Previously, I mentioned that our little ones tend to produce the most visible speech sounds first; those that involve the lips, like /m, p, b/ and /w/. From there, sound development follows a general path from the forward-most sounds toward the back of the mouth. So, from the lips, we move inward toward the back, and we arrive at the alveolar ridge, located directly behind your upper front teeth. Alveolar sounds are those that are made when we bring the tip of the tongue to that ridge, for example, /t, d, n/.
Some more complex alveolar sounds, like /s, z/ and /l/, come later as their coordination and strength develops.
Alveolar sounds are not as visible to little ones as the lip sounds but can be made more visible by simply opening your mouth slightly, maybe 1/4″ to 1/2″ when saying words like “dad” so they see can your tongue elevate. Draw attention to your mouth while saying common words in their daily routine; highlighting T and D words in people’s names, books, games, toys, etc., being at eye level, face-to-face so they can see your mouth.
If your child is not yet making these sounds by age three, begin talking about what is happening in more detail. Play with the noise makers (see previous post) and help them discover how to make funny noises with their tongue as it touches the top of the mouth. Have fun with it. Do it with them.
“The tip of my tongue touches the top of my mouth! d-d-d-d-d! t-t-t-t-t! na-na-na-na-na!”
Eventually, you can start to observe and comment on how they are making the sound in words. Again, pointing or otherwise drawing their attention to your mouth and speaking a little slower than normal with your mouth slightly open so they can see your tongue.
“You said, donut and I could see your tongue go up!”
Get excited about all the different sounds they make, even if they aren’t saying the same sounds you are saying. The point is to help them explore and enjoy making noises and gaining control over the parts of their mouth.
And if they try to say “Dad” but use the wrong sounds or leave off a sound, just model it back to them with all the correct sounds. No need to tell them it was wrong, just show them how you do it and let them make the connection that yours was different.