(Disclaimer: While I am a trained speech-language pathologist, the following tips are general suggestions to help encourage your child’s language development. If you feel your child may have a speech or language delay, please contact your child’s pediatrician or your local early intervention program for screening or assistance).
Like many first time moms, after my first child was born I quickly realized that there were a lot of aspects of parenting I didn’t feel skilled at. I comforted myself in knowing that there was one thing I was knowledgeable about, and that was speech and language development.
My professional background is in speech-language pathology. I graduated with my Masters in 2006. For over 8 years prior to the birth of my second child, I worked with children as a speech-language pathologist (SLP). For those not familiar with the profession, speech-language pathologists can be found working with children and adults in a variety of settings. These can include early intervention, schools, nursing homes, hospitals and NICUs, skilled nursing facilities, and outpatient centers, among others. Our schooling prepares us to help prevent, evaluate, and provide therapy for individuals who have needs in many areas including speech, receptive and expressive language, speech fluency, speech resonance, voice, and swallowing.
Although I currently wear the hat of ‘stay at home mom,’ a part of me will always be an SLP!
In honor of May officially being ‘Better Hearing and Speech Month,’ I’ve decided to share some of my suggestions for encouraging language development in children, the reasoning behind them, and how I have used them when interacting with my own children.
You may already be doing a lot to encourage your child’s speech and language development; maybe some you’re doing without even knowing! It’s my hope that the following suggestions can help you expand what you’re already doing or give you some new ideas.
So without further ado, here are…
My Top Five Tips To Encourage Language Development In Young Children:
1) Talk to Your Children During Your Daily Routines.
You can work on language development during your busy routine. Talk about what you’re doing and what’s going on around you. Even if you think you sound ridiculous talking to your two-week-old baby about folding laundry. You don’t have to talk all day long. Just make an effort to talk to your children through a couple of major parts of your day. They may not understand what you are saying at an early age. However, in any scenario in which a caregiver is speaking, babies are learning the rhythm and intonation of speech. This helps prime them for more complex language development.
Personally, I have grocery shopped with my youngest ever since she was born and, while she was awake and not passed out in the car seat, I talked to her about things I was buying at the store, where we were heading in the building next, etc. Now she’s two and can converse with me during our shopping excursions. It is obvious that she’s been listening to my language models. For instance, when I tell her we are all done, she usually asks me if it’s time to check out. She understands what ‘check out’ is as a two year-old because I have helped her build the relationship between the term and the experience associated with it for the last year or so.
2) Read to Your Kids as Often as Possible
We know reading to our children is important. It is one of the best activities you can do to promote speech and language development. It doesn’t matter what ages your kids are; they all benefit in some way from being read to. Again, young babies recognize and find comfort in familiar voices, and are exposed to speech sounds and language rhythm while being read to. Books aid in vocabulary development by teaching words and their meanings in a variety of contexts. Children also learn about grammar structure through books. Preschoolers and older students discover ways to communicate their feelings and/or in particular situations thanks to books that tackle specific topics.
No matter the age of your young child, anything (with appropriate content) will do! Magazines, street signs, cereal boxes at the grocery store, or any label you can find, are all fair game. Anything you can read will help young kids assign meanings to words.
My five year-old often points out written words in the environment. If he doesn’t already know what they say, he asks. Many of these interactions spark conversations about word meanings. I love these conversations and experiencing his language growth first-hand!
3) Play with Your Kids
Children make all kinds of connections through play; it is how children explore and experience the world around them. When you play and interact with your kids, both verbally and non-verbally, they learn all kinds of vocabulary and grammar. They also learn how language is used in a variety of contexts. Play also helps children develop social turn-taking. Here are some playtime activities and/or strategies I often suggest to parents. My recommendations are always based on the child’s developmental level, in addition to their age, and any cultural factors.
- Peek-a-Boo – This game is found to be played by babies in a lot of cultures around the world and it is easy to see why. It promotes not only social interaction and development of object permanence, but also action imitation, which is a stepping stone to language imitation.
Vocal Play– Blow raspberries and make sounds of varying pitch. When your babies coo (use vowel sounds), you can play with their lips and/or pat your hand over their mouth to change the sound. They are listening and learning what their voices can do!
Mirror Play– Babies and young children really do love mirrors. They pay attention to them and can watch their own faces and your face as you interact and speak. They gain socially from this as well, due to the development of joint attention.
Work on Environmental Sounds– Onomatopoeia is your friend. Moo! Vroom! Boom! Be noisy when you’re playing with farm animals and cars. Pretend your finger is a bumble bee and buzz as you veer in for some tickling. Sound effects are usually pretty simple and fun for kids and they also help children learn about actions.
Pretending– My children are old enough to love to pretend and there is no limit to their imaginations. From pretending they are characters from ‘Frozen,’ to pretending they are serving me a five-course meal, there is a new experience every day in their play. My daughter has picked up so much language from my son by pretending with him all the time.
4) Sing, Sing, Sing!
If you ever hang out with my children, it is evident that this is one of my favorite language building strategies. Both my five year-old and my two year-old love to sing. For the past five and a half years, I have not gone for more than a handful of car rides without singing to one or both of my children. I sang during their tummy times as infants. I sang as I took a shower while they were in the bouncer seat on the other side of the curtain. There are plenty of days even now when I feel like all I do is sing to or with my kids.
In general, songs expose children to new vocabulary and encourage memory development. Songs introduce young children to the use of tones, beats, and rhythms. According to well-known author and Consultant in Neuro-Development Education Sally Goodard Blythe, children respond differently to a parent singing than they do to recorded music, as babies seem to more actively respond to a parent’s voice, which is part of babies’ social development. In addition, songs often contain rhyming words and help encourage children to manipulate and play with sounds, which promotes language and phonics skills (Canizares). So, warm up your vocals and delve into your best rendition of ‘Itsy Bitsy Spider’ or, better yet, sing and work on animal sounds at the same time by singing ‘Old MacDonald.’
5) After You Speak- WAIT!
Wait for a response, whether it be an imitation of an action, sound or word, or an answer to a question. Even with babies who are only cooing or babbling, WAIT! This is one of the HARDEST things for me to do as a professional and a parent. I’ve already mentioned that you should talk to your children A LOT, but we must also remember to be silent at the appropriate times. After all, how will you ever know if your kids are learning to talk if you don’t give them a chance to? Once you do or say something, WAIT for your child to imitate or respond. And wait a reasonable amount of time.
When you think about it, your brain does an amazing amount of work just to hold a short conversational exchange. When a conversational partner says something, you must hear it, process it in your brain, formulate a response, and then carry out the motor act of saying it. That requires a lot of firing neurons! Some children might need you to wait five or ten seconds for them to respond. That is okay. Giving them this time assures them that it is their turn to speak and that their response matters to you. I do my best with this. It is something I admittedly have to work on, especially with my own children who I am not always as patient with.
Whatever developmental stage your child is in, there is plenty you can do to promote language development! I hope you’ve found something new you can try with your kids based on this list. Maybe you can even pat yourself on the back for working on language development without even realizing it before!
Here are some other great resources on language development:
|Speech and Language Milestones||(****Note that all milestones are guidelines. Just because your child doesn’t hit a milestone on a particular date, it doesn’t necessarily mean they are language delayed or impaired. Again, if you have concerns, please consult your pediatrician or trained professional).
|Learning About Verbs||http://www.hanen.org/Helpful-Info/Articles/Verbs-Pave-Way-for -Language-Development.aspx|
|Language Modeling Tips||http://www.playingwithwords365.com/2011/11/strategies-to-help-your-child-talk-modeling -and-requiring-language/|
|Language and Literacy||http://www.playingwithwords365.com/2014/09/how-to-choose-great-childrens-books-to-support-speech-language-development-infants-toddlers-preschoolers/|
|Teaching Environmental Sounds||https://speechbaby.net/2017/01/18/using-sound-effects-to-engage-babies-in-communication|
What activities are you doing to help your child in the area of language development? Is there anything new you can try?