Are you worried your toddler may have a speech delay? Are you struggling with how to incorporate speech therapy at home? I am going to share how to work on speech therapy with your toddler while at home using a very simple toy that most people have in their homes already! I’m willing to bet that if you ask any Speech Language Pathologist (SLP) what they always have in their bag of tricks, their answer would be “bubbles”. Bubbles are so simple, yet they can be used in so many ways to model and elicit language. Also, what kid doesn’t LOVE bubbles!? Bubbles are probably in most households and are a great way to work on speech therapy at home.
An important part of what SLP’s do as part of speech therapy with toddlers is to create multiple opportunities for the child to communicate. For example, if the child looks at the toy/item and you give it to them immediately, they don’t have an opportunity to communicate. The child also needs to be motivated to communicate. Since most toddlers love bubbles, it gives them the motivation and a reason to communicate with you. One of the most common ways SLP’s create multiple opportunities to communicate is by closing the bubble container each time they blow bubbles.
SLP’s typically follow a hierarchy when working on communication (physical, modeling, visual cues, gesturing and verbal). For the purpose of this blog post we are going to assume the child is not yet using verbal speech and is working on using the sign “more”. First you need to provide hand over hand (physical) prompts. Hand over hand prompting is when you take their hands and make the sign. Once you make the sign with their hands, immediately provide them with bubbles to reinforce them using the sign “more”. After you have done this a few times, you can model the sign yourself and prompt them to imitate you. If your child is standing in front of you wanting bubbles, you say “more” and do the sign at the same time and then immediately open the bubbles and make them. If you try this a few times and they are not attempting to imitate the sign, you can add in physical prompting again. After you have done this for a while, when they come back for bubbles, wait/pause. Ask them questions that they can answer with the sign you are working on, for example if you are working on “more” you can ask “what do you want?”. If you are working on “open” you can ask “What should I do?”. Don’t wait too long as you don’t want them to become frustrated. Wait just long enough to let them know you expect something (this is also called an “expectant pause”). If they don’t do it within a few seconds, say it verbally, model and use hand over hand prompting (or whichever form of prompt is needed). Once they are using the sign or word independently you can verbally prompt them to use the sign or point to the bubbles to gesture that you want them to communicate with you. Once they are doing this independently, try adding a second sign or word using the same process as you did with the single sign/word, for example, “more please” or “more bubbles”.
By closing the bubbles each time, you create more opportunities for the child to communicate with you. When the bubbles have been popped and the child wants more, they are then motivated and given the opportunity to request them. The key in this entire process is to blow more bubbles directly after they request them so that they can attach meaning to what they communicated and understand the cause and effect of “communication = action”. If they sign “more” and you get up and go to the bathroom before giving them more bubbles, they will not understand that doing the sign “more” results in more bubbles. If you give them the bubbles immediately after they do the sign, then they will begin to understand that when they do that action, another is completed (bubbles).
One thing to keep in mind when you are working on speech and language at home is to not frustrate the child. Switch it up between modeling and expecting them to communicate. Use the prompt hierarchy (you can download it here) to support the child where they are at. If they are not initiating communication with a model, then drop down to the physical prompt and provide more support. If they are not needing the model, skip ahead to the visual or gestural cue. While bubbles are a great way to work on speech and language skills at home, they are supposed to be fun! Don’t make it feel like work all the time. Don’t expect them to request every single time because if they become too frustrated then they won’t want to play with bubbles at all and you’ve lost any opportunity to work on speech and language. Keep the activity fun and rewarding! It you have to provide a physical prompt throughout the activity, your child is still being exposed to appropriate use of communication which is important for them to learn how to communicate.
Another way to work on speech and language skills at home with bubbles is to narrate what is happening. Once you blow the bubbles, talk about them. When you pop them say “pop” or “pop bubble”! Label your actions and what you’re doing so your child can hear the language associated with blowing bubbles. Every routine and activity has specific language that goes with it. For bubbles it is “open, bubbles, pop, blow, more, big” etc. If your child is already using one word, add a word to it. If they are saying “bubble, bubble” over and over, then you should say “big bubble” or “small bubble” or “pop bubble” so they can hear the word being used in a variety of ways and in conjunction with others.
If you would like a simple visual of the hierarchy I mentioned in this blog post, you can download it here.
Welcome! My name is Ashley Maturo and I am a licensed Speech Language Pathologist. I own a private practice and work with children with a variety of speech and language delays and disorders. I also create digital resources for Speech Language Pathologists!