Toddler Poetry: Encouraging Wordplay As Creative Play

Just before my son turned two, I began to get really worried that his language development was delayed. Of course, this suspicion washed over me with a wave of maternal guilt. Had I not been reading to him often enough? Did I speak to him in baby-talk? Clearly he was going to be held back from every grade because I didn't bother to subscribe to one of those Baby Einstein channels. Or something.

In a panic, I asked my more experienced mom friends: "WHAT HAVE I DONE????" To which they all replied, "Ok, anxiety queen. He'll be fine. He's communicating, right? And using some words? Give the kid a minute." And, like usual, they were right. A few months later, Shep had a veritable vocabulary explosion and started spewing out all these words he'd understood for a long time. I was delighted! I won't say I'm cured of my anxiety, though, since I'm pouring tons of energy into verbal language skills for Rory and Shep alike. While Rory is a bit too young to understand wordplay, we still make saying words a fun game. The sounds are new on her tongue, but when I prompt her to say, "mama", I can see her watching my lips intently and mimicing with her own mouth. Maybe my efforts aren't all in vain?

This time around, I want to find ways to engage a baby and my active 2.5 year old toddler with the same activity. Wordplay is a great way to introduce sounds and vocabulary. And, hopefully, a way to keep learning fun - as it should be!

Rhyming Sounds

Of course, classic Dr. Suess is great for this one! Rhyming helps children practice the same sounds over and over. It also creates natural connections between words, breaking them down into their parts. When rhyming words share the same spelling, you can even point out that similarity. This is the beginning of phonics! Maybe that last part is more appropriate for toddlers and will be lost on babies, but it won't hurt them to see you pointing out individual letters.

Narrate Your Day

As a talkative person, getting the green light to babble my anxiety away is the best reward for having children. My toddler is often both a social barrier and social lubricant - when I am talking to him about everything on the shelves at the grocery store, people tend to give me weird looks. But hey! This kind of narration keeps your toddler calm and engaged. It's a great way to practice colors, numbers, and letters. It's also a good way to encourage your toddler to use the correct words - "bathroom" instead of "potty", for example.

Sound Subtitution

This is my personal favorite - it's silly and playful and still emphasizes phonics. Sort of like the literary version of sneaking veggies into your kids' chicken nuggets! One of our favorite games is switching out the first letter of every word. "Shep, do you want to go to the playground?" becomes: "Dep, do dou dant do do do dhe dayground?" It always gets a giggle from my little guy. Now that he's getting older, he even corrects me! "No, mommy! PWAYGWOUND!"

It's easy to make learning fun - for your kiddos AND for you. Wordplay is a great way to introduce your littles to the complexities of language in a way that sparks their curiosity. Have you dabbled with wordplay today?


What other fun games do you use to engage your kids in language development? Tell me your tricks on Twitter @pi3sugarpi3. 

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