Encouraging Speech & Language Development in Infants and Toddlers
Infants immediately begin to learn from the environment around them after entering into our unfamiliar yet exciting world. The experiences they are exposed to and the people they encounter will ultimately help to shape them into the intelligent and independent children their parents hoped for. The importance of facilitating speech and language in young children is significant, and research has shown that early exposure is crucial to their development. Many parents therefore wonder what they can do to help elicit speech and language development at home, in order to help give their children every advantage possible.
Below are some simple suggestions and activities that can be easily incorporated throughout the day to help focus on these areas:
• Reinforce communication by looking directly at your child when speaking and imitating them when they communicate, even if it is jargon!
• Teach animal and environmental sounds using motivating toys such as farm sets and cars.
• Talk about an activity while you are engaged in it (e.g. When cooking, talk about all of the steps and describe the ingredients).
• Point out everyday objects in the environment by expanding upon your language (e.g. When walking through the neighborhood, explain what is around you: “I see a tree. The tree is tall. The tree has green leaves.”, etc).
• Be a role model by using simple but grammatically correct speech for your child’s age.
• Associate sounds with objects around the house, as this is a precursor to phonics (e.g. The vacuum says “vvvvvv”.)
• Expand on your child’s speech and reiterate what they’ve said by modeling more complex sentences (e.g. If your child says “red car”, respond to them by saying, “You’re right, there is a big red car outside”.)
• Read books to increase comprehension and point to objects when named.
• Use preferred items to help promote language (e.g. If they have a favorite stuffed animal, use it to demonstrate brushing, dressing, bedtime routine etc).
• Use picture schedules and songs to facilitate smooth transitions (e.g. The “clean-up” song).
• Find time to communicate with your child without using technology.
• Provide choices throughout the day and reinforce successful communication.
• Have your older child expand on their utterances by having them tell you about their day (e.g. “Tell me what you did at camp today.” or “Tell me 3 things you saw at the park.”).
• Stay away from using only yes or no questions, as they do not always allow your child to formulate more descriptive sentences. Ask more specific questions when you can.
• Show your child that you are interested by listening attentively and engaging them during structured activities.
• Model appropriate behavior in social situations.
• Reinforce pretend play (e.g. cooking/kitchen sets, etc.).
• Participate in sensory-motor play (e.g. musical instruments).
• Supervise your child during play groups and encourage play-dates.
• Encourage sharing and turn taking during games and other structured activities.
• Allow your child to lead during motivating activities to give them a sense of independence.
• Expand social communication and story telling by participating in dramatic or symbolic play by “acting out” scenarios (e.g. feeding their dolls).
While the initial task may appear daunting and you may feel overwhelmed with trying to incorporate all of the activities into your daily routine, remember to start out slowly. Keep in mind that you may already be doing many of these activities without formally addressing them, so it may be simple to quickly add a few new behaviors to your routine. The key is to make these activities fun, so remember to expose your child to as much communicative interaction as possible throughout the day.
While parents know their children best, if something does not seem quite right, it may be advantageous to speak with a Speech-Language Pathologist about more specific activities that can further help your child. Just remember that every child is unique, and many variables may impact their own speech and language development. Follow typical developmental norms and milestones, and seek help if your child does not seem to be progressing at an appropriate rate.