Using Books to Teach Toddlers Language and Play… VIDEO from

LBT pic

LBT pic

If you’ve picked up any parenting book or studied anything related to educating children for at least 5 minutes, you know that you should be reading to a young child pretty much from the time he exits the womb…

That’s fantastic advice for all parents and books are certainly a wonderful choice for speech-language pathologists who work with young children.

There’s no wrong way or right way to go about reading to a young child who is meeting all of her developmental milestones. You read. She listens. She understands. She talks. End of story. That’s typical development.

BUT using a few special strategies with toddlers with speech-language, cognitive, and other developmental delays can make books exponentially better teaching tools!

By changing HOW we read to a toddler who is having difficulty learning to understand and use words, we can help him link meaning to words and eventually begin to use those words to talk.

I’ve also had incredible success using books to teach young children to play with toys. Most toddlers, even some who aren’t yet talking, have no difficulty learning to play. However, many of our little friends with developmental delays don’t instinctively understand what to do with toys until we teach them. Young children who are on the autism spectrum or who are at risk for autism really struggle with developing and expanding their play skills. They may prefer to line up or spin a toy or hoard a group of toys rather than play. Toddlers with cognitive delays may chew, throw, or ignore a toy, much like a younger baby would, rather than play purposefully.

This fall I’ve worked with several families who have desperately needed these strategies since each of these kids have had HUGE visual interests and strengths, but also have had significant language delays…. in other words, these little guys love books and videos, but they’re not talking, following directions consistently, or playing with many toys. Each of these kids had also plateaued in therapy sessions and needed some new ideas to jump start their progress.

Earlier this month I filmed a video specifically for one child’s therapy team and extended family to provide concrete instructions for using books more effectively during therapy.

After watching, I realized how beneficial it would be to share something like this here at to reach many, many, many more families.

Let me highlight a few of the goals for reading books with toddlers so you don’t miss them when you’re watching! Some of these things may be pretty subtle to you as an adult, but each can be a BIG step for a young child with a speech-language delay or disorder. As we read books in this way, we help a child learn to:

1. Pay attention.

2. Share an experience.

3. Understand new words.

4. Follow simple directions.

5. Play with toys purposefully.

6. Use early gestures such as pointing, waving, and clapping.

7. Imitate early vocalizations and play sounds.

8. Repeat familiar words.


Let me remind you that this entire list, ALL of these skills, are a part of learning to talk and are necessary steps for every young child before he or she begins to use words. Toddlers who are verbal pick up these skills pretty quickly. Our friends who are late talkers will need some help mastering some (or all) of these important milestones.

And just so you know, I could probably expand this list to 25+ goals for reading books with toddlers, but I don’t want to overwhelm you!

If  you’re a parent, I don’t want to scare you either. If your own child isn’t doing these things yet, THAT’S OKAY. You can play a big, big part in helping him!

If you’re a therapist, these are the same strategies we should teach parents so that they too can continue to work with a child long after a therapy session ends. I believe the best way to teach moms, dads, and everyone else involved (including preschool and daycare teachers, grandparents, and older siblings who are eager to help!) is to model or SHOW them all of the things they can do with a book! Explain what you’re doing as you read so that a parent or teacher understands your purpose and more importantly, knows that he or she can successfully use these same techniques. If your program isn’t set up for you to work with parents and other caregivers, or if you’re uncomfortable with direct teaching, sending them a link for this post is much, much better than doing nothing : ) If you’re looking for information to share with larger groups of families within your agency, program or school, here it is! As long as you credit me and link back to this article, please feel free to share this post on your websites and social media pages.

So no matter what your role is, whether you’re a concerned parent or a therapist perusing the internet, my purpose is to give you some different things to try. I want you to SEE and HEAR examples of reading a cute and fun book and hopefully, work in at least a couple of new ideas, for you and for that sweet little one who’s listening!

In this video I’m using a book from one of my all-time favorite series for toddlers… Little Blue Truck. This version is Christmas-themed, but the strategies can be adapted for ANY children’s book. All you need is the book, the kid, and you! If you’re working on play skills too, gather some toys or props similar to the ones in your book.

Although the video was not filmed with a child, it’s EXACTLY how I and other effective pediatric speech-language pathologists use books to target a multitude of goals during speech therapy with toddlers.

As you watch, think about how you can adapt these strategies. Sometimes a few tweaks here and there are all you need to make reading books much, much better! I wish you fantastic success as you read to your little ones!

One more thing… I hope you notice a predominant strategy is REPETITION! Toddlers need to hear things over and over and over in order to learn how to understand and then say a new word!

Finally…. you can watch now : )



Link for the book in case you want to get it:

Until next time –


My therapy manuals are SO helpful for therapists who work with toddlers birth to 3. Click the links for more info!

Teach Me To Play WITH You

Teach Me To Talk: The Therapy Manual

Building Verbal Imitation in Toddlers



  1. Debbie Schaefer on October 10, 2016 at 5:26 pm

    Where did you get the toys that go with the Little Blue Truck books? Did you have to scrounge around for matching pieces or were they sold as set?

    • Laura on December 1, 2016 at 3:01 pm

      EVERYWHERE! They’re not a set. I searched high and low, but pulled them together between several stores in my little ‘burb! I bought things from Wal-Mart, Tractor Supply, Kroger, and Dollar Tree. If you can’t find everything, don’t worry. It will still be fun : ) Laura

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