Top Toys To Get Toddler's Talking With Bonus Vocabulary Builder 

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Speech Therapist      Dr Sandra McMahon PhD

I love playing skittles in my speech therapy clinic and with young kids. Who doesn’t like bowling with all the crashing and excitement when you knock them down! Skittles have such a fun physical aspect  so children can really get involved in the game. They can build and use their talking skills without even realising they are learning! You can optimise their learning by FOCUSing on different aspects of listening, talking and playing each time you play.


Speech Therapy for children with skittle play

Melissa & Doug Bowling Set for 2-4 year olds

With new toys it is always great to watch what children do without any directions or suggestions! (if safe of course). What do they do? What sounds, exclamations or words do they make? Do they recognise it or relate to going bowling if they have been before?

Communicating with others

Learning social interactional skills can take time. Modelling, what to do and saying things they can copy is a great way to build "game resilience". Skittles are great to encourage the following skills:

Turn - Taking Skills

​My turn to roll/your turn to roll. Use phrases like your turn, now my turn”. Praise with “good waiting” for your turn. Acknowledge it’s hard to wait sometimes (“It’s hard waiting but I like it too”). For younger children or those that do not really “get” waiting for a turn, then ensure you still have a turn but make it a very quick turn. If you both have balls, this can reduce the waiting time while the ball is collected. ​

Learning Boundaries & "Rules"

​Use the word "rules" to build it into a child's vocabulary. Explain rules such as: not too close, knocking it down with your hand isn’t the aim of the game, being too “robust” can make the ball fly off and hit something other than the skittles. Praise their attempts and tell them what was good (e.g., that was a great try - Rolling is much better than throwing). ​

Coping with not always being "Perfect" or the "Best"

​Sometimes I might knock more over and sometimes you knock more over! Sometimes I miss completely, sometimes I get them all! Praise effort not just how many they knock down. Provide scripts your child can use (e.g., deliberately miss and say “oh no I missed” with a sad pouty voice but then quickly exaggerate your change of mood saying “Oh well, next turn! (shrugging it off). ​

Understanding of language comes before talking

You will be surprised how you can use Skittles to build vocabulary and the ability to follow instructions.  Use the three steps below while playing Skittles with your child

​Cause & Effect

This refers to building an understanding that “what I say and do will impact on things or people”. When you think about it this is a key underlying reason why we all talk! Talk about, demonstrate and use words to encourage them to see that if they roll the ball the right direction some skittles will fall down. Encourage them to “experiment” and talk about the results. Does the number of skittles falling down get more or less if I roll it hard or soft. ("Oh too soft; the roll was too little; not strong enough to push them down!")

​Following Directions & Explanations

There are SO many directions you can use with skittles you probably wouldn’t even realise just how many you are naturally using! E.g.,  Put the skittles up, stand here, roll it rather than throw it, wait for my turn, stand up the one that fell down, pick it up, give it to me, get the ball, give the ball to ____, if you roll it there they will fall down, try to knock them all down.


*Thing/Object words: ball, skittle, floor, hand (use your hand)

*Describing words too hard, little roll, big roll, red skittle, lots of skittles, heavy skittle, crashing down, noisy skittles

*Action words rolling, falling, standing up, knocking down, bouncing, pushing,

*Maths words counting how many fall down or stay standing, more or less than me/ than last time

*Pronouns/people words: your turn, my turn, Daddys, you (you stand it up), me (give the ball to me), I (I got one).

*Place words: skittles go up, down, on the floor, over there, next to that one, behind that one.

*Social words: help (if skittle wont stand up), thank you/ta, please (asking for ball)

Spoken Speech & Language

Games that are fun and exciting to play are the best to boost speech & language! Children learn best when they are enjoying themselves.  You can adapt what you would like your toddler to say or do depending on their age and speaking skills. Skittles are SO versatile you can use them with any age and any speaking skill!

Children Not Really Saying Words Yet

*Encourage them to imitate your actions (standing up the skittle, rolling it towards the skittles, jumping up and down in excitement when you get one)

*Encourage them to copy Exclamations: Oh Boy does skittles lend itself to exclamations! Weeeeee (as you roll), Boom! Or Crash? (when the ball hits with force or they scatter), Uh OH! or OH NO! (when the ball misses), Yeah!, yay!, wow! (when you get a skittle)

*Encourage gestures to communicate with you eg encourage them to point  to where the ball is  or to the one that fell over;  tap their chest to say “me” to ask for a turn or pat the spot where they want you to put the skittle; mime rolling to show you they want to do it

Children Ready to Use a Few Single Words

*Encourage them to use the last word in a common phrase eg Read, Set, ______ (as the ball is rolled), 1, 2, ____ (counting fallen skittles)

Building New Words & Sentences

Take a look in the “understanding section” – for any of the words or phrases suggested in that section that you think your child does “understand” then encourage them  to use the words during the game. If you say the same phrases EVERYTIME (scripts) your child will learn to match the word with the thing or object. This will encourage them to say it too. If you pick “up” as a target for them to say then you say “Stand UP skittle, stand UP skittle” everytime you or they stand a skittle up. Believe me that will be lots of repetitions in even a 10 minute game of skittles! Repetition is the key. If you say this every time and then after a while you say “stand ______” with an expected tone in your voice as you pause putting the skittle up, your child just might finish the sentence with a word.

If you are getting words then encourage them to use whole sentences or longer sentences eg "stand up skittle"; “I can stand this one up”,"I think I will get 3 skittles this time!"; “the blue skittle fell down but the green one didn’t”.

Speech Therapist      Dr Sandra McMahon PhD

In therapy I use the actual game in all the above ways to target all of the above activities. But to make it a star of speech and language learning I incorporate added extras! 

Speech TherapistDr Sandra McMahon PhD

This is how I use Skittles to boost speech clarity.

If I am encouraging a specific sound, skittles can be a great way to “drill” or say the same words over and over. I use blue tac to stick lots of pictures of things starting with the same sound (e.g.,  the /h/ sound: house, hand, hippo). We can then encourage the children to name the pictures as we stand each skittle up. The anticipation of playing the game can be enough to boost their willingness to name the pictures. Then they get to have a turn rolling the ball. You can then  name the ones that fall down again!   Drilling the new sounds and and loving it at the same time! Skittles can  even encourage sentences e.g. (my ball hit the h____; Here is the h_____). Always consult a speech pathologist if you have concerns about your child's speech and language development.

Speech TherapistDr Sandra McMahon PhD

This is how I use Skittles to boost language / vocabulary skills. 

Understanding and using spoken vocabulary is SO important to encourage talking skills in toddlers – actually in all children AND adults! In our online WORD COUNTER in our SpeechNet Shop, we ‘test” not only how many spoken words a child is saying (to see if it is enough for their age,) BUT also if they are saying words across  a range of word categories (e.g. house hold things, actions, food, toys, transport etc.).

Learning to group or categorise words together is an important cognitive skill for both vocabulary and also problem solving. Our FREE VOCABULARY DOWNLOAD has lots of pictures grouped into categories (e.g. foods, animals, furniture).  You can blue tac the cut out individual pictures onto the skittles talking about all the things in one category at a time (e.g., a chair is furniture; a table is furniture, an orange isn’t furniture!). The category names are just as important as the words within the categories.

Play skittles and you or your child can name all the words that got knocked down or stayed standing! After a while you could mix up the category pictures and sort them into the correct categories. Take the picture off the skittle after it has been knocked down, name it and put it in the right pile to match it’s category. 

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Tell us in the Comments your ideas for Skittles. Take a look at a few different version of skittle sets on Amazon!

Hey! Play! Lawn Bowling Game/Skittle Ball- Indoor and Outdoor Fun for Toddlers, Kids, Adults -10 Wooden Pins, 2 Balls, and Mesh Bag Set by (8 Inch) Toys of Wood Oxford Wooden Skittles for Children - Wooden Skittle Set Animal Faces 12 Pieces Large Size - Wooden Toys 2 Year Old
Speech Therapy for children with skittle play

Motor skills, sensory outdoor play AND boost Vocabulary

teaching number vocabulary

Animal names, sounds, numbers: SO much Vocabulary in a fun game!

Melissa & Doug Bowling Set for 2-4 year olds

Sandra McMahon

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