Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Babbles and Bubbles: How Bubbles Help Your Child Learn Language

Hands down, bubbles are my favorite speech therapy toy.  There's just something magical about their ability to entice a little one to communicate. They shimmer and shine, appear and disappear, float away and pop at random, tempting even the most grumpy child into smiles and laughter.  And since engaging children in activities they love is the first step to working on communication, bubbles can be a beautiful bridge to language. 

Before I explain how the bubble magic unfolds, though, I'll share my favorite bubble recipe.  It's one I found back when I was eleven years old and spent hours upon hours perfecting HUGE bubbles, made with a spectacular bubble wand.  To this day, I use the recipe I found back then,  because I still haven't found one that works better. Plus, it's easy!
  • One cup Dawn dish soap
  • Ten cups water
  • 2-3 tablespoons glycerin (found at a local pharmacy)
That's it.  Makes the perfect bubble every time.

So then, what's all this about bubble magic?
  • Bubbles are a great activity for getting some first words going, because you can use lots of "b" and "p" sounds, These speech sounds are easy for children to imitate because they can see exactly what your lips do when you make the sounds. Obviously, the word "bubble" is full of "b" sounds; "pop" is another great word to model as you play, so is "up" as the bubbles go up up up into the air, and "bye" as the bubbles float away in the wind.
  • Because bubbles are hard for young children to blow themselves, they are a perfect communication temptation.  To use bubbles as a communication temptation, blow them for a while, and have some fun. Then put the cap on the bubble jar and wait, looking expectantly at your child. Or, catch the bubble on the wand, hold it up high, and wait. Or look like you are about to blow a bubble and wait. It is during the wait that your little one is most likely to communicate, either through a sound, a gesture, or a word. When she does, build on her communication by modeling back something a bit more complex than what she did, and then give her what she wants. 
  • You can also use my favorite three magic words: Say "Ready, Set, Go!" right before blowing the bubbles. Do this repeatedly, without any expectation of a response. Then, one time, say "Ready, Set...." and wait; the word "go" will often fall right out of your little one's mouth.
  • You can be silly with bubbles! Children love silly, and you can pair your silly actions with words to increase the chances that your child will imitate. When I am blowing bubbles, they often pop right into my face (sometimes by accident, sometimes by design) and I have to wipe them off with an exaggerated "uck!"  I also squash bubbles with my hands and stomp on bubbles with great delight, saying "pop" as I go, wave "bye bye," as the bubbles float off into the distance, and diiiiiiiip the wand into the bubbles.
  • Playing with bubbles is a great time to model action and description words to increase your child's language. Action words are easily woven into the activity as you open the bubbles, blow the bubbles, and pop the bubbles; simple and early developing concepts are present too, as you blow big and little bubbles, as the bubbles go up and down, the wand goes in and out of the bubble jar, and as things get wet when the bubbles pop (or spill!), so you have to get a towel to dry them off again.  These verbs and concepts can be worked on at the single world level at first, and then integrated into two word phrases as your little one's language develops. 
  • Best of all, it's hard not to smile while watching your little one enjoy the beauty of bubbles. And smiling is good for everyone. :)


  1. We believe bubbles are a very important tool in any SLPs bag! It is always amazing how quickly kids can learn "more please" and "I want" when you break out the bubbles!

  2. I totally agree about bubbles being a great tool for SLPs. Another activity I like to incorporate with bubbles is body parts, you can offer choices "should we blow bubbles on your hands or your feet?" The kids love you to blow bubbles towards them and it gets them talking.

  3. I am not a SLP but I do teach Baby Signing classes and, as a treat, every third week when we have recap week I use Gymboree Bubble Ooodles - for details see link below. The babies and toddlers LOVE these bubbles because not only are they great bubbley fun in the usual way, they can also be caught, held and last for ages!

    I totally agree with what you have said about how the children react to bubbles both when I first get them out and when I stop blowing they definately 'ask' for more either by signing, sound or actual words.

    A great blog, thank you!


  4. Don't forget, with a "regular" wand you can blow "big bubbles" and "little bubbles" "One bubble" and "Lots of bubbles". We also work on slow and fast (because every last one of them want to learn how to blow big bubbles. So I blow fast on their hand to simulate what they are doing (result: little bubbles) and then blow sssssllllllooooowwwwwlllllyyy (and say the word that way) (result: big bubble)...eventually they are blowing big bubbles themselves. Great oral motor, too.

  5. We use bubbles with our hearing impaired youngsters. The bubbles are magical and readily help elicit the /p/ when we "pop" them!

  6. I love bubbles, I have also used them as an immeidate reward for eye contact as well as the ideas you have mentioned. My favourite new toy is a 'sword' which makes 'big' bubbles - it's also nice & big so it's easier for children to blow them.

  7. I have a 3 yo client who is mostly using single vowels and occasional CV combinations to communicate. We've been working on signs to supplement speech and increasing length of utterances. I am definitely going to use some of these suggestions next week during therapy to promote his language! Bubbles in therapy are way too much fun.
    Aubrey Taylor Klingensmith
    @atklingensmith (Twitter)

  8. Thank you very much for this blog. I have a seventeen month old who is not talking (we have a hearing test booked and if that's clear I will be going back to the doctor and asking for a referral in case he has language or other delays/problems), but I have been struggling to find things I can do to try to help him, or rather, I have felt a bit lost in all the information. I really like your clear style and supportive tone. Thanks

  9. This idea works wonders! My son is 20 months and is enrolled in speech therapy because of a language delay. His therapist uses bubbles and he actually said "bub bubs" and "pop" After only hearing him say "ma" and "da" I was jumping for joy! And once he saw how excited we were over him using his new words it has opened a window for him to say new words.

  10. this is wonderful tips..thanks a lot for the wonderful idea that you have shared specially i will become a mother soon..bubbles is so easy way to speak specially for infants..

  11. I work with children in Early Intervention and this is a wonderful article! I will use it regularly.

  12. I work with children in Early Intervention and this is a wonderful article! I will use it regularly.

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  14. love bubbles.I use them at childcare to calm and relax children. They get so excited and their face lights up. A great happiness fills the room. Thankyou for the speech therapy ideas as well, will be doing this in the future