Sneaky Squirrel Board Game for Late Talkers

Sneaky Squirrel Game


I love this game year-round, but it’s especially fun in the fall!

As I explained in this earlier post Board Games for Toddlers, I rarely play a game with “rules” for late talkers – or any toddler for that matter! Kids this age are usually not developmentally ready, and when we force these kinds of restraints, it ruins the fun for everyone. We can miss fantastic opportunities for interaction and teaching language by being too much of a stickler!

When you’re not following the rules, what else can you do? Let me share great ideas for how I use this game in therapy with my little late talking friends:

Introduce the Game Pieces

By taking a few minutes to introduce the game pieces, you’re already working on language, even before you begin to play the game!

Show a child the squirrel tongs, the stumps or “trees”, and nuts. Talk about squirrels by making connections to when a child may have seen a squirrel. If you’re close to a window or door, direct a child’s attention to the trees outside and discuss how the stump pieces come from trees. Mention the nuts too with comments about how nuts grow on trees and then fall to the ground for squirrels to eat and gather to eat later.

When you’re talking with any young child with language delays, adjust your comments to match her receptive language-level or what she understands. If a toddler has a moderate to significant receptive delay (or a super short attention span,) do not go on and on during this initial conversation. Keep it simple! Say things like, “Oooh! Look! It’s a squirrel. We see squirrels when we go outside. Remember? Squirrel!” If she’s still listening, you might say something else like, “Squirrels run fast! They climb up in the trees! Go squirrel!”

Set Up a Way to Play

Next, present some way to play the game. We can blow it with toddlers when we don’t establish how we’re going to play from the get-go. No wonder a child runs off with the pieces or begins to “do his own thing.” You can (hopefully!) avoid those problems by setting up your realistic expectations from the beginning.

Older preschoolers may be ready to spin the spinner and understand how to play the game and follow the rules, but most of the time, I play this game with toddlers simply by putting nuts in the holes.

Set out the tree stumps and say something like, “Look! Trees! See the holes! The holes are for the nuts.” Then show a child how to place a nut in one of the holes.

For children with coordinated fine motor skills, you can use the squirrel tongs from the game. Most of the toddlers I see cannot manipulate the squirrel tongs without lots of effort (which ruins the fun!), so I use well-worn toddler tongs. They’re sized for little hands and have been easier than any other tool I’ve tried.

More often, I’ve just let toddlers use their fingers, which is challenging enough for many of our kids!

Choose Your Goals Based on These Priorities

Participation For some busy or disconnected toddlers, participating should be your ONLY goal initially. Do everything you can to keep him happy and with you for as long as you can. Period. No other goals beyond sticking with it, placing as many nuts in the holes as possible, and then helping clean up the game after you’re finished. That’s it. Once he’s easily doing this, add something else.

Turn-Taking When I’m working on turn-taking with a child, I use my own stump piece and take a fast turn saying things like, “My tree! Here’s a nut! The nut goes in! In!” Remember to take your turns very quickly during games so that you don’t lose a toddler’s attention or make him too mad. For some kids, your turn may just be cheerfully saying, “In!” as you hurriedly put a nut in the hole and then move on to his turn.

When you try too hard to emphasize turn-taking by saying things like “Stop. You have to wait for me. It’s my turn now,” and then insisting that a child sit there patiently while you take F…O…R…E…V…E…R makes some toddlers lose their minds. No wonder they get upset or don’t want to stick around and play!

Language Goals

Requesting When a child is developmentally ready, target requesting. Hold the nuts in your hand or place them in a Ziplock bag and give the child a nut after he requests. This makes you a necessary part of the game. He has to go through you to get the nuts!

For some kids, just making eye contact is a request! Hold the nut in your hand until they look at you.

For others, they can do much more, but carefully select a word or sign based on what a child is ready to target. If he’s nonverbal, you can’t expect him to say a word before he gets the nut. You just can’t. You need a goal he can meet! For example:

  • Start with a sign, a picture if you’re using an approach like PECS, or even some kind of gesture like holding his hand out to you.
  • If he’s a brand new signer or talker, choose easy words and signs like “nut,” “more,” or “please.” Model the sign or word he should use to request.
  • If a child loves colors and already knows some of those words, let him request by saying the color he wants. Be very, very careful with using color words for requesting! You don’t want to emphasize academic concepts when a child does not say very many functional words. I only use this as my target when colors are a preference (aka – obsession!) for a child. Even then, I try to get other words first and default to the color word if that’s the only way I can keep him with me and talking.
  • If she’s working on phrases, you can easily incorporate that goal here with several different phrase combinations including “More nuts” or “I want more” or “One more.”

Spontaneous Communication

This is a fantastic game for helping a child become more spontaneous with requests. Initially, you will have to cue a child and get him to directly imitate whatever your language target is. That’s how we teach everything – gestures, signs, words, and phrases. BUT eventually, we do want to build in opportunities for a child to ask us for things without us telling him how to ask.

Sit back and playfully withhold the nuts in a bag or your hand until he asks for another nut using whatever method he can. Don’t overuse this strategy though, or you may lose him altogether!

(**If you’re not having much luck with getting a child to sign or talk on request or can’t find a balance for withholding that doesn’t result in a meltdown, I can help! My new book Let’s Talk About Talking walks you through that process! My other therapy manuals Building Verbal Imitation in Toddlers and Teach Me To Talk: The Therapy Manual also contain instructions with these techniques. If you need a visual example, you can SEE this strategy in my DVD Teach Me To Talk.)

Other Areas An obvious cognitive goal with this game is to teach or practice color matching. Matching is an important cognitive skill and it always comes before kids learn the names for colors. Sneak in your language goals here too. (Get it? Sneaky Squirrel!) I’ve successfully taught “No” with this game by purposefully mismatching the colored nuts and then pointing this out to a child. Make a big deal about it. Exaggerate shaking your head and finger while saying, “Does it go here? NO!!! NO!!! NO!!! That’s blue. Not red. No way! No!” Be silly while you do this so that it doesn’t sound punitive. Keep it light, playful, and fun!

Those are my beginning ideas for this cute game. The good news is…you can take these same concepts and apply them to virtually any other game too! We’ll be doing that in later posts!

Until then…


Link to purchase this Sneaky Squirrel game:


**Amazon affiliates earn very small commissions on purchases.

Posted in ,


Leave a Comment

Teach Me To Talk Testimonials

Happy Therapists, Teachers, Parents & Children

"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!!"