it fun by saying a short, sweet rhyming prayer/blessing, usually God is Great. The key to engaging babies in prayer is holding their hands, swinging their arms, and making a big deal when finished by clapping, smiling and saying “yay, we said our prayers!” Do whatever you can to make it a positive, light experience and you will be on the road to a respectful, appreciative little being.

2. Bonding: I’m the first to admit that sitting down to eat together as a family is tough to organize, but when we do, magic happens. We talk, laugh, get frustrated (when baby throws food), problem solve, act silly, make sound effects and learn from one another. We bond and you will too! Instilling the importance of prayer and family meals together at a young age will carry over to ongoing family bonding as your little gets older. Make it a goal to sit down and eat along with your baby as much as possible. My heart melts every time we do this with our son.

3. Language: My favorite! Meal times are great times to incorporate expressive and receptive language. You can practice signing “more, milk, eat, all done, etc.” Babies will also play with their voices, making sounds or talking. It’s important to take turns vocalizing and talking back to babies. Ask babies to follow simple directions during meal times such as, “It’s time to pray, hold daddy’s hand,” “give mommy your milk,” “get your spoon” or “eat your banana.” Better yet, drink milk, use spoons and eat bananas together! Name everything on baby’s plate.

4. Demonstration: Babies learn by watching. This is how they learn to pray and encourages eating. When they see others praying and eating, they are likely to mimic these behaviors. This results in food in your baby’s belly- win, win!

5. Eating Habits: All babies know, is all they know! Getting in a routine of praying before eating helps to prepare babies for the next step, a yummy meal with their family. When babies know what’s happening next, they are more likely to be relaxed and sit down for longer than two minutes and complete their meal. Demonstrating good eating behaviors for babies helps them to develop a healthy, nutritional lifestyle. Providing healthy choices such as fresh veggies and fruits, lean meats, and whole grains gives babies the opportunity to learn how to eat healthy.

Engaging babies in prayers and dining etiquette early on builds the foundation for appreciation, respect and compliance during meal time experiences later on. When babies are engaged in prayers and mealtimes with others, they develop the cognitive skills of attention, listening, memory, problem solving and language. Yes, please! Babies learn by example, I challenge you to be the example you want a baby to be. You will be thankful you did!

Cheers to eating with babies! (Our son loves to cheers 😊)


What’s on the menu this week?!?! Veggies! Kicked up corn pudding to be exact. Corn pudding is one of my favorite dishes at Thanksgiving and my mother makes the best! So in the spirit of Thanksgiving this week, I thought I’d whip some up to share with my little bear. But of course, this mama couldn’t just leave it as is. I decided to add some extra vegetables to up the nutritional value and hopefully sneak some veggies into my son. Here’s what I came up with.

Ingredients: 2 eggs, 2 tbsp all-purpose flour, 2 tbsp sugar, 4 tbsp melted butter, 2 cups whole milk, 1 15 oz can creamed corn, 1/2 cup chopped carrots, 1/4 cup chopped red pepper, 1/2 cup sweet peas

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees, beat eggs then add sugar and flour.

2. Stir in melted butter and milk.


Babies typically begin understanding, identifying and naming some basic body parts around twelve to eighteen months of age. This is a wide age range, but all babies are different and will learn them at their own pace. Babies will certainly pick this information up quicker if we place focus on it and utilize teachable moments. I try to talk to my son about body parts daily. I point to and name them on everything I can find. Then I ask my son to point out body parts on himself, myself, his daddy, our dog, pictures in books and toys, anything I see that has basic body parts. Bath time, getting dressed, diapering, reading and playing are all great times to quickly review major body parts (eyes, ears, nose, mouth, hair, feet, hands, belly button). I’m always thinking of different ways I can incorporate them into our daily routines. I started thinking about what I could do that was related to Thanksgiving, but age appropriate for a young toddler. We’ve been reading Thanksgiving books with pictures and mentions of Pilgrims and Native Americans, so here’s what I came up with.

Pilgrim Face Toddler Activity

Materials: contact paper, tape, felt

1. First, I cut eyes, ears, nose, mouth, face and a hat out of felt (I cut them free hand, my husband said my Pilgrim looked more like Freddy Krueger- party pooper!)

2. Second, I taped the face to a solid surface (I used bandage adhesive tape because that’s all I could find, but painter’s tape works well to keep surfaces free from damage)

3. Next, I taped contact paper sticky side out over the face (I made the mistake of buying off-brand, cheap contact paper, which didn’t adhere good. I recommend spending a few extra dollars and buying higher quality if you tackle this activity)

4. After that, the magic began! I showed my son how to place the body part felt pieces on the face while naming each, then we placed the pieces together and now he does it by himself. Of course we talk about the body parts, touch them and make funny noises with them.

So you have your Pilgrim, now what?! Incorporate language into the activity!

  • Name the pieces and place them beside yours or your baby’s as you play together
  • Ask your baby to point to or show you the body parts (“where’s your nose?” “show me the Pilgrim’s eyes,” “where’s the Pilgrims mouth?”)
  • Follow simple directions- have baby put the pieces on, take them off and give them to you (“put the Pilgrim’s mouth on,” “take the Pilgrim’s eyes off,” “go get the Pilgrim’s hat”)
  • Tell your baby what the body parts do (“we smell with our nose,” “we hear with our ears”)
  • Practice saying “uh oh” or “oh no” when the pieces fall off
  • Sit eye level with your baby and name the body parts, encourage your baby to imitate the sounds or words
  • Make sound effects (snort with the nose, blow kisses with the mouth)
  • Just play and engage with your baby, put the pieces on you, baby or stuffed animals. Be silly.
  • Read a Thanksgiving book before or after playing with the Pilgrim face to build connections, have a look at my post Thanksgiving Books for Babies  for age appropriate books.

And there you have it! This was the best I could come up with to engage my fifteen month old son in a Thanksgiving activity. It turned out cute, was educational and fun. I may brave some hand and foot print turkeys this week if I feel adventurous, will keep you posted!


With Thanksgiving exactly a week away, it’s time to get my baby reading and learning about it. If you follow my blog, you know that I’m a big fan of themed activities and children’s literature. This stems from my days as an elementary school teacher. I loved having a themed based classroom. Themes created excitement, interest and curiosity in my classroom. They also promoted socialization and interaction outside of the school environment, because kiddos experienced the themes across settings.

Exposing babies to seasonal and themed activities and literature does the same. It allows them to make connections within their environments. When babies are out and about and see things that they have read about, they make connections and build on their cognitive skills. This is called book to self learning. Reading about a theme and then experiencing it creates associations, which allows babies to apply the information they have learned from reading.

So parents, I recommend heading over to the library and checking out some Thanksgiving books. Reading about Thanksgiving will give your little a better understanding of what this coming week has ahead for them. And, it will give you lots of things to talk about with your baby. Unfortunately, the library may have slim pickings and Thanksgiving books are very hard to find in department stores these days. Straight crazy….kids need to learn about being thankful, wtf?!?! I couldn’t find any board books in stores, so I ordered ours from Amazon. Luckily, I have a few age-appropriate books in my teaching collection as well.

Below are my one year old son’s favorite Thanksgiving books. I display them so that he has easy access to them at all times. I switch his books out with the various themes/holidays.

The First Thanksgiving by Nancy Davis: Cute lift-the-flap board book with simple text and fun, colorful pictures. My son loves lifting the flaps and naming what’s under them such as fish, corn and turkeys. It briefly touches on the Pilgrims sailing to America and feasting with the Native Americans.

My First Thanksgiving by Tomie dePaola: I love this author’s watercolor illustrations. This board book touches on Thanksgiving festivities from the Pilgrims feasting with their friends, hand print turkeys, preparing foods and being thankful. It’s a simple, easy read great for a busy baby.

Turkey Time! by Price Stern Sloan: Fun board book with catchy rhyming text and lots of opportunities to say “Mmmm!” It reviews the yummy foods of Thanksgiving being prepared for the big feast. My son brings this book to me.

My Thanksgiving Prayer by Crystal Bowman: I love this book because it’s all about prayer and giving thanks, which is a focus for our family right now. We are working to include our son in prayers and blessings. It’s a board book with colorful and attractive illustrations. It has lots of opportunities to name pictures and develop vocabulary and the rhyming text keeps things fun. It has short, simple text making it a quick and easy read for littles with brief attention spans.

Thanksgiving Is For Giving Thanks by Margaret Sutherland: This is a paperback book but I like it because it talks about being thankful and appreciative of everyday things, which littles can relate to. It has bright, cheery illustrations that lend to discussion. My son likes to point out the balls, balloons and animals. It has one short sentence per page, which makes it an easy read for toddlers to sit through.

These are all good, age-appropriate books for babies and toddlers. I hope you are able to sit down with a little and read a Thanksgiving book this holiday. Reading aloud to babies has unlimited benefits.  Do any turkey day books tickle your little’s fancy?! Please share!

Cheers to reading with babies and being THANKFUL,

Note: These books were purchased by me solely. I did not receive any discounts or free products for my review of these books. The links embedded in this post will take you directly to Amazon for which I am an affiliate. If you make a purchase through one of those links, I may make a small commission at no cost to you. The links that I add to my blog are based on my personal thoughts and opinion. I share them because it is something I personally find useful and recommend.


In my baby’s first year of life I was diligent about keeping up with developmental milestones. I often referred to them to come up with suitable activities to do with my son to support his skill development. Now that he’s over-the-hill (fourteen months old), milestones just seem to blur together. However, it’s still a good idea to know what’s expected during various stages of life to recognize differences, similarities and provide appropriate support. I took a look at typical language developmental milestones during the 12-18 months age range to help me plan activities with my son and share with anyone else that has the pleasure of spending time with a little this age. I put together this list of tips to support language skill development during this crucial time period when babies are learning a great deal about communication. Give these do’s a try, skip the don’ts and your little will be talking your ear off in no time.

Do: Load babies up with language, they are soaking it all in. Babies first words are typically nouns so name everything around you. Add a sound effect to give it extra zing! Don’t: Go places with your baby and not talk to them. There’s lots of learning to be done in the car, grocery store, bank, restaurants. Wherever you may be, talk about your surroundings
Do: Encourage your baby to say and/or wave hi and bye when greeting and leaving others. Greetings develop social language skills. Don’t: Say hellos and goodbyes without encouraging your baby to do so as well.
Do: Set aside a minute each day to touch and name basic body parts (eyes, ears, nose, mouth, belly button, hands, feet). Show baby, then have baby show you. Don’t: Let a day go by without talking about basic body parts. Bath time is a good time to do this! Babies typically begin pointing to major body parts when named during this age.
Do: Listen whole heartedly when your baby is talking to you though you have no idea what they are saying. When they stop, talk back to them in a conversational fashion using the context of the environment to guide you. Don’t: Ignore your baby and go about your business. It’s very important to acknowledge your child’s efforts at communicating by responding back to them. This develops the foundation for the back and forth flow of conversation.
Do: Read to your baby EVERYDAY. Point out and name pictures in books and encourage baby to point to pictures too. Ask baby simple wh-questions such as “Where’s the ball?” or “What’s that?” Don’t: Read just the print. Make sure to talk about and point out the pictures in books. Babies at this age typically begin pointing to familiar pictures/objects when named.
Do: Ask your baby to follow simple directions such as “Give me high-5,” “Get your ball,” “Put your cup on the table” and “Put the block in.” Don’t: Do everything for baby. It’s important for babies to do things themselves. It develops independence and language skills.


Try this at home Tuesday: Go “up and down” with a baby!

As babies begin using their first words, they are building an understanding of how expressive communication works to help them get their wants and needs met. When those first words start coming out, I like to place heavy focus on what I call “power words.” “Power words” are words that effectively communicate babies wants and needs. For example, “milk” is a “power word” in my baby’s world. When he signs and says “milk” I know exactly what he is requesting. However, if he signed and said “please” I wouldn’t know what he was trying to tell me. This can result in communication breakdowns and an upset baby.  So, I’m all about focusing on “power words” with my son and the kiddos I work with to improve communication.

Up and down are powerful words for a baby. Understanding what these words mean and then being able to say them opens up lots of opportunities for communicating. You first want to start by teaching babies the concept of up and down. I recommend doing this right from the very beginning by always telling your baby when you are going to pick them up or lay them down BEFORE doing it. I also suggest saying “up, up, up” and “down, down, down” EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. you go up and down stairs with babies. You can emphasize these words when swinging your baby by saying, “swing up, swing down.” I integrate these words when playing with blocks and stacking cups by saying “up, up, up” as I stack and then “fall down” when the tower falls. Singing and acting out “The Wheels on The Bus” and exaggerating the kids on the bus going up and down is another good way. Putting the windows up and down in the car gets my little talking. In doing this, you are laying the foundation for those spoken words to come out! It’s been awhile since I’ve shared any of my ridiculously amateur videos and I apologize in advance, but have a look at what I’m trying to put into words!

My baby has a pretty good understanding of up and down, now what?!?!

Now comes the beauty of putting it into words by encouraging your baby to say “up” and “down.” A great time to start working on this is when your baby starts coming to you, getting under your feet, pulling at your pants leg and wanting you to pick them up. In my case, my son was around 13 months old. Instead of picking babies up immediately, you want them to attempt communication with you. They will most likely start by raising their arms up. This is great! They are communicating using gestures and we want to reward this by picking them up. You can help foster use of this gesture by extending your arms out to show baby along with saying “up, you want up” before picking them up. A good time to do this is before picking your baby up out of their crib. Encourage them to communicate “up” by you saying “ready to go up?” and holding your arms out. Give your baby time to gesture or repeat the word after you before picking them up (try this only if your baby wakes up in a good mood, otherwise say “time to go up, up, up”).

Babies do lots of whining. This is how they first learn to communicate and is essentially all they know. We have to show them a better way to communicate. My son still whines occasionally while grabbing at my legs for me to pick him up. I look at him in the eyes and say, “Fisher, what do you want?” Then I pause and wait for him to communicate in some way other than crying before I pick him up. If he doesn’t and most babies won’t initially, then I say “you want up, tell mommy up.” After lots of practice and demonstrations, my son now says “up” consistently. Below is a short video example of me encouraging my son to use his words to tell me what he wants.

The same goes for “down.” When you are holding babies and they start squirming to get down, you want to go for some attempt at communication before letting them down. I hold on to my son and say, “do you want down, tell mommy down.” My son says “down” now, but before he did I would say “you want down, mommy put you down.” You can also ask babies, “do you want up or down?” Giving babies two choices sets them up to communicate with you.

Babies develop language by understanding concepts. We must expose them to various concepts and talk to them about what is happening. Once they have a good understanding of the concept, then they can begin practicing their expressive language skills. In this case, by naming (swing, stairs, blocks) and verbalizing actions (up/down) within the activity. Babies love to go up and down and often need to communicate this act. Teaching them how to communicate it is key, so I like to begin work with these two “power words” early on. I challenge you to go “up and down” with a baby. Let me know how it goes!