Social Games for Babies and Toddlers

I have received lots of questions lately from mothers of babies who have older siblings with language problems.  They are so concerned about providing the “right” kinds of early activities to target language in their infants and younger babies, hoping to “head off” the difficulties their older children experienced. This is a valid concern for these parents. Late talking and other language difficulties do seem to “run in the family” for some of us.

The best thing you can do to teach your baby language is to talk directly to him. It’s never “too early” to talk to your baby. I remember working with a woman in an office when I was fresh out of college, but waiting to go to grad school. She knew that my educational background “had something to do with teaching kids to talk,” (her words), so she asked me how and when I thought she should start teaching her daughter to talk. I made lots of general comments about talking to her daughter all day long during activities, reading to her, singing songs to her with hand motions, and I was just about to launch into a tirade about the benefits of signing (all new research then), when I noticed the shocked look on her face. I asked her what was wrong, and she said, “My daughter is only 14 months old. Do you think she’s ready for that?”

If you’ve read any of my previous posts, you know that I wanted to scream, “Are you kidding me? Fourteen months old and you’re just now concerned about language? Good grief lady, where have you been? What have you been doing for the previous fourteen months of her life?” But of course I didn’t.  I managed to say, “Yes, she’s ready,” in as nice a tone as I could muster and then continue to suggest things she should (and should have already been doing) to facilitate her daughter’s language skills.

All joking aside, (Sadly this was a true story, so it’s really not a joke), the most important thing you can do to teach your baby to talk is to teach him to understand words. Many children whose parents think they are “just late talkers” also have difficulty understanding what’s said to them. The truth is that children who don’t understand very much aren’t going to say very much.

I have been reading parents’ message boards for speech-language delays and other developmental issues on several different websites. So many of them focus on their children’s language concerns as purely “expressive” issues, meaning that their children aren’t saying as much as their peers. When you read on about their individual children’s stories, many of them report “receptive” issues too, or difficulty understanding language. Sometimes they report that the receptive delays are greater than the expressive delays. This is a big, big problem.

Let me repeat that again for those of you who need extra clarification. This is a huge problem. In typically developing language, children understand more than they can say. If your child’s receptive skills are lower than his expressive skills, this is “atypical” development.  You need to work hard on helping your child learn not only how to talk, but more importantly, how to understand what’s said to him. For more ideas for this, see the post, “Improving Receptive Language Skills.”

Now that I’ve finished today’s rant, here’s the down and dirty list of activities to do at home to work on language with infants and young toddlers:

1. Talk directly to him about what’s going on around him. Especially talk about what he’s paying attention to at the moment. Name people, objects, actions, and pictures in books frequently. Give him specific words to “link” to activities. Sometimes parents of think that they are doing a fine job of talking to their children when there could be a problem with HOW they are talking. I’ll give you an example to illustrate this point. I am working with a great set of parents right now who have been blessed with a set of triplets, all boys. Mom and dad both work outside the home, and they have a wonderful new nanny. These parents by natures are both very nurturing and both have quirky senses of humor. Consequently, when they come home or anytime they interact with their children, they spend lots of time greeting their children, “Hi guys,” and nurturing them, “I really missed you today. Did you miss Mommy too? I’m so glad to see you this afternoon.” Then the parents start talking to each other saying funny comments. “Wow – look at him! What happened to him today? What’s that facial expression about?” Even though technically the boys are hearing lots of words, it’s not kind of language they can learn from.

2. Play lots of social games. Games I make sure I remind parents to play include –

Peek-a-booFor those of you who need a tutorial, cover your baby’s face with a blanket.  Ask, “Where’s (baby’s name)?” Call him several times since this builds anticipation. Then jerk the blanket off with a big gesture and say, “Boo!” I specifically say, “boo,” rather than “peek-a-boo,” “pee-pie,” or even, “There he is,” because “boo” is a word your baby will more likely be able to say back rather than the other versions. I’m always planning ahead to make sure that I am teaching an eventual response so that the baby can join in verbally.

What you want to look for is that your baby is “learning” the game. For example, at first we want to see him look at you and smile and laugh when you take the blanket off his head. If he won’t laugh, try a tickle or jiggle to get him going.  After playing this game for a while, we want to see him start to kick or move under the blanket and start to giggle in anticipation that you are going to surprise him by taking the blanket off. Then we want to see him try to participate by taking the blanket off his own head because he “knows” this comes next. Then we want to see him try to cover his own head when you give him the blanket.

An indication that he’s really “learned” the game comes when we see him initiating the game with you by reaching out on his own to get a blanket, getting your attention with a giggle or squeal to let you know he wants to play, and then performing all of the covering/uncovering by himself. Saying “boo” might not come for months, but if he’s doing all of the prerequisites, we know he’s understanding the routine, with or without the word.

So Big. This game begins when parents ask, “How big is (baby’s name)?” Then mom or dad should answer, “Sooooo big” while holding both arms up over their heads. If your baby isn’t watching or trying to imitate holding his arms up, help him do this. Repeat this cycle for 5 or 6 times before moving on to a new game. Babies and toddlers need repetition to learn. When a baby has truly learned this game, he holds his arms up, grins, and looks at his parents to say the words for him.

PattyCake. This classic has so many different ways you can play. I say, “Patty cake, patty cake, baker’s man. Bake me a cake as fast as you can. Pat it out. Roll it up. Throw it in the pan.” I clap to the rhythm of the words during the patty cake and bake lines, clap fast on the “pat it out,” line, roll my hands in a circle on “roll it up,” and then throw my hands in the air for, “Throw it in the pan.” Help your baby do the motions until you’ve done it for several days or weeks, but stop helping when she begins to start to clap by herself.

Row Your Boat. Sit down on the floor with your legs outstretched in front of you and place your baby on your legs.  Hold your baby’s hands and row back and forward as you sing, “Row, row, row your boat, gently down the stream.  Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily, life is but a dream.” I sing a cute second verse with better hand motions. “Row, row, row your boat, gently down the stream. If you see an alligator, close your eyes and scream.” On the “alligator” line, let go of your baby’s hands and make a big alligator mouth by opening and closing your outstretched arms/hands. Cover your eyes for, “Close your eyes.” After you sing, “Scream,” SCREAM! Toddlers love this one! After you’ve played this one for a while, help your child participate and then initiate this game with you by putting him on lap and then asking what he wants to play. Don’t immediately offer your hands to “Row.” Many kids initiate this with me by reaching down and grabbing both of my hands and starting to rock back and forth.  Also help start the hand motions for the second stanza, but let her do it on her own as soon as she can.  Don’t forget to encourage the “scream” at the end. Many kids will imitate this when they can’t yet imitate a word.

Ride Little Horsie– Another game for sitting on the floor with your baby seated on your outstretched legs.  Hold his hands, bounce him up and down on your legs, and sing, “Ride a little horsie to town. Watch out (name), don’t fall down.” On down, spread your legs so that he falls to the floor. When he’s learning this one, pause and exaggerate, “Dooooon’tt faaall” before you say “down” so he begins to anticipate the falling gag. When a toddler has learned this one, I have him say, “down” or even look down before I will let him fall. Kids can initiate this one by grabbing your hands and bouncing or asking for “horsie.”

I have kids pick between “Row Row” and “Horsie” once they’ve learned them and like them both.

Here Come the Tickle Fingers – For this game, I lean way back so it looks like I’m getting closer with every word.  I wiggle my fingers and pause between every word to build anticipation as I lean forward closer and closer.  Then I say, “Tickle, tickle, tickle” as I tickle them.  Kids “ask” for this game by either grabbing their bellies and giggling like I’m going to tickle them or by wiggling their fingers toward me. When kids can talk, I wait for them to say the “tickle” part before I do it.  Don’t forget to do lots of repetitions so she “learns” the game.

1, 2, 3, UP or JUMP! –For babies who can stand but not walk, I stand them on my lap and hold them under their arms counting, “1, 2, 3” and then lift them into the air on “up.”  Hold their faces down to yours while they are still in the air and laugh/kiss them. When they’re too heavy for me to lift over and over again, or if they like to jump, I do this version. Be creative. Sometimes I hold their hands and let them jump off a chair or couch to me this way. Don’t forget to pause and build excitement.  Let them fill-in-the-blanks when they can say the words. Pause to give them a chance to finish after you count, “1, 2, ___.”

Up/Down – Hold a child on the floor on your outstretched legs again. Lift up your knees saying, “Up,” and then lower them down to the floor saying, “Down.” Lots of times I repeat “Up, up, up, up, up” on the way up and then “Down, down, down, down, down.” Pause and wait for them to say, “up” or “down” once they have learned the game.

I’m Gonna Get ‘cha, Get’cha, Get’cha – I use this with runners who like to be chased. When they are far enough away from me, I exaggerate taking giant steps walking toward them with big arm motions and slowly saying, “I’m ,g o n n a ,” and then I run toward them and grab them on the get’cha, get’cha, get’cha part. Kids who start to initiate this will look at me with twinkly eyes, start to run, and then turn around to see if I’m going to follow them and start the game.

Sing songs with hand motions. My favorite ones are:

Itsy, Bitsy Spider

Wheels on the Bus

Open Shut Them

Head Shoulders Knees and Toes

If You’re Happy and You Know It

Ring Around the Rosies

Skinamarinky Dinky Dink

If you don’t know to remember the words or motions to these classics, you can find them in my book Teach Me To Play WITH You. More importantly, you’ll get a list of GOALS to help you walk through the games so you know you’re TEACHING a child how to play the game, how to interact with you, how to link meaning with words, and how to “do his part” during the game – all very important foundational skills for talking. So important in fact, that I can confidently say…  NO CHILD LEARNS TO TALK UNTIL HE’S MASTERED THESE SKILLS.

The good news is…. when you help a child learn these things, language develops and a child learns to communicate!! No matter what age or developmental level your late talker is, these games help… I promise!

What are you waiting for???

Happy playing!


Posted in , , ,


Sign Up for your
Free Book



Subscribe to the Podcast in iTunes

Browse Products

Featured Product

Recent Posts

Teach Me To Talk Testimonials

Happy Therapists, Teachers, Parents & Children

"Hello Miss Laura,

First, I would like to thank you for all you do for us moms who are lacking support in the autism community, and thank you for providing tons of information and resources to help our bright children. I myself benefited so much from watching your videos and reading your daily emails. I cannot stress enough how much all this information helped my toddler. Of course, getting an autism diagnosis for your child is extremely scary (she was diagnosed at 2 years old) and I was depressed and did not know what autism was, how it affected children, and how to teach children struggling with this condition. However, your videos helped me to find light in my child and now I am your biggest fan! I rewatch your videos over and over again to make sure I didn't miss anything that can help my daughter. I even purchase two books- Autism workbook and Teach me to Play. My toddler was completely non-verbal, she didn't know how to imitate, no eye contact, no pointing.. you name it she didn't have any skills and I didn't know how to teach her! And that is until I discover ed You- my toddlers (Fairy: smiling_face_with_3_hearts:)!

Now she is little sweet 2.5 years old and she says "mama" (I cried when she said that magic word), she waves bye bye or hi, she points, she gives "high 5", her joint attention is great and overall she is doing so much better! And that's all because I have been doing everything you described in your books and videos! I. My mind I always play "repetition, repetition and repetition", teaching her everything through play that she so much enjoys!!! I can write forever explaining how much I taught her through yr videos and books! And the most amazing thing is that her speech therapist is a big fan of yours as well so it worked out perfectly since we understand each other and work based on your teachings! The therapist even owns the same books I own ...I am so grateful that my toddler has such an amazing therapist; especially the one that understands autism and is ready for a real challenge! God bless you for all you do and I cannot wait for my toddler blossom.. you gave me hope and lit the light inside me. And I'm determined to work with my girl :)"

"Dear Laura Mize and Team,

Thank you so much for all your hard work and publishing books! Our 17-month-old toddler suddenly exploded into speaking and imitating everybody's gestures and sounds, just a week or two after we 'completed' all activities that are listed under 11 pre-linguistic skills! Your method really works!"

Grateful customer.

"Hi Laura!

I absolutely LOVE all of your workbooks, especially your Autism Workbook. Starting with Social Games has been a game changer for many of my littles with ASD and their families. It's been the best way for them to finally connect and sustain shared attention and engagement, leading to longer social interactions, through play!"

Jodie, Dev, Therapist

"Hi Ms. Laura,

Thank you so much for the videos you have posted on your youtube channel. They are so direct, informative, and helpful. Thank you for being a resource for me to become a better therapist."


"Hi Laura - I just wanted to say I received my copies of the Apraxia workbooks yesterday and I LOVED workbook 1 (not ready for 2). I'm on chapter 8 and going through the questions carefully so I'm prepared to help my son. I knew it was a great book when you acknowledged the fact that sometimes therapists and doctors don't bring a positive and supportive vibe when diagnosing. I remember being terrified at the mention of apraxia and ASD by both because they had these very concerned looks and made it seem like it was a death sentence. I know now (in LARGE PART, THANKS TO YOU AND YOUR VIDEOS) that it doesn't have to be!! I see a future for him now. You SINGLE-HANDEDLY, through your books and videos have empowered me to help my son after the doctors and therapists have gone home. You've given me strategies, play ideas, plans on how to keep moving forward. I don't always do things right, but I know I'm on the right track and I love that I can reference, and re-reference your books to help me keep going. As I was reading the book, I was so proud of myself because I've used strategies from your previous books and it felt good because I could check off a lot of the skills that you discuss. So, thank you for all your previous books as well!!"

"Gosh, I love all of your emails/podcast/website, just everything!! I work in early intervention as a behavior analyst and am learning so much from you!"

Thank you!




I love your work! I am a professor of early childhood special education and a speech language pathologist! I have worked to help children learn to communicate and I know how valuable the information you share is for both early interventionists and pediatric speech language pathologists!

Thank you for systematically organizing and explaining essential steps for young children to learn and develop. You are having a great impact on our profession, the ECE profession and families!"



"Thank you.

If this is Laura herself reading this email let me take this opportunity to thank you from the bottom of my heart for all that you have put forth for us professionals. I own every manual (except the autism manual) and have watched every course on DVD. I have listened to countless podcasts. All of what I’ve come to be as an Early Intervention speech therapist was absolutely to your credit. With your resources at my side I have never needed to scramble for answers and strategies and above all the clear language I use when communicating with parents. My fun, animated affect and key phrases I use have been learned through watching your example. So….thank you! May you be blessed."


"I just wanted to thank you so much for your incredible help! You are so kind and lovely and every time I implement something you've taught in your manuals or videos it is always a success, I cannot thank you enough. I really appreciate how specific you are in giving us examples of wording to use and how to use a toy in therapy with your videos, it is exactly what I need to properly help my little students. I also really appreciate your list of books of list of toys. I have seen my little students make significant progress thanks to you. I'm looking forward to watching more of your videos, taking more of your CEU's, and reading more of your materials. From the bottom of my heart: thank you so much again!!"


"Dear Laura,

What an inspiration!

Thank you for helping me be a better Developmental Therapist. I often listen to your podcasts which help me help families.

Your enthusiasm, professionalism and
the sheer volume of information is so great.

You are part of my team.

I just wanted you to know I appreciate you."


"Dear Laura,

Thank you for your generosity in sharing so much knowledge in such a clear and enthusiastic way.

As a retired audiologist with a fabulous and language delayed grandson, I used your podcasts and outstanding publication, The Autism Workbook, to inspire and guide me over the past year.

It works!! He went from barely verbal, no gestures, didn't respond to his name etc etc to a verbal, social, curious, ready to imitate anything, fill in the blanks on familiar "set" speech, generate his own totally appropriate and mostly understandable sentences...not just short phrases anymore... full little paragraphs...about imaginary things, what he did during the day, what he wants. True communication!

You make a powerful difference in this world! ❤"

With gratitude,

"Laura Mize, you are a Godsend. I don’t know how one human can have so many helpful things to say in a beautifully organized way, so often. Always amazes me when another super helpful email comes from you, and for free. With free YouTube videos and cheap CEUs. THANK YOU!!!"

Sheila, Canada

"I purchased the book on autism and have watched the #400s series podcasts. Laura Mize has been more effective in teaching autistic tendencies, than many professors, shadowing professions, and the 100s of books, articles and classes or videos, or live workshop speakers, have been at teaching effective practices for a child with ASD. Some of the many lessons she has taught, which I will now use, to be a more effective Interventionist, include but are not limited to: red flags, typical behaviors, self-stimulating behaviors, not taking away toys, rather showing child to play with toy appropriately. She gives examples of child's actions, "inappropriate," explains the reason for: why the child is engaging in these behaviors and how they can be replaced with more appropriate, effective fuctional and age-appropriate skills."

"I’m sure Laura gets these messages all the time, but I thought I’d share. I stumbled across Laura‘s "Autism or Speech Delay?" YouTube video when I really needed it. This video finally listed and explained some of the red flags my son was showing for autism. I share the link anytime a parent is questioning in my FB autism group. This mother I don’t even know said Laura's video changed her life. I know exactly how she feels because It changed families too. Thank you to everyone at Teach Me To Talk."


"Good Morning Laura,
I received your book (The Autism Workbook) yesterday and it is absolutely amazing! As I evaluate young children (0-3) for developmental delays and write plans for them with their parents, there are a ton of ideas that are ready to use. Others that reinforce what I have been doing, and saying, all along. Thank you so, so much for writing this incredible book and pulling everything together in one place!"


"Thank you very much for sharing your knowledge, experience, and guidance.
I’m a parent who bought the autism workbook and it’s the only clear resource I found to make a change in my son. I’m really thankful to Ms. Laura for helping out people like us all over the world."

"Laura Mize, all I have to say is that ALL YOUR STRATEGIES WORK."

ANNE, YouTube viewer

"We have 7 SLPs in our preschool (public) program for special needs children (ages 3-5) and we use your courses, books, and techniques every day! :-) We have seen our preschoolers make such great gains!"


"I just received Teach Me to Play With You, and it is ALREADY WORKING! WOW!

Girl…my son is 3 years old, and he NEVER asks for something using words. We were playing “Get Your Belly” (from Teach Me to Play WITH You), and after several times, he laughed and screamed "BEWIEEE!!!"  It was a hoot. And I can't believe he said it! I have played with him like this before, but this time I took your advice and acted CRAZY!! I will act like a total lunatic if it will get him to talk to me!  Now I can give him "the look" from across the room, and he will say it. That manual is so amazingly practical, and it is a GODSEND right now! Thank you SO MUCH!”

"I wanted to send you a quick email to say thank you. I started watching your videos/podcasts about 4 months ago. My son has gone from losing words he previously used, only having about 7 words at his 2 year check up in August (assessed at a blended 10 month language level) -- to now having so many words, increased social engagement, following commands, spontaneously requesting things, and naming letters & numbers (not in order) as well as colors. We had our monthly meeting with our SLP through the state infants & toddlers program and it felt like we were just bragging the whole time, but I knew in the back of my head it was because I have been using strategies you taught me.

We still have so much work to do with our sweet boy, but I know in my heart he would not have succeeded without the education you provided. I will continue to read your emails & watch videos as we go along this journey and face challenges, but credit is due to you, Laura.

Thank you so much, endlessly."


"I just want to tell how fortunate I feel to have found your website and you!! I became a special instructor in EI almost a year ago and I started with hardly any applicable training. I felt so lost and confused as how to help the kids I work with learn how to use words and play. Honestly, I didn't even understand the importance of play, although I always played with my kids. But, once I started to watch your podcasts and get some of your manuals I felt a weight had been lifted off my shoulders and that I could finally teach these kids and their families something of value from a real therapist and based on research!. Thank you so much for seeing the need to help other EI service providers and providing a forum to share your knowledge and years of valuable experience. I'm sure you get a lot of these emails every week if not every day, but I wanted to make I could add to those notes of gratitude!! THANK YOU again!!"


"Just wanted to say a HUGE thank you for these emails and your books, I have them all and they have seriously saved and improved my sessions with my kiddos. Huge thank you."


"I was very frustrated with how speech therapy was going for my child. I would take him and drop him off and not hear much of anything from his therapist and teachers other than, "He had a good (or a bad!) day." Your materials were invaluable for us because I learned how to work with him on his speech. I learned how to teach him to talk and play. I learned how to pay attention to his cues and work with him to teach him to communicate. Without it, I have no doubt he still wouldn’t talk."


"Hi! I just wanted to say (from an SLT perspective) how incredibly useful I am finding absolutely all of your articles, blogs and resources - I only discovered your site last month and have just received all your books which I feel I am learning more than on my entire university training course!! But also the way in which you give specific, realistic, fun, encouraging ideas for working with parents is really just fantastic, I only wish I have your site sooner! Thanks so much from the UK! Kind regards."


"I just wanted to reach out to say thank you for making things a little easier to manage for me this year. I made the transition from school SLP to private therapist about a year ago. While the change was welcome, it was a lot, and I was just getting my footing in the clinic when I began teletherapy full time. Your website has been a huge lifeline in helping me work with late talkers and coach their parents in an accessible but effective way, even remotely. I look forward to getting your emails each week. I am floored by the amount of valuable, free information that your website provides, and I’m looking forward to investing in your workbooks soon. A sincere thank you for all you do!"


"You are an inspiration! I am truly grateful for the way you put into words and writing how to do what we do as SLPs. At this time in my 13 years of practicing, I find your encouragement keeps me going. As a single mom, I find it a stretch to buy materials these days and I am so thankful for the freebies you so generously share that help me teach my families. I don’t have much time to put together lists or quick references for parents!! Much gratitude!!"


"I just really appreciate your courses! I have two new clinicians that I’m working with and have recommended these courses to both of them. I’ve watched quite a few and have learned so much about serving this population. To be honest, before I started implementing your strategies I was a little frustrated with the lack of progress. My skills with engaging these little ones have improved so much! Thank you so much for making these CEUs so valuable!" C, SLP

Laura thank you so much. Btw, you have transformed my therapy- I have become such a competent and strong therapist after watching probably like 350 of your videos and podcasts over the past few years. And I am a seasoned therapist with almost 25 years experience. (Yes prob 350 episodes ha!) But there was still a lot I learned from you. I have such a thorough understanding of birth to 3 development and how to properly incorporate appropriate therapeutic goals, techniques and strategies now, thanks to you. Kelly

But I just keep watching and learning because we can always learn something new! 
Thanks for all you do! 

Hi Laura,I want to thank you so much for the resources you provide, my daughter has delayed speech and though she qualifies for CDS. Honestly the most progress she has made in her speech/language development has been after I implemented your 5 top strategies for delayed talkers! She is now almost 2.5 and her vocabulary is well over 75 (I haven’t counted recently, could be over 100) words when at 2 she barely had four words. Honestly the last few months have been a transformation for her.