Car Games for Toddlers…Part 2! Make the Most of Your Commute for Late Talkers


In my last post about car games for late talking toddlers, I shared ways to get sound games going for children who aren’t yet talking.

In this post, let’s look at more suggestions for car games with toddlers who are beginning to talk.

The best ideas are always the simplest. They’re the ones that are easy to do and easy to remember. All of these recommendations qualify:


The car is probably the place where people listen to music the most. While listening to music isn’t bad, the very best way to use music with a late-talking toddler is by SINGING yourself.

The good news is that it doesn’t even matter what you sing or how well you sing it — toddlers love it! The car is the perfect place to establish a song routine too because you don’t have much else to do, especially when you’re waiting for older kids or are stuck in slow-moving traffic.

Singing can also calm a fussy toddler who may be sick of being strapped in the car seat. It may distract you too from the frustration of being cooped up with a cranky baby. Music resets the emotional tone for all of us.

Pick songs that are catchy and repetitive to give your child a chance to join in with key words. Traditional favorites are Old MacDonald, Wheels on the Bus, and Head Shoulders Knees and Toes.

Or make up your own songs with simple words! My favorite original one right now is a hybrid I came up with during a session years ago. It’s sung to the tune of Wheels on the Bus, but with an animal theme like Old MacDonald. It’s Animals on the Farm and here’s how it goes:

Cows on the farm say, “Moo, moo, moo.

Moo, moo, moo. Moo, moo, moo.”

Cows on the farm say, “Moo, moo, moo,”

All-day long.

Repeat with various animal sounds. (This song and more are from my book Teach Me To Play WITH You.)

When you’re not moving, pick songs that have hand motions to give your toddler even more reasons to watch you, listen, and then finally, participate! Good choices here are If You’re Happy and You Know It, Itsy Bitsy Spider, and Open Shut Them.

If you’re not much of a singer or when you’re sick of listening to yourself, move on to the next games…


In the last post about car games, we discussed a couple of good ways to get vocal imitation going. In addition to those turn-taking games, introduce simple actions a toddler can imitate from his car seat. This game is especially suited for times when you can (safely!) move your hands and arms.

This activity can fill an important in-between step for lots of late talkers who aren’t yet imitating sounds. Before a toddler can imitate sounds, he imitates actions and t his game gives him lots of practice honing this skill.

The truth is, ALL toddlers like this game. It’s been a big hit for me at daycare, preschool, and places like the nursery at church with all kinds of kids.

It’s easy too. All you have to do is model an action a child can imitate. Start with something simple like clapping. Clap a few times and then wait. (And wait… read the last post about the benefits of waiting for late talkers!)

If a child doesn’t clap, give him a little encouragement. Say, “Clap! Come on… clap with Mommy. Clap! Clap!” If possible, reach back, take his little hands and help him clap. Smile and act excited when he does it so he’ll want to do it again to see your reaction.

After a couple of rounds of clapping, move on to a new action. Try lifting your arms up, waving your arms from side to side, opening and closing your hands, blowing kisses, patting your lap or the window, etc…

For kids who aren’t very vocal yet, sneak in sounds with this kind of practice. Sometimes a kid who doesn’t yet imitate sounds will do it in this context because he gets in the “habit” of imitating and it happens before he even realizes it. Read the previous post on car games for other ideas for these kinds of sounds.

For kids who can imitate words pretty well, try these ideas…


Instead of having a toddler guess what you see, you’ll tell him by saying, “I…see…a…______!”

Fill in with a familiar word you think your child will try to say. It’s even better when you can point to what you see and encourage the child to point too.

Of course, this game is best when you’re stopped and the scenery isn’t constantly changing. It also works well when other kids are in the car. Preschoolers and even elementary-aged kids like this game and will participate too, especially when you explain to them that you’re helping the baby learn to talk. Encourage them to point when they find the object you name. Or give an older brother or sister a chance to take the lead and be the person who says, “I…see…a…____.”

Be sure to build anticipation and create excitement with your voice as you say, “I…see…a…” A toddler will participate best when you act like you’re having a good time. Be as playful and as fun as possible!

Encourage your child to repeat the key word. Say something like, “BIRD! BIRD! You say it too! I see a…BIRD.”

Be sure to implement your best strategy here… expectant waiting for him to try to say the key word. You may even set it up again by saying, “I…see…a…” with your expectant pause so that he tries to fill in the word.

Just before you sense that he’s getting tired of that word, move on to a new object. Say something like “Let’s see more. Wanna play again?” Pause to give him a chance to respond. Unless he says “No,” begin the game again with, “Get ready. Here we go. I…see…a…_____”

Until a toddler is talking pretty well, he won’t be able to come up with his own original answers for “I see a ____.” Even preschoolers who are talking pretty well will still enjoy imitating what you’ve said and then finding it.

This game is great receptive language practice too – following directions by pointing to identify what you’ve named.

Remember, toddlers will need extra time to process and find what you’ve named before they’re ready to point and show you. Help them by modeling how to point and by playing this game A LOT before you expect them to become proficient. It may take days (or sometimes weeks) of consistently playing before a late talker begins to respond, but don’t give up too soon. Sometimes parents quit just before a child is ready to do something. Don’t! Keep trying…



If you need help with the little songs I mentioned, you’ll find all the words and hand motions to loads of these sounds and routines in my book Teach Me To Play WITH You, along with step-by-step goals for helping your child learn to play these little games. Use the coupon code PLAY to save 20% on this book.

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