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The Top 10 Games Every Parent Should Play to Encourage Their Baby to Talk

05/14/2014 02:44 pm ET | Updated Jul 14, 2014
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1. Peek-a-boo!
It's an all-time classic for a reason -- babies and toddlers just love it! Initially, use a transparent scarf or piece of fabric and briefly trail it over your face, so your baby can see your face and then you momentarily disappear. As your face is covered, start saying "Peek-aaa... " then pop out and say "boo!" Babies find this hilarious and will give you lots of smiles.

You can then try trailing the fabric over your baby's face using the same routine, and encourage your baby to pull it off. Once he gets the hang of it, you can make the game more interactive by leaving a long pause after saying "Peek-aaaaaaaa... " to allow time for your baby to make an excited movement or noise (after which you say "boo"). The baby's sounds should eventually form a "boo." This type of game is known as an anticipation game -- you are anticipating that your baby will say a sound or attempt a particular word. By providing an entertaining reaction when your child communicates with you, you encourage his attempts at talking, which you will notice grow more frequent.

2. Listen, Wait and Respond
This is a good game for infants as young as eight weeks. Make sure your baby is lying down so she doesn't have to think about head support or balance. Move close to your baby and make eye contact. Say something like "Hello, my gorgeous girl," in a sing-song voice. Wait. (You may need to wait as long as 10 seconds.) Smile and look at your child with anticipation. Once she makes a noise, say, "Ah. Now you're talking, good job!" Wait again. When they respond this time say, "What a nice story you're telling me. Is there any more?"

Keep the chat going for as long as possible, with as many communicative exchanges as possible. This is called the art of taking turns, and as an early form of conversation, it's a great one for your baby to master. Once your baby realizes that they have to "talk" to take a turn, you will hear many more attempts at words.

3. Make a babble bag
Find some noise-making objects that you can use to encourage babbling and put them in a bag. Theatrically pull them out one by one and make a big deal of the sounds they make.

Here are some ideas:

  • "b, b, b, b, b" - Banging an inflated balloon against your hand.
  • "d, d, d, d, d" - Banging a drum.
  • "sh, sh, sh, sh, sh" - Put your fingers to your lips and make the "shhh" sound. This will be too difficult for a baby to mimic in the beginning, but keep doing it and your child will soon copy the action and then later develop the sound.
  • "ch, ch, ch, ch, ch" - Make the train noise. At first this will be tricky for your child to copy, but he will love hearing it and will eventually attempt it himself. Keep in mind that all sounds appear in a specific developmental order and "sh" and "ch" come at later stages.
  • "mmmmm" - Play with a yummy piece of plastic food or the wrapper from a type of food you know your child loves to eat.

It's a good idea to have a mirror nearby so children can watch themselves make the noises -- they find this endlessly fascinating and it helps them stay focused for longer. The more children babble, the more practice they have at forming the proper sounds to develop language skills.

4. Simple and incredibly effective: SING!
To help your child with her language skills, sing a familiar song and then wait for her to react when you pause for the key word, for example, "If you see a crocodile, don't forget to... scream... Ahh!

Action songs or songs with hand gestures are the best. Remember to sing slowly and encourage participation by looking expectantly at your child and leaving a gap for her to join in. Stress and repeat words and praise their efforts when they join in. You'll find that they often start by filling in the last word of a song lyric, because this is usually where we naturally stress the word. With time and repetition, they will eventually fill in more and more words until they are singing the whole song for you.

5. Encourage pointing
This simple gesture is so important, since the rate of speech acquisition can actually be related to the onset of pointing. Psychologist Luigia Camaioni of the University of Rome La Sapienza found that the earlier babies begin to point, the more words they know at 20 months of age! The correlation may be due to the higher level of social awareness of a child who has already acquired the ability to point. When you use your finger to point something out to someone, you have to be aware of whether the other person is looking, and you have to understand pointing as a means of communication. You also need to be able to comprehend the concept of cause and effect -- if I point, I will get that object.

Help your child point to each picture in his favorite book and when it's time for snacks, give your child a choice by holding a banana in one hand and a cracker in the other and encouraging him to point to the one he wants. This also works with toys.

6. Bubbles
This is a no-brainer! Babies LOVE bubbles. Blow some bubbles for your child and let them pop. Say "pop pop pop." Wait for her to copy you, then say "more?" I always use the sign for "more," too. Try hand-over-hand signing, mold your child's hand into the shape of the sign (for "more" you clench your left fist in front of your body and bring your right hand towards it, covering your left knuckles).

I started this when my daughter was 12 months old and it took just 10 minutes for her to pick up that she had to move her hands together to receive more bubbles -- I was amazed. Also try "bubbles up up up" or "bubbles down down down." It's so simple, yet it can have such a big impact on your child's language development.

7. Books, books, books
Never forget the bedtime story. Introduce this routine as early as possible as books are an integral part of your child's language development.

Look for children's books that have a repetitive catch phrase and lots of vowel sounds that will appeal to a young baby's ear. There are many games you can play during story time -- use your baby's finger to point out pictures that they might be interested in, let them turn the pages, encourage them to copy the actions or sounds in the book, and leave gaps while reading so your baby can attempt to fill in the key catchphrases. The more interactive you make storytime, the more fun they will have and the more they will learn.

8. "Ready, set... go" games
This is all about getting your child to realize that if he makes a sound, exciting things happen. You'll need two rattles, one for you and one for your child. Say, "Ready, set... go" and make as much noise as you can with your rattle and with your voice. Repeat, repeat, repeat, until a routine is established. When the routine is established, say, "Ready, set..." and wait. Wait for a sound or a movement from your baby as his way of saying "go" before you vigorously begin to shake the rattle again.

This game can be applied to lots of different activities. Try building a tower of bricks. Say "up" as you build and encourage your child to say it too. Then say "Ready, set..." and wait for him to make a noise or movement before saying "go!" and knocking them down.

9. Container play
Most young children adore container play -- they love throwing things in boxes so that they make a big crash, and they also love fiddling with lids, so no wonder it's a hit. All you need are some cars, dolls, dinosaurs, etc, and two empty lunch boxes or Tupperwares. Say "bye-bye" each time you theatrically put the item into one of the boxes.

Name each item as you pull it out ("Hello car! Hello dolly! Hello dinosaur!"), then throw it into the other container before starting all over again. Encourage your child to do the picking up and throwing in, and don't forget to pause and look at them encouragingly so they can join in with the talking. Because container play is so repetitive, it provides a good opportunity to model simple words and sounds over and over.

10. Classic clapping games
Parents are usually as delighted as their children when their baby first masters clapping -- they are communicating to you that they enjoy something. Once little ones have learned to clap, there's no stopping them! That's why they love classic clapping games. "Pat-A-Cake" or "Miss Mary Mack" are good songs to start with. Initially, you can sit behind your baby and move her hands to a clapping position, but she will very quickly pick it up herself, and I guarantee that you'll get some really enthusiastic clapping with these songs!

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Inspired by Small Talk: How to Develop Your Child's Language Skills from Birth to Age Four by Nicola Lathey and Tracey Blake, published by The Experiment and available wherever books are sold.