Promoting speech and language development from the start
Your infant may not be using words yet, but they are communicating in big ways! In fact, children begin to communicate long before they start talking. Eye gaze, crying, listening, facial expressions, gestures, turn-taking, and vocalizations are all foundations of speech and language. The first year of life is a critical time in language development as children learn the building blocks of communication. There are many things parents can do to help their child’s language skills blossom!
Tips to encourage your infant’s communication:
- Play with your baby! Face to face interaction with your child may be the most valuable tool you have. No high-priced toy or well-researched program can compare to the benefits your child will gain from face-to-face time with loved ones.
For grown-ups, play is what we do after a long day of work. For children, however, play is their job! Play is the backdrop for child learning and developing. It provides opportunities to explore, problem- solve, learn cause -and -effect, and communicate. As you play with your child, follow their lead. Pause before jumping in to assist your child. Give them opportunities to ask for a favorite toy by placing it just out of reach. If something unexpected happens (e.g. a book falls off the table), pause to let your child react or communicate before fixing the problem.
- Reinforce your child’s communicative attempts by responding to and imitating their facial expressions, vocalizations and babbling. Maintain eye-contact as you imitate the sounds your child makes.
- Encourage your child to use different vowels and speech sounds such as “oo”, “ee”, “da”, “ba” or “ma”. Engage your child in sound play, pairing different sounds with silly actions. You might knock over a block and exclaim “uh oh!” or tickle your baby’s toes and say “do do!”
- Pair gestures with words to help convey meaning as you communicate with your child. For example, if your child wants to be picked up, you might reach your hands up high and say “up!’. Wave your hand as you say “bye bye!” Point to objects as you label them (e.g. “ball!” or “milk!”).
- Encourage your child to imitate your actions. Play finger games such as “Itsy Bitsy Spider”, “Wheels on the Bus”, and “Pat-A-Cake”. You might also play “Peek-A-Boo”, clap your hands, or blow kisses.
- Make environmental noises during play (e.g. “car says beep beep!” or “cow says moo moo!”). Encourage your child to imitate various sounds as they explore and play.
- Sing to your child! Songs are an excellent way to engage your child in a meaningful and language-rich context. Add gestures to your songs, and create anticipation as you vary your facial expressions and intonation. The repetition of a familiar song will provide opportunities for your child to anticipate and even join in!
- Narrate what is happening in the environment. Use simple language to describe actions and events to your child as they are happening (e.g. “Mommy is putting shoes on!” or “Mommy is washing your hands!”).
- Read to your child! Choose books with large and engaging pictures that are not too detailed. Point to and label various pictures (e.g. “ball!” or “cow…moo moo!”). Ask your child “What’s this?” and encourage them to name pictures. A young child may not be able to attend to a book for very long- that’s okay! Follow your child’s lead and don’t feel pressured to finish a whole book. Instead, focus on keeping literacy activities fun and engaging, and enjoy the few pages that your child reads.
Click here for even more tips to encourage speech and language development in your child.