6 Amazing ways to encourage language development

Ever wonder how to support your child’s language development or just need some new ideas? Tot expert, Anastasia Moloney, shares six fun & simple activities that you can start today!

Laura Penley

The following activities are great to do with your child throughout your day, and allow you to have fun while doing it. Within each activity you can see how to adapt the activity to the appropriate age to keep your child challenged, anywhere from birth to around age 6. These activities can also easily be incorporated to your everyday routines, as we all know being a parent can be very busy. The best thing to do is to talk, talk, and talk throughout your day. To help your child blossom into a language learner is to be a strong model, patient listener, and a conversation partner.

1. Animal Fun!

Starting with your newborn baby, animals can be a fun topic to read about or to see in our environment. When looking at animals, model the sounds they make. Animal sounds can encourage babbling and initial sounds, as well as continue to help develop the sounds that are the building blocks of speech. To be a strong language model, discuss different colors, size, textures, or other attributes of animals you see in books, or in your surroundings. As your child begins talking, discuss the differences and ask questions. For three and four year olds, you can categorize animal pictures or figurines by where they live or how they move. No matter what your child chooses to say, always try to expand on their words, to further their vocabulary.

2. Play, Play, Play

Play is something your child loves to do, right from the start. Comment and narrate on what they are exploring and playing. As they explore a greater variety of toys, open-ended versatile toys with no batteries are best. Examples include cars, blocks, puppets and dolls. As your child’s play advances, have them describe what they are doing, or ask open-ended questions that help them explore new areas of play. This is the perfect opportunity to model more complex ideas, such as “the car is under, on, in, etc.”; or, sequential vocabulary such as “first, second, at the end.” Modeling new vocabulary around an activity, or what comes next in the activity is a fantastic way for your little one to associate learning new words with playtime!

3. Treasure box

This is a favorite activity for children of any age—simply adapt the items in the “treasure box” to your child’s age. For example, with babies, use anything that is safe to explore with your mouth, such as teething toys with different textures or colors. As your child grabs an item, use descriptive words to talk about the items. The older the child gets, include increasingly complex treasures. Ask them to describe the items, how and where this items can be used, or tell stories about where the item came from. These discussions transfer well to foods also, by discussing taste or texture, such as sour, salty, chewy, or crunchy.

4. Story time

Reading to your child is a critical tool in their development. As frustrating as it can seem, your child will most likely love reading the same books over and over and over. However, if you read that same book in different ways—whether making sounds, or describing the actions in the book in more detail, you not only help to retain your own sanity, you encourage imagination and learning.

When the child is young, the tactile or “flap books” are often very engaging. You will soon find your child anticipating the upcoming flaps, or even mimicking sounds of any animals hiding behind the flaps. Encourage your child to begin pointing to familiar objects, and if possible describe what they are. As your child’s language and attention span develop, you can read more advanced stories. When sharing story time between two age groups, engage your younger child by pointing to any pictures as you read the words, and expand on any descriptions of the pictures. For the more advanced readers, the questions you ask should become more complex. Or even better, create your own stories together that you can read and retell.

5. Music and Movement

Children love music, especially when it is paired with movement. With babies, sing lots of songs and nursery rhymes, while incorporating hand actions and gestures. This helps model appropriate responses, and teach the back and forth in conversation. As your child develops, encourage that they participate with gestures, such as clapping and singing the songs by themselves. New songs can introduce new vocabulary and concepts. The sounds and rhyming are invaluable with development of phonics, as well as learning to read and write.

6. Allow for “Wait Time”

In our fast paced worlds, this is often one of the more difficult concepts for us adults to grasp. It is important that you allow your child the time they need to fully express their thoughts or desires. Often as parents we know what they need and anticipate it. But, by allowing them to have to communicate their needs, they will feel empowered and become more confident in their communication skills. For example, when a baby cries from the crib, you know they want to be picked up—but you should wait until s/he communicates this by reaching up to you. This is their gesture to communicate, “I want to be held.”

As your child gets older, model the word. If they point to the fridge and want milk, model the word by saying, “Milk. I want milk.” This is helping provide the appropriate vocabulary, and the requirements to describe what they want. As your child’s vocabulary expands, encourage the use of adjectives or have them describe what they want, instead of using single words.