Toddler talking in phrases: One thing you can do to help!

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toddler talking in phrases requires verbs

A toddler talking in phrases is a very popular topic! For all kiddies learning to talk, “verbs” are the most important part of the sentence as it increases the specificity of what they say. For example, think about these sentences a toddler may say. They only differ by one word but indicate very different meanings.

  • Daddy got car
  • Dady went car
  • Daddy push car

Toddler talking in phrases: Hang on, where are the verbs?

Got, went and push…these are the ‘verbs’ in the sentences above!

You may first think of verbs such as eat, drink, play or laugh. However, these verbs are only one type of verb (called function verbs).

There are also other types of verbs under the domains of location (e.g. go, out, fall, down, drop, take) and experience (want, need, look, say, count, make).

The true definition of a verb within any sentence is….

“A verb is a word that describes an action, the word that describes what is happening or what did happen”

What about other word types?

There are also other word types needed in the first few years of life to get a toddler talking. Such as, words that imply:

  • Possession (got, my, have)
  • Control (want, give)
  • Location (there, sit, put, up)
  • Experience (need, look at, smell)
  • Pronouns (I, you, me)
  • Prepositions (in, on, to)
    ….and the list could go on!

So how does this all relate to my toddler talking in phrases?

When a child has trouble combining words into phrases, it’s especially important to look at what verbs and other word types they do and do not have. Once you know this, you’ll have insight into what words they still need to learn AND phrases your child could be working on….ultimately increasing the variety of words in their vocabulary and mental dictionary; equipping them with the words types required to combine words into phrases.

What can I do today to help my child talk in phrases?

The first thing you should do is find out what words your child does have. Do this by recording 10-15 minutes of play and/informal conversation with your child. Then listen back to it and transcribe exactly what your child says (verbatim). Count any word that is unclear or is a ‘word approximation, as you’re looking at what word functions your child has (not the clarity of speech).
Tip – write one sentence/idea per line.

Example of a 5-year-old with a developmental language disorder, retelling a story using pictures


“Bus ran away the bus
And bus do angry
That bus do
Bus do is coming up..bubb;e
Stuck the train”

Some examples of activities that are good for obtaining a language samples are below:

  • Doll house play
  • Book share while exploring the pages (use book they have not see before)
  • Story retell of a familiar storybook (for kids that 3 years+/speak in phrases already)
  • Kitchen play or tea party
  • Sandpit play with trucks, buckets, tools etc.
  • Gardening
  • Water play or bath time (ensure access to variety of toys/instruments to use)

Once you’ve identified what words your child has, you can start modelling phrases that combine those words.
For example, you find that your child can say “go”, “more” and “car” spontaneously as single words. So you could then focus on modelling the phrase “go car” or “more car” during playtime or when you’re out and about and see cars go by.

The Vocab Builder & Phrase builder

The Vocab Builder & Phrase builder, as part of the Speechie Parent Playbooks, will help you increase your child’s vocabulary and encourage your child to combine words. Make sure to download yours now so you can start helping your little one learn new words!

Download your Speechie Parent Playbook here

More useful links below:

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