Let’s Make Some Noise! Eliciting Play Sounds in Toddlers


I have a friend with a toddler with significant speech-language delay. This morning I read on mom’s blog that the little one started to fake cough last week.

That’s HUGE!! I got so excited for her and I hope if you’re a pediatric SLP reading this, you did too!

Please don’t miss the emergence of these “play sounds.” To reiterate my point, that’s HUGE in the continuum of helping a child become purposefully verbal.

Play sounds or sound effects can be an important “in-between” step for lots of late talkers before they begin to try to imitate real words.

In my zeal to help her from afar, I sent her my list of other kinds of play sounds she can introduce to get other kinds of play sounds going. Here’s a copy for you too!

Try these Play Sounds

Pant like a dog
Squeal or scream
Grunt with effort
Fake cough
Fake sneeze
Car/Truck noises
Siren noise
Fake laugh
Fake cry
Slurp with drinking
Exhale after drink
“Sh!” for quiet
Say “ah” or another vowel sound in an empty bucket, paper towel or toilet paper roll, or in a funnel

Animal sounds and other play sounds like car and truck noises such as “beep beep” and “vroom” are powerful play sounds that toddlers love.

Exclamatory Words are Play Sounds Too!

Other kinds of “play sounds” include exclamatory words such as:

Mmm, mmm, mmm (when eating and the food is good!)
Uh oh
Woo hoo

My lists could go on and on and on… : )

Most of all, these kinds of sounds are so much FUN for everyone! I’ve found that dads and siblings naturally gravitate toward these sounds and are fabulous models for our little friends. Coach families to include these sounds not only at playtime but throughout the day. Here are some examples:

When a toddler sees a dog outside, on a commercial, or while reading a book, model panting.

When you see someone sleeping, modeling yawning, snoring, and saying, “Sh!”

As a toddler plays in the kitchen while mom is cooking dinner, get out the dishes, pots, and pans and excitedly say, “Boom! Boom!” as you bang a spoon on the bottom of the bowl or “Swish! Swish!” as you pretend to stir.

If you’d like other ideas for using play sounds or need “how-to” instructions, check out my book Building Verbal Imitation in Toddlers. SLPs – Use the great handouts in this book as parent education or homework for families.

More than anything, remember to get NOISY to help a toddler move toward using words!

SLPs and other pediatric therapists – Play sounds are such an important step in helping late talkers become verbal that they’re a whole ‘level’ in my course Steps to Building Verbal Imitation in Toddlers. Find out how to maximize the effectiveness of play sounds plus the skills a child needs before this goal is realistic and other “in-between” skills to target for toddlers with speech-language delays.

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  1. Jessica on May 1, 2014 at 9:40 am

    My daughter is now doing this too! How do we move from play sounds and imitation to words? I have all of your wonderful resources…I’m just not sure how to go about pulling those words out of her.

    • Laura on May 1, 2014 at 12:42 pm

      Hi Jessica. Is she imitating the play sounds or just using them herself during play? Usually once they’ve been imitating a variety of play sounds (say 10+) and imitating frequently and not just every once in a while, then she’s ready to move on to words. If not, then you’ll need to hang out at this level for a few weeks until she “owns” these sounds and then move forward. Since you mentioned that you have my resources, the book Building Verbal Imitation in Toddlers will walk you thru this process and provide super specific suggestions as well as troubelshooting advice. Based on that model from the book, she’s using words at Level 4 and 5, so you’ll also need to look at the next set of skills at Level 6 which is Verbal Routines. That should make sense since you have the book. Take a look at the chart on the back page to give you some ideas to get you going! Thanks for the comment! Take care and let me know if you need more help! Laura

  2. Mandy Werner on October 21, 2016 at 7:27 am

    Thank you so much for this post and for so many other great resources. I work with 2-5 year olds and every time I get stumped you provide spot on advice, resources and ways to support parents. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

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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!

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