Loud and quiet are basic sound concepts that can be taught to toddlers. Even though we tend to teach it in games, as a parent, I’ve found it to be a pretty useful tool (like trying to get a toddler to speak quietly when they’re being too loud in public). Here’s the approach I used to teach loud and quiet to my 23-month old:
- Teach whispering. This part may take time until they figure out how to create the sound of a whisper. I find the changing table a good place to practice (or anywhere else you talk a lot). You can ask questions in a regular voice then ask another question in a whisper. Repeating words is good for this activity, like, “Can you say ‘cat’?” Then whisper, “what sound does a dog make?” Counting numbers works, too. Before my son knew how to whisper, he’d answer my whisper in a regular voice. Once he could whisper, he’d repeat back in the same voice I used. Some words are hard to say whispered so you may not always get an answer. I also reinforce what we were doing by saying, “We’re whispering!”
- Teach loud voices. Once a toddler can whisper, loud is fairly easy to teach. It’s a matter of imitation (which toddlers love to do). You could ask in a whisper, “Can you whisper?” and keep talking in a whisper until they whisper back. Then, ask loudly, “Can you be loud?” and they’ll probably respond loudly. My son is usually the one switching our conversation between loud and quiet now.
- Using dynamics (loud and quiet) with songs. We sing “The Ants Go Marching” a lot which is perfect for this (not to mention it keeps it interesting after singing hundreds of times). After the ants go marching a couple times, we switch to a whisper. My son only says a couple words of the song (like “Hoorah” or “one, two”) but he’ll imitate the loud or quiet voice I’m using. If he says “Hoorah” in full voice I’ll switch back to singing instead of whispering. Any repetitive song would work well for this.
- Using instruments to play these games. We use our Remo Lollipop Drums and match what our voices are doing. If we are singing or talking loud, we hit the drums loud. If we’re whispering, we hit the drums lightly. You can also talk about what’s going on, like, “We’re being loud!” or “We’re being quiet now.”
- Using “shh” for quiet. To me, it made sense to teach the words “whisper” and “quiet” before “shh”. “Shh” isn’t a word I would use to describe something while it’s happening – it’s more like a command (like saying “stop” or “go”). But, it could be easily added to these other activities by saying, “Shh! We’re being quiet” or using “shh” to be the signal to switch to quiet. The hand motion that goes along with “shh” can also be fun for them, too.
You can practice loud and quiet using some books for toddlers about sound.