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Teaching Activities for Developmentally Delayed Toddlers

Your neighbor says her 3-year-old is always talkative and uses lots of new words. Your child is the same age, but has a limited vocabulary. Should you be concerned? Child development is typically measured in milestones that indicate how a child should grow and develop at different ages. Keep in mind that the recommended milestones are just guidelines; each child is unique. Your toddler will progress differently than your neighbor's child.

Engage your little one in activities that target weak areas, increase development and help her reach her potential.

Social and Emotional

Toddlers are learning to interact, and they're interested in what others do. To develop socially and emotionally, a toddler needs plenty of interaction with other children, says Dr. Paul Busceni, dean of the School of Education at Kendall College in Chicago. If your child doesn't attend a day care facility, consider joining a local play group. "Set up parallel play with other children, so your child can see what they do and mirror their movements," suggests Busceni. Pair your child with others for structured team activities. She can participate in a library reading group to develop social skills while strengthening reading skills.

Read books that have emotional words. Talk about the characters' feelings. "Why do you think Mr. Bear is so sad, Susan?" Make sock puppets and act out stories with your little one.

RELATED: 10 Terrible Toddler Phases

Language and Communication

Toddlers learn to take in information and process it. They express themselves through speech and language. "Give your toddler a mirror to talk into, so he can look at himself to see if his mouth is moving like yours," suggests Busceni. The use of a straw helps develop mouth movement and muscles. Licking a lollipop strengthens the muscles of the tongue, and blowing bubbles also strengthens mouth muscles, adds Busceni.

Immerse your child in language. Ask him to follow simple directions in daily activities or games such as "Simon Says." Read repetitive, predictable books. Verbalize routines, such as buying fruit at the grocery store or brushing teeth. "The toothpaste is on the toothbrush, Tommy. Now move the toothbrush up and down on your teeth." Sing songs to enhance vocabulary: "This is the way we go up the stairs, up the stairs, up the stairs . . ."

Motor Skills

Toddlers' muscles grow stronger each day. Their gross motor skills get a workout when they use large muscles to run, hop and jump during unstructured play. Take your little one to the playground and monitor her as she climbs on the apparatus and slides down the slide. Design a treasure hunt where she has to find various items by crawling around on the floor (under a chair, behind a couch), recommends Busceni. Let her toss foam balls into a cardboard box, kick a beach ball around the yard or play catch with you.

To develop fine motor skills of the hands and fingers, encourage your toddler to draw or scribble. She can dress and undress a baby doll. Cut a shape from cardboard and punch holes around the perimeter, and she can lace it. "Use toys that emphasize shape and size (fit the right shape in the right hole)," advises Busceni. Provide cups, funnels, sand and water, and she'll enjoy filling and dumping.

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Visual and Spatial Skills

Your child might have adequate language skills but a poor sense of direction. Play games such as "Hide-and-Go-Seek." Your child can put puzzles together (the ones with big pieces), says Busceni. Use puppet shows to emphasize a skill or words such as bigger, smaller, higher and lower. Your little one can build towers with blocks or large Legos. Put on some tunes, and he'll carry out movements that develop rhythmic capabilities. He can determine the size, weight and shape of things using a balance board, says Busceni.


If your toddler is losing ground or can't do things she did before, talk to your health-care provider as soon as you notice these signs. Your physician will screen your child to see if she needs a treatment plan. He can inform you of local resources geared toward children who are experiencing significant developmental delays. Your little one may be eligible for early intervention services in your state.

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