Talking with your Toddler

To help your toddler eventually become a reader, he needs words. These words can be found in physical books, on billboards, on cereal boxes, and pretty much anywhere. He just needs you to point them out. But words are also supplied from talking. So, on the one hand, your toddler needs exposure to the written word, but on the other hand, he needs to hear words that do not come from in black and white.

Remember: reading is for communication, and so is talking. Don’t neglect talking to and with your toddler in order to raise someone who can communicate. Communication is a much needed skill in life. Help your child develop this skill with the following in mind.

What follows are some tips on talking with your toddler. I have also included facts about how toddlers communicate. As with Talking with your Baby, I list some fun rhymes you can teach your tot.

Practice conversing with your toddler, where each one can talk (or babble!) and the other listens. Share what you think about a topic, a picture, a person, etc. and try to hold a conversation. Granted, your toddler may not be able to form full thoughts, but the fact you are attempting to listen, to empathize, and to respond to him teaches your child about the art of conversation. It also shows him what he has to say is meaningful and will fill him with courage to keep trying to talk and formulate his thoughts.

I also want to emphasis this “simple” activity because as your tot develops and ages, you want to already be in the habit of talking about things (much like with reading). You want your child to eventually confide in you, so unless your toddler grows up hearing conversations and knowing he is being listened to and taken seriously, your child may not be inclined to share things with you. Remember we have a long scope in view when it comes to raising children. Start healthy habits now to reap the benefits later.

Describe what’s going on around you. You can use books to talk about things, but you can just use what’s going on around you. Talking to your child about what is going on will supply context for the spoken words. They will learn specialized words, for instance, if you are at the pool, she can learn the words for pool, waves, sharks, floaties, etc.

You can describe things as you are driving, as you walk, as you are waiting in line, or as you grocery shop. Honestly, the things you can talk about are endless. Some of you are not talkers. That’s ok; I am not a talker. I have to force myself to talk about mundane things, especially when I’m driving and thinking about stuff. But you just get in the habit of it. Eventually your toddler will start pointing things out, describing what she sees.

Toddlers often lag between hearing and responding. Young children tend to respond slowly, so anticipate a lag time between what you say or ask and what they say. Their brains are still processing a lot. As they age, the delay will lessen, but be comforted that she isn’t ignoring you.

Can follow simple directions. Do action rhymes! Play games where your tot is required to do certain simple things. Give her little tasks. Young children learn best through movement so moving around to ditties and games helps to reinforce what those motions are called, making connections in the brain.

Make two word sentences and can recite three word sentences. Toddlers speak in phrases, mostly beginning with nouns and verbs. They will probably not be conjugated properly. If you feel led, then you can correct them, but they will eventually, by hearing proper speaking, they learn the proper way of speaking. Thus on your end, do not use “baby talk,” but talk like an adult with them.

Will begin to request or demand things. Use “why.” You know your child is learning to talk properly when she begins to ask for things! You can introduce “please” and “thank you” but again if your toddler hears you using those words, she will eventually pick it up.

Learn by repetition. Toddlers will repeat familiar phrases. They may even repeat simple stories they know and love (in choppy phrases, of course!). So keep using repetitive stories and rhymes. Repeat what you say. You can even switch up what you say to expose them to more precise vocabulary. For example, “Where are your sandals?” is one way to ask “Where are your shoes?”

Use the word “no.” To piggyback off the above point, toddlers will repeat what they hear. I joke about this during my baby story time. But seriously we need to also use “yes” around our kids so they can use it, too! My favorite rhyme to help emphasis the positive “yes” is “Two Little Dickey Birds.” I change one bird into Yes and the other bird is named No. I nod and shake my head when I say “Yes” and “No” respectively.

Begin to talk with plurals and pronouns. Make sure to use pronouns yourself when you talk to your toddler. As mentioned above, people tend to “baby-down” speech when talking with a toddler. But what your toddler needs is proper language to imitate. Do your best to speak with full sentences even though your child won’t be able to repeat or respond in full sentences. When talking about yourself, use first person not third person. This will assist your tot in knowing we should speak in first person, not third person, when addressing our personal needs, thoughts, etc.

Favorite Toddler Rhymes

Here are some terrific action and fingerplay rhymes. You can just speak, chant or sing-song say them while doing motions, or simply quote them during the day. I sometimes like to say them super fast, just to tickle my story time kids or my son. The recommended motions are in italics, but feel free to make them up; remember, toddlers like most young kids learn best on the move.

Most of these rhymes are traditional ones. They introduce words or phrasing not typically found in our everyday, conversational language. This is as good for building up their vocabulary as reading books to them which contain unique words, too.


Open, Shut Them


Open, shut them, open shut them. (open and shut fists)

Give a little clap. (clap)

Open, shut them, open shut them, (open and shut fists)

Lay them in your lap. (place hands in lap)


Creep them, crawl them, creep them, crawl them, (slowing move hands from lap)

Right up to your chin. (place hands on chin)

Open wide your little mouth (open mouth)

But do not let them. (close mouth and shake head no)


Roll them, roll them, roll them, roll them, (make fists and roll hands)

Just like this.

Shake them, shake them, shake them, shake them, (shake hands)

Blow a little kiss. (kiss one hand and blow a kiss)


I Can

I can hop, hop, hop like a bunny (hop on all fours)

And run, run, run like a dog. (run on all fours)

I can walk, walk, walk like an elephant (walk on all fours)

And jump, jump, jump like a frog. (jump on hind legs)

I can swim, swim, swim like a fish (use hands to swim through water)

And fly, fly, fly like a bird. (spread arms and wave them up and down)

I can sit, sit, sit (sit cross-legged)

And not say a single word.


Five Little Monkeys

The toddler can jump or bounce when the word “jumping” is spoken.

Five little monkeys jumping on the bed (show five fingers or toes)

One fell off and bumped his head. (make a one with a finger or point to one toe, then use other hand to knock your head with your palm)

Mama called the doctor and the doctor said, (act like you are calling someone)

“No more monkeys jumping on the bed!” (shake a finger)

Continue as you countdown to none.


Away Up High in the Apple Tree

You can act this rhyme out as it says, or use a stuffed toy to pretend to be an apple. Also, practice opposites by shaking the “tree” hard.

Away up high in the apple tree (stand tall with arms overheard)

I saw a little apple smiling down at me (smile)

I shook the tree as gently as I could (shake whole body slowly)

Down came the apple, mmmmhm, it was good! (bring arms down and pretend to eat apple)


One, Two, Buckle My Shoe

One, two: buckle my shoe. (count numbers out on hand; pretend to buckle/Velcro a shoe)

Three, four: shut the door. (count numbers out on hand; pretend to shut a door)

Five, six: pick up sticks. (count numbers out on hands; pretend to pick up sticks)

Seven, eight: lay them straight. (count numbers out on hands; pretend to lay the sticks down

Nine, ten: a big, fat hen. (count numbers out on hands; pretend to be a scratching chicken)

This Little Piggy

This little piggy went to the market (using either hands or feet, tick off the largest)

This little piggy went home (tick off the next one)

This little piggy ate roast beef (tick off the next one)

This little piggy had none. (tick off the next one)

This little piggy went (finally tick off the pinkie one)

“Wee, wee, wee” (sweep hand that either was ticked off or used to tick off toes all the way up the body)

All the way home! (touch nose on the word home)


Rum, Sum, Sum

A-rum, sum, sum (place fist on top of fist)

A-rum, sum, sum (place fist on top of fist)

A-guli, guli, guli, (kiss hands together and pull apart)

Rum, sum, sum. (place fist on top of fist)

A-raffi, a-raffi, (lift arms up and down)

A-guli, guli, guli, (kiss hands together and pull apart)

Rum, sum, sum. (place fist on top of fist)


Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear

Teddy bear, teddy bear, turn around. (twirl around)

Teddy bear, teddy bear, touch the ground. (bend to touch the ground)

Teddy bear, teddy bear, dance on your toes. (dance on tippy-toes)

Teddy bear, teddy bear, pat your nose. (pat nose)

Teddy bear, teddy bear, stand on your head. (bend to touch top of head to ground)

Teddy bear, teddy bear, go to bed. (place “prayer hands” under one cheek of a titled head)

Teddy bear, teddy bear, turn out the light. (act like you are pulling a lamp string)

Teddy bear, teddy bear, say good-night. (whisper “good-night”)



Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall. (make a fist and place it on top of the other opened palm)

Humpty Dumpty had a great fall. (bring closed fist downwards)

All the King’s horses (on haunches, bounce up and down)

And all the King’s men (salute)

Couldn’t put Humpty together again. (shake head)


Cup of Tea

A fun, interactive rhyme! Face your toddler and have her mimic the motions you do. Or, you can take her hands to do the motion at first because it may take a while for her to get the movements down.

Here’s a cup. (make a fist)

And here’s a cup. (make a fist with the other hand)

And here’s a pot of tea. (join the fists together)

Pour a cup. (act like you are pouring one “cup” into the other)

And pour a cup. (repeat with the other “cup”)

And have a drink with me. (pass one “cup” to the other person)

What are your favorite rhymes to share with your toddler?

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