Speech Therapy for Preschoolers: Enhancing Communication Skills Through Play

speech therapy for preschoolers

If your preschooler’s speech and language skills are delayed, you might be wondering…what are the most effective ways to help them improve?

The answer? Play!

Engaging, interactive speech therapy games and activities can improve a child’s communication skills. Not only are motivating activities fun for preschoolers, but studies have proven that play lays a foundation for learning.

During speech therapy for preschoolers, therapists use specialized strategies while playing certain activities. These activities help maintain a child’s attention, encourage them to be more receptive to learning new skills, and motivate them to practice these skills repeatedly.

Techniques and Activities Used in Speech Therapy for Preschoolers

The specific techniques used in Speech Therapy for preschoolers depend on what skill the child needs to improve on. These are some areas commonly targeted in therapy and strategies that are used to improve them:

Increasing Vocabulary

A child’s vocabulary is an important part of their language development. Vocabulary size predicts later school achievement and reading abilities.

  • Give choices instead of asking yes or no questions. For example, asking “do you want milk or juice?” or “should we color with green or blue?” will encourage your child to say a variety of words like “milk” and “blue” instead of just “yes” or “no”.
  • Use simplified speech. Instead of saying long sentences while interacting with your child, shorten what you say. That way, he or she can more easily imitate the words or phrases. For example, instead of saying “Wow look at how high the tower of blocks is now!”, simply say “This is a big tower!”
  • Fill in the blank. Sing familiar songs or say familiar phrases. Pause at different parts and look expectantly at your child so he or she will fill in the blank. For example: While playing with toy cars, say “ready, set…” and wait for your child to say “go!”. Or, sing “The wheels on the bus go…” and pause, waiting for your child to fill in the blank with “round and round.
  • Name & describe things around you while taking a walk, driving, or reading a book.
  • Follow your child’s lead. Comment on what he/she seems interested in.

Building Sentences

  • Expand on child’s word. Add 1-3 more words onto what he or she says. For example, if your child says “car!” you would say something back like “fast red car!” or “I see the car!”.
  • Modeling. Say simple phrases out loud during play, like “more bubbles”, repeatedly. This provides your child with an example of phrases or sentences they can use.
  • Self talk. Narrate out loud what is happening around you, using sentences. For example, “I’m eating cereal for breakfast” or “It’s sunny outside!”.

Spatial Concepts

  • Teach before testing. Show your child what words like next to, behind, and under mean.
  • Fade cues. Start by pointing to help your child, then wait before doing this.

Following Directions & Sequencing

  • Use gestures. Point to or show what you are asking the child to do.
  • Repeat directions. If your child seems confused, encourage him or her to ask, “can you say that again?”
  • Teach key words (first, next, last). Talk about what each of these words mean. For example, tell your child “first put on your socks. That means it’s what you do in the beginning. Then put on your shoes. That means shoes come next.”
  • Show stories through pictures. Ask your child to retell you a story after reading it together. Ask your child “what happened first?”. Then help him or her look back at pictures to remind themselves.

Answering Questions

  • Use visual cues. Print pictures online showing what different WH questions ask. For example, showing “where” questions with a picture of different places. If you ask your child “where did we go this morning?” and he or she doesn’t understand how to answer, show your child the picture cue and remind them that “where” means “a place”.
  • Work through a hierarchy. Answering “what” questions is easier than answering “why” questions. Start with concrete questions about things that are in front of your child, then begin asking more abstract questions. For example, “Where are we now?” before “Where are we going next week?”

Asking Questions

  • Parallel talk. Ask questions out loud that match what your child might be thinking. For example, if you see your child watching a squirrel digging in the grass, ask out loud “what is he looking for?”. This provides your child with an example of how to ask a question.

Articulation and Phonological Awareness

  • Encourage your child to look in a mirror while practicing a certain sound. This provides visual feedback – the child can better visualize how he or she is moving the muscles in their mouth to say a sound.
  • Verbal cues. Tell your child how you make a sound. For example: “To make the S sound, put your front teeth almost together and then blow air through the middle of your mouth.”
  • Touch cues. On your child’s mouth or your own mouth, touch where a sound is made, such as lips, throat, or tongue. If you are showing your child how to make the “K” sound, tap lightly on your throat to show that is where the sound comes from.

What’s great is that parents can use any of these strategies at home during daily routines and play with their preschooler to encourage his or her speech and language skills.

Speech Therapy Games and Activities for Preschoolers to Practice during Daily Routines

Try incorporating these strategies into daily routines with your preschooler in ways like these:

Bath time

Give your child choices in what toy to play with in the bath. Use descriptive words during self-talk, like wet, dry, dirty, and clean. Pretend to forget the steps involved and ask your child to help you. “First, plug the drain. Then turn on the water. Add the soap. Get in and wash. Get out and dry off”. This can help grow your child’s vocabulary. It’s also a great way to develop his or her ability to sequence and follow multistep directions.

Snack time

Parallel talk: model how to ask questions out loud: “What should we eat for a snack today?”. Ask questions to your child to answer, like “Where do we put the peanut butter?” and “What do we use to spread it on the bread?”. This can help boost your child’s expressive and receptive language skills by developing their ability to ask and answer questions.

Getting dressed

Give choices in clothing, then model sentences your child can use to ask for them (like, “I want the pink dress”). Ask where different clothing items go. By doing this, you can increase your child’s vocabulary, encourage him or her to communicate using full sentences, and help with their ability to answer “WH” questions.

Fun and Engaging Speech Therapy Games for Preschoolers

Parents can also improve their preschooler’s speech and language skills by using specialized techniques while playing fun, engaging language-building games with them.

Board Games

Preschoolers are just now old enough to play some really fun, engaging board games! Have some ready at home that your child can pick from, like Chutes and Ladders, CandyLand, and others. Board games can improve your child’s speech and language skills by keeping them engaged and motivated while you use specialized techniques to work on growing those skills. For example:

  • Build sentences. Explain that when you each take a turn, you are going to make a sentence to talk about what you get. For example, in CandyLand, you’d say “I got 2 red squares.”
  • Spatial concepts. Focus on using words like in, under, next to, etc as you play. Point to show what these words mean as you say them. (Example: put your card next to the other pile).

Read Stories

Pause at different parts of a book and ask your preschooler WH questions, such as “Where is the dog?”. Describe emotions and ask your child how he or she thinks different characters feel. Ask your preschooler to retell you or another family member the story after finishing it.

To work on articulation, choose a story that has several words with a sound your child struggles to pronounce. Use touch cues and visual cues (like a mirror) as you encourage your child to practice repeating some of the words.

Simon Says

Start with 2-step directions, like Simon says, touch your head and then jump. Give visual cues like pointing to help. Build up to more complex directions containing other concepts, like Simon says go to your room, get your shoes, and put them next to the stairs. This is a fun way to improve your child’s comprehension. These skills can carry over to help him or her participate within a classroom at school. For example, there they might be asked “take out your pencil and write your name on the paper.”


Creative Speech Therapy Activities for Preschoolers

Parents can use creative activities at home to help boost their preschooler’s speech and language skills. Most often, when a child’s senses are engaged and they are doing something fun with a caregiver, they are more attentive and receptive to learning new skills. That’s why it’s best for parents to incorporate speech and language strategies into these activities.

DIY Sensory Bin

Fill an empty container with dried beans or rice. Add different toys and household items. Take turns feeling around and describing what you feel, without looking. Then use sentences to guess what the object is (for example, “I found a squishy ball!”). Ask your child to name what you do with the object. This can help grow your child’s vocabulary and encourage him or her to form whole sentences when speaking.

Sing Songs & Pause

Sing some of your child’s favorite songs, bringing out stuffed animals, puppets, and musical instruments to join in the fun. Ask your child to follow directions with spatial concepts to set it all up (put the bear on top of the drums). To encourage him or her to form sentences, pause during parts of the song and ask your child to fill in the blank by singing the rest. Through this, you can develop your child’s comprehension and their ability to combine words.

Cook in the Kitchen

Motivate your child while fueling their growing independence by involving them as you make something simple like cookies or cupcakes. Use simple speech to name the ingredients. Ask your preschooler to help separate them into categories (whisks and spoons with utensils, milk and oil with the liquids.) Give your child multistep directions, such as “pour this in and then stir.” Categorizing activities like these help children understand the relationships between words and increase their vocabulary.

Signs and Symptoms of Speech and Language Issues in Preschoolers

Parents can recognize possible speech and language delays in their child by tracking how he or she is meeting developmental milestones.

Signs and symptoms of speech and language issues in preschoolers include:

Receptive Language Difficulties (Trouble Understanding)

Receptive language is the ability to understand and comprehend words that you hear. Children can have trouble with specific skills such as:

  • Difficulty answering WH or yes/no questions
  • Trouble following directions that have several steps
  • Unable to identify (point to/get) objects or pictures someone names
  • Reduced understanding of age-appropriate concepts (categories, spatial concepts)

Expressive Language Difficulties (Difficulty Communicating by Talking)

Expressive language is the how a child communicates with others. A child with expressive language difficulties might have trouble with skills such as:

  • Trouble using sentences by putting words together
  • Difficulty asking questions
  • Reduced ability to naming pictures or objects
  • Trouble retelling an event or story
  • Not using pronouns appropriately (such as he, she, her, his)

Articulation Delays (Difficulty Pronouncing Sounds)

Articulation is how we pronounce sounds and words. A child with an articulation delay might have speech that is hard to understand. Specifically, children can show signs of an articulation delay that include:

  • Decreased Intelligibility (90% of a child’s speech should be able to be understood by a stranger by age 4
  • Trouble pronouncing sounds expected for their age (by 4 years old, your child should be able to articulate the following sounds: y, v, m, n, h, w, b, p, t, d, k, g.

Social/Pragmatic Challenges

Some children have difficulty with the social use of language or trouble interacting appropriately with others. A child with social/pragmatic difficulties might show some the following signs:

  • Difficulties taking turns
  • Trouble starting conversations or keeping them going
  • Not responding appropriately to others’ nonverbal communication, like gestures and facial expressions
  • Difficulty making friends

Benefits of Speech Therapy for Preschoolers

Speech therapy can be highly effective at improving a preschooler’s speech and language skills such as:

Improved Articulation and Intelligibility

 A Speech Language Pathologist (SLP) can improve a child’s ability to correctly pronounce sounds that are expected to have developed by their age. This can increase their intelligibility, so others at school and home can better understand their speech.

Enhanced Language Skills and Increased Vocabulary

A child’s vocabulary in preschool has been found to be a strong predictor of their later academic skills (such as math) in Kindergarten. Speech therapy can help improve a preschooler’s vocabulary to an age-appropriate level.

In therapy, preschoolers can improve their ability to communicate with others by learning to speak in sentences, use appropriate grammar, and improve their understanding of what others say to them.

Stronger Social Skills

Preschoolers can develop social skills like turn-taking, having conversations, and increased confidence in communication through participating in Speech Therapy. Preschool is known as a crucial age for social skill development.

Smoother Transition into Academic Settings

In Speech Therapy, children develop social skills and language skills that can prepare them for participating in an academic setting such as a preschool classroom. While participating in therapy activities, children often learn to sit at a table, maintain attention to an activity, take turns, and listen to directions.

Using Forbrain in Preschool Speech Therapy Activities

Parents can use technology and innovative Speech Therapy tools at home to work on improving their preschooler’s speech and language skills.

Forbrain is an auditory stimulation headset that uses a dynamic filter to modulate the sound of your voice, analyze and enhance it, and immediately transmit the sounds back to you. Forbrain is designed to retrain the brain’s auditory feedback loop to encourage clearer speech, increased attention, and boost confidence when communicating.

Forbrain can be used as a tool at home to complement the techniques used during Speech Therapy sessions. For example, it can be used while a child:

  • Practices articulating sounds while looking in the mirror.
  • Reads a book with a parent and names pictures in it.
  • Plays a board game like Candyland, using a sentence to say what color he or she got (ex: “I got red”).

The Role of Parents in Supporting Speech Therapy for Preschoolers

“Parents are a child’s first and most important teacher.” This saying is so true, and when it comes to improving a child’s speech and language skills, parents really do have an essential role.

You can help your child achieve therapy goals faster in ways like these:

  • Actively participating during Speech Therapy sessions
  • Implementing speech and language exercises and activities into daily routines
  • Reinforcing therapy goals and strategies outside of sessions
  • Collaborating with your child’s Speech Therapist for consistent progress

According to the American Speech Language-Hearing Association (ASHA), increased parent engagement is linked to gains in a child’s development.

FAQs about Speech Therapy for Preschoolers

Here are some expert answers to common questions about Speech Therapy for Preschoolers:

How Long Should A Child Be In Speech Therapy?

Some children just need a few months of Speech Therapy, while other may benefit from years of therapy. When a child starts early and parents use Speech Therapy strategies at home, he or she might not need therapy as long.

When Should A Child Start Speech Therapy?

The earlier the better! A child’s brain has increased plasticity, and is very receptive to learning new skills, especially during their first 8 years.

How Effective Is Speech Therapy For Preschoolers?

It can be very effective. According to research, Speech Therapy for children with speech and language delays over a 6 month period can lead to significant improvements, and is proven to be more effective than no therapy over the same period of time.

How Can I Help My 3-Year-Old With Speech Therapy At Home?

To help your 3-year-old with speech therapy at home, boost your child’s vocabulary by offering him or her choices instead of asking yes/no questions (i.e., “do you want milk or juice” rather than, “do you want milk?”). Encourage your child to use at least 3-word phrases by modeling them during play and daily routines. For example, take turns saying “I spy…” while on a walk. Improve your child’s comprehension by asking him or her to point to different pictures you name while reading a book.

Can A 4-Year-Old With A Speech Delay Catch Up?

For a child who is 4 years-old, Speech Therapy is still considered by some as early intervention, which is known to be effective at improving a child’s skills.

Should I Worry If My 4-Year-Old Isn’t Talking?

This would be a cause for concern, and Speech Therapy would be recommended. Speech and language milestones at 4 years old include skills such as: speaking in sentences, telling stories, participating in conversations, understanding directions with several steps, and pronouncing several sounds clearly so others who are less familiar can still understand his or her speech.

What are Some Ways to Make Speech Therapy Fun for Preschoolers?

Using specialized strategies while engaging in play with your child and some of his or her favorite toys, and while playing motivating games can keep Speech Therapy sessions and home practice fun! Use lots of positive reinforcement and praise your child for all of their hard work to encourage them to keep practicing.

What tools are available for preschool Speech Therapy?

Tools that can be used for preschoolers in Speech Therapy and complimentary at home include mirrors (to visualize how different speech sounds are made with the mouth), oral motor tools (designed to provide sensory input and/or strengthen oral muscles used for speech), and online activities through sites like TeachersPayTeachers and Boom Learning. Forbrain, an auditory stimulation headset is another tool that can be used at home to complement Speech Therapy.


Final Words

If you have concerns about your preschooler’s speech and language development, one of the best things you can do to help is talk to your child’s Pediatrician and ask for a referral for a Speech Therapy Evaluation.

Starting Speech Therapy early can have a lifelong impact on a preschooler’s life by improving their future academic and social skills. And by using effective strategies and tools during home practice with motivating preschool speech therapy activities, you can help accelerate your child’s progress even more.


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Amy Yacoub

Amy Yacoub, MS, CCC-SLP is a Speech-Language Pathologist. She has over 12 years of experience working with children who have a variety of diagnoses and disorders, including speech and language delays, Childhood Apraxia of Speech, and Autism. She is also an experienced consultant within the field.