Toot, Toot, Chugga, Chugga, Speech in the car! 10 activities to build speech and language on your car trips.

Andrea Cooper
Senior Speech Pathologist

Families are very busy and building time into your day to work on specific speech and language goals is not always easy to do. I have some families tell me the one place where they can practice each day at the same time, is often in the car. This is not the typical setting for therapy activities however there are some ways to make it work!

Thinking about your own experience as a child, what did your family do to entertain you on road trips? We didn’t have IPads or DVD players… what we did have though were books, songs, CD (or tape) stories and each other! We often talked a lot in the car, sometimes too much (sorry Dad!).

So, let’s ditch the screens in the car for the short drives and play some car games that will build your child’s language.

1. I Spy

I Spy is a great game to play in the car. We can also adjust the activity for our younger children so they can play too.
Targets: In this activity we are working on sounds, categories, vocabulary, describing and asking/answering questions.

For our younger children: focus on naming things you can see during your car ride. For example, “Look! Train”, “I spy a boat”, “I see a cat”. This will give your child a label for the object and actions on your trip. You could also work on making the sounds of the object. For example, “I can see a cow… mooo”, “I can see a train… choo choo”.

Make sure you point to the object you are naming.

If your child labels something, expand on what they have said by adding one or two words.

For example, if your child says “truck”, you could say “big truck” or “blue truck”.

For older children: give a clue to the child about an object that you can see (the original I Spy game). However, you may not only focus on what letter the word starts with, instead you could focus on what sound the object starts with.

For example, “I spy with my little eye, something that starts with the ‘mm’ sound”.

You could also provide a clue with a description of the object. For example, “I spy something with my little eye, something that has two wheels, a motor and a person rides it.”

If your child is learning colours and shapes you could incorporate those concepts into your descriptions.

Switch roles; see if your child can give you clues/descriptions of objects.

2. Name 10 things that….

This is one of my favourite games when working on vocabulary and categories.

Each person takes turns to name a category. The everybody takes turns to name 10 things that will fit into that category until a total of 10 things are named. For example, “Name 10 zoo animals; zebra, lion, elephant….”

You can name colours, animals, transport, things that move slowly, foods etc.

3. Make up a story

Making up silly stories can be lots of fun! Ask your child to make up a story using ideas, activities, or characters he sees out the window. Be sure the story follows the correct
sequence of events. This activity can also be a team game. Each person in the family takes turns adding a sentence to the story! Below are some of my favourite story starters:

  • A pirate is going on a treasure hunt.
  • The knight must save the castle from a dragon.
  • The submarine is exploring underwater.
  • Making a monster sandwich
  • A genie gave you 3 wishes.

For younger children you might talk about your day, talk about where you are going and what you are going to do there.

For example, you might be going to the shops. You can talk about what you need to get, what food items you will buy, the steps for the trip (find a park, get out of the car, lock the car, walk into the store ….). These engaging and natural conversations are great for children to learn language including story sequences and prediction skills.

4. Sound focus

If your child is working on how to say a particular sound correctly, you could incorporate your speech practice to your car trips. Your child can practice 5 words starting with their target sound every time you have to stop at traffic lights. Make sure you are working at the level targeted in your speech therapy, i.e. the sound in isolation, at the start of words, in phrases etc.). It is important to give your child feedback on how they are making the sound.

5. ‘Same and Different’ Word games

Everyone takes turns in choosing a word. The other person must name one word that means the same thing and one word that has an opposite meaning. For example; “The word is ‘cold’”, “Hot is the opposite of cold, and icy ahs the same meaning”.

6. Sing nursery rhymes, ABCs, songs and poems together.

For younger children: Pause in the middle of your child’s favourite nursery rhyme. Your child may give you a gesture or make a noise for you to continue. Here is a link to a perfect example of this technique in practice;

For older children: Ask them to listen carefully, tell them you are going to change a word and at the end of the song they must tell you which word changed. For example, “Row, Row, Row your boat gently down the stream, if you hear a turtle don’t forget to scream! Which word did I change?”

7. Books or story CDs.

Keep some familiar and favourite children’s picture books in the car for your child to look at. Your child can look at the pictures and tell you the story in their own way. You can ask questions that invite your child to explain the story to you. For example, ask “Why was Goldilocks eating the porridge?” Ask questions that invite your child to compare stories. “Do you like this book or the other book better? Why?”

8. Rhyme time.

Take turns picking a word. Work together or one at a time to name other words that rhyme. You can adjust the rules to include made-up words too! e.g. “It’s rhyme time, time to rhyme the word ‘fast’” “last, past, cast, bast, mast, wast”.

You can ask your child to make up a funny meaning for the made-up word. For example, “wast, is the name for a wheel that falls off a trailer”.

9. Letter License

License plates and signs are great things to use for learning letters and numbers. Go on a letter hunt and invite your child to spell a word that he knows, like his name. Start by looking for the first letter. “The first letter in your name is a ‘L’. Let’s look for a license plate or a sign with a ‘L’ on it.” Then find the next letter. “Can you find an ‘a’?” Continue until you find all the letters in the word.

10. Camping Trip Memory game

This is a great game for the whole family. The game begins with one person saying, “I went on a camping trip and I brought…” The first person states an object that begins with the letter A (apple). The following family member repeats the phrase and adds his own item beginning with the letter B (“I went on a camping trip and I brought an apple and a balloon”). See how far down the alphabet you can get while you target auditory memory, attention, and phonemic awareness!

For younger children: Ask the children to name items that you would take camping in no particular order. Tell your child you are thinking of an object. Provide “clues” (function of the object, category, attributes, etc.) to help them figure it out!

Happy Talking


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