Building Language With Art

Hi friends! In honor of Better Speech and Hearing Month, I have teamed up with Katie from Let’s Grow Speech to bring you a fun and information-packed series called Playing With Language designed to highlight easy ways to stimulate language that you can do at home with your little one.  In case you missed them, so far in this series I have shared  fun ways to Build Language with Sensory Play,  tips on Building Language with Small World Play, and all about Building Language with Music.  Today’s post covers one of my favorite topics- language and ART!

Building Language with Art at Twodaloo

My twins (age 2) have recently begun to demonstrate interest in art activities (yippee!), and I am finding lots of ways to encourage language development while we get creative. Art activities provide lots of opportunities for language stimulation, from vocabulary development all the way to critical thinking and reasoning.

Choosing Your Activity

Younger children remain engaged longer when presented with process-based art projects, which focus more on the act of creating art rather than the finished product.  Open-ended art activities allow you to follow your child’s lead during the process, which is ideal for encouraging spontaneous speech.  Messy art projects such as finger painting allow you to take advantage of the benefits of sensory play for language stimulation.  I am also fond of large-scale art activities that use oversized canvases, such as a sheet or a giant cardboard box, to encourage gross motor movements- these are great for engaging active toddlers and the large motor movements often stimulate speech production as well.

Here are some examples of art activities we have done recently that were great for language stimulation:

Fun with Fingerpaint at Twodaloo    Finger Painting a Giant Cardboard Box





framehoriz     Clay Nature Collage





Toddler Wire Basket Sculpture   Wire Basket Sculpture




Click HERE for more tips on getting started with toddler art!

AND…I have an awesome Toddler Art Pinterest board full of great ideas HERE!

Building Vocabulary

Art activities are packed with opportunities to practice existing vocabulary and introduce new words.  Art can be described on different levels depending on where your child is at in their development.  At the most concrete level, children can talk about the sensory aspects of the process, including the sights, textures, and if you’ve added these elements, even smells and sounds they encounter during their experience!  They can also expand and practice using verbs by describing their actions.  For example, a fun multi-sensory art activity might be taping a white piece of paper to the bottom of a box, dipping jingle bells in paint scented with essential oils or extracts, placing the bells in the box, and tilting/shaking the box (with lid on) to “paint” the paper with the jingle bells.  You could even take it a step further by using an edible paint recipe- talk about engaging all the senses!  Use expansion and extension strategies to build on your child’s spontaneous comments during art play activities.

Building Language with ART at Twodaloo

Moving a bit beyond the process, children can describe the aesthetic elements of their art during and after they create it. They can talk about shapes, patterns, and lines they may see within their artwork, as well as colors and textures.  Including several different types of media expands the opportunities for a rich vocabulary experience as well. You can also take the opportunity to use vocabulary related to spatial relationships, size, and positioning when talking with a child about their art.

Building Language with ART at Twodaloo

Storytelling and Sequencing

If an art project includes a multi-step process, a great way to encourage connected speech is to have the children retell the steps of the experience after they are done. Even though my twins are still in the emerging language stage, we do this quite often with the help of our family chalkboard.  We talk about the project we just did and I draw simple pictures and words based on what they say, and then they retell the steps of the activity to my husband when he gets home from work.  They love to be able to tell him about their day, and he loves having the board as a “cheat sheet” when he doesn’t quite catch what they are saying.  I love that they are practicing connected speech and storytelling in a meaningful context!  If you have children who are working on sequencing the steps of an activity, take photos of each step while the children are completing the project, print them out, and mix them up.  Have the children put them in the correct order and retell the story using the photos as a guide.

Building Language with ART at Twodaloo

Symbolic Representation/Realism in Art

Children who are a bit further in language development may be able to take advantage of the symbolic nature of art and begin to label real-life objects that their art may represent to them. My twins have just begun to do this- what looks like a random nest of scribbles to me may be a tree, a bumblebee, or a tiger to them. At this point, a whole new world of language stimulation opportunities opens up because children are starting to understand symbolic representation and use it in their art.  Symbolic representation is crucial for language development as well (language is just an abstract symbol system, after all) so encouraging this type of thinking through art will help feed growth on the language department.

Problem Solving and Reasoning

Once children begin to make art that represents a real-life object or concept, you can begin to stimulate higher-level language skills by engaging in problem solving and reasoning exercises.  Children can discuss and negotiate what materials or mediums might be best for a particular project, what supplies they need to gather, and what techniques they might want to try.

Social Language

Art activities are a great opportunity for children to practice social, or pragmatic, language skills.  At the earliest level, setting up the environment so that children have to request items from an adult (only giving them small pinches of clay at a time, keeping supplies just out of reach, etc.) is a great way to practice functional communication.  If you are working with a group, you can engineer the activity so that children have to ask each other for items- set out a variety of different tools instead of the exact same thing for each child so that they have to ask each other for desired items and negotiate if necessary.  Please be sure your group is developmentally ready for this- I don’t always do this with my twins because it’s not worth the battle quite yet! However, it was very helpful for my social groups in elementary settings that needed to practice sharing and turn-taking in a meaningful environment.

One thing I have noticed is my twins complimenting each others’ (and my) work recently…just yesterday my son told me, “That’s COOL, Mommy!” during a clay smooshing session, and my daughter told him, “Great job, Bubba!” several times.  I love that they are mimicking my commentary during their activities and using it appropriately. Plus, it’s just too darn cute for words 😉

I hope you have enjoyed our fourth installment of the Playing With Language series.  Be sure so come back next Thursday to learn about Building Language in the Kitchen, and in the meantime, please hop on over to Let’s Grow Speech to see her latest fantastic post- Building Language with Stories! She’s got free printables and a great roundup of storytelling ideas from other awesome moms, too.

young girl telling terrifying story

Playing with Language series at Twodaloo


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  1. Wow! That looks fantastic. My twin boys (3 years) would love finger-painting that large cardboard box. Love all of the extension activities you’ve created to go along with it.

  2. Stephanie, this is such a beautiful collection of ideas to make art sessions language rich. Loving this series- shame speech therapy month isn’t celebrated all year round:-)

  3. I love the organic learning that is happening in these activities!

  4. The posts in this series are fantastic, Stephanie. Informative yet easy to read, and full of fabulous suggestions. I love, love, love the idea of painting with jingle bells!

  5. Such a true, true, true post — it’s amazing how art can be such a rich language experience for the kiddos. Thanks for sharing this at Stress-Free Sunday last weekend. :)

  6. My new favorite blog!!! Easy to read, great tips and awesome ideas!!! Thanx!!!

  7. Thanks for this wonderful article!

  8. Wow. I love this post. I did this with my now four year old when he was very young and at 2.5 his vocabulary was (and still is amazing) I had no idea I was doing it though. I just love art and to talk so it just kinda happened. Now I guess I know how his language is so extensive. :) now I have two kids and sometimes it’s harder to do the messy stuff but now I am motivated to get at it again. Thanks.


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