There are so many things we can do in everyday life to encourage language growth in our children. Whether you have an infant, toddler, or a school-aged child, there are limitless ways to add language enrichment to your day. Some activities, such as reading together and singing songs, are great across age groups. There are also many things you can do to maximize your child’s language growth based on your child’s age.
Respond to your child’s babbling. Responding to your baby’s babbling helps lay the foundation for back and forth communication that comes later.
Use gestures or sign language. Signing gives children who may not have their first word yet a way to communicate. Gestures or simple sign language aid a child’s understanding of language. You can stick to basic signs for words you use frequently, such as: more, all done, eat, drink, mom, dad.
Treat ear infections quickly. Know the signs of an ear infection. If your child is tugging on his/her ear, crying more than usual, having trouble sleeping, or having ear drainage, get in touch with your doctor. Ear infections can cause temporary hearing loss because of the fluid in the middle ear. Hearing loss at a young age is associated with speech and language delays.
Encourage joint attention. Joint attention generally means the same thing as shared attention. This emerges in babies around 9 months. It is one of the first social skills that we learn. Parents can encourage joint attention many different ways, including Peek-a-Boo, reading together, and taking turns with favorite toys.
Extend 1 word phrases. It is so exciting when a child finally has a few words to communicate. Now, when your child requests “nana” during breakfast, you can extend the utterance by modeling “nana please,” or “want nana.”
Labeling. Whether you take your baby to the grocery store, the zoo, or a baseball game, there is nearly limitless vocabulary for you to label. If you notice your child looking at the bakery in the grocery store, tell him, “cakes.”
Avoid testing. It’s thrilling to watch your child learn new words. However, it is important to avoid the temptation to directly “test” your child. Avoid saying “What’s this?” Over and over. If your child doesn’t know what something is, he may feel embarrassed or anxious.
Use clear speech. Try to face your child and use clear speech when communicating with him/her. This can help your child pick up on the nuances of speech sounds.
Limit “no”. As your child learns to communicate, try to be as positive as possible. If he/she says, “Look at the tree!” and it’s actually a shrub, try to word your correction in a positive light!
Read books together. Reading books together is important from birth throughout childhood. By this age, see if your child can retell parts of familiar books.
Give your child options. When you have plans to go out to eat, give your child options. “Are you in the mood for a burger, macaroni, or pizza?” This will help him/her see that he/she gains some autonomy through communication.
Pretend play. Spend some time doing pretend play with your child. Have your child act our brushing your teeth or making your lunch.
Describe what you see. We know how important it is to label the things around us. Now that your child is older, take it to the next level. Instead of just labeling, provide a few descriptions. When you see apples in the grocery store, say “green shiny apple” instead of just, “apple.”
Storytelling. Take turns with your child making up silly stories. See how far your child can extend the story.
Play dates. By this age, children are learning some very important social communication skills. The best way to practice these skills is to be surrounded by other children!
Make books about trips and new experiences. Did you recently take a trip to visit family members who live faraway? Did your child take swim lessons this summer? Create a simple book together highlighting the experiences. Use photos from the trip to decorate the book. Have your child tell you what to write, as much as possible.
Play Simon Says. As your child prepares for kindergarten, it is essential that he/she can follow directions. Make following directions a fun activity by playing Simon Says together.
Rhyme together. Go back and forth with your child and try to rhyme words. Stick to simple words like bat and cat in the beginning. Rhyming is essential for phonological awareness.
What kinds of activities or strategies do you use to encourage your child to communicate?