Ways to start encouraging a healthy development of speech and language in toddlers (age 1 to 3 years old.)
Believe it or not, infants start responding to noises before they are even born. For more than half of a typical gestation (starting at week 18), fetuses can distinguish sounds. Parents can start encouraging a healthy development of speech and language from the very moment they welcome their newborn into this world. Not only does talking and singing to your baby foster a strong bond and sense of attachment, but it sets the foundation for recognizing various voices, tones, and emotions.
Parents should set a precedent of speaking to their child while they are interacting. Although it may feel odd or uncomfortable communicating with a being that cannot reciprocate the same form of conversation, babies will respond with eye contact, facial expressions, and eventually sounds.
Establish the groundwork for a love of books and reading by showing your infant picture books and reciting short stories. Pretty soon, your baby will start recognizing the pictures and their pliable minds will make associations of the sounds and words you recite with the images in front of them.
When you are speaking to your child, address them by name and avoid unnatural tones (also known as ‘baby talk’) or inconsistent speech patterns. Perhaps you’re still struggling with ways to talk to your baby. Consider some of the following scenarios and suggestions:
- Verbally describe your morning routine. Tell your baby what you are doing as you change his or her diaper. Point to their body parts and tell them the proper names.
- Always take the opportunity to correlate various areas of educational interest. Implement sensory descriptions (sight, sound, smell, touch, taste).
- Describe the clothing you are putting on them. Tell them about the colors and textures of the outfit. Tell them about any decals or images that might be featured on their shirt.
- Tell your baby what they are eating. Describe the colors, smells, and tastes of their meal. Talk about the textures of various food items.
- Turn conversation opportunities into songs. Make up the lyrics and the melody as you go along.
Many parents have embraced the communication breakthroughs of sign language for their baby. Even when a child has yet to develop verbal abilities for speech, sign language and various gestures encourage basic communication of needs and desires. Because isolating sign language from the home life atmosphere is so difficult, scientists are unsure as to whether sign language itself is a benefactor to early language development, or if the parents simply use a combination of engaging methods and activities to promote healthy communication.
As your child graduates out of the baby stage, routine and repetition are imperative to storing information, such as speech and language habits, into long term memory. Have you ever wondered why it’s so easy for you to recall the lyrics for popular nursery rhymes like Old McDonald or Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star? Chances are it’s because these songs were played over and over when you were a child and that repetition has engrained those tunes into your mind.
Throughout your daily routine, use the same vocabulary terms to describe frequently encountered objects. Before handing your child an item like an eating utensil or a toy, repeat its name. First 100 Words is quite possibly one of my personal favorite teaching tools for establishing a variety of vocabulary basics in budding toddlers. In fact, I carried this book in our diaper bag, and we would frequently go through our word reciting regimen while waiting at the doctor’s office or a busy restaurant. Not only can you practice telling your child the names of various objects, but you can ask them to point out a certain picture, locate a particular shape, or distinguish between the colors. The same book can be used for a myriad of different learning activities.
One challenge that parents often face with busy toddlers is their lack of attention and focus on one particular task. Medical professionals warn that although a routine is useful for naps and eating habits,
Multiple repetitions of the information provides rehearsal, but doing so may bore students. When bored, the brain can go into a pattern similar to the “screen saver” mode on your computer monitor. The student may not pay attention to what he is repeating. Therefore, using strategies with humor, movement, songs, and other forms of novelty are critical in enhancing the value of the repetition.
Personally, I am an avid fan of Tiny Tutor: Early Language Development System and the LeapFrog: Learning DVD Set series. Both have designed a sequence of videos that utilize repetition, song, and vivid characters to present the basic foundations for early childhood development. Not only did they hold my toddler’s attention, but within a few sessions of watching the DVDs, she was repeating them! I don’t usually condone technology as a crutch for keeping my child’s attention span, but I highly recommend incorporating educational technology not only for their enjoyment, but to simply add some variety and interest to their activities at home.
Some general tips for parents of toddlers that are seeking to improve their language and speech development:
- Speak to your child in full sentences. Use proper grammar and avoid incorrect phrasing.
- Incorporate alphabet learning into your routine. Ex: A is for apple, p is for potty, etc
- Enunciate new words and sound them out slowly.
- Ask your child to repeat things after you say them.
- Include your child in group conversations. Listen when they are trying to get your attention.
- Ask your child questions and seek their opinion, if they have one.
- Praise your child for accomplishments in their speech and development.
- Encourage creative play, and ask your child what his or her toys are ‘doing’.
- Incorporate vocabulary flashcards into your playtime
According to this particular milestone chart the average child will start using words by the age of 1, and within three months following their first birthday, they should be using 4 to 6 different words. It is imperative for parents to remember that children do not all develop at the same rate or according to the same standards. If a pediatrician notes that a child is not meeting their expected speech development milestones, parents may consider practicing some of the following activities to strengthen a child’s oral muscles:
- Blowing bubbles
- Practicing various sounds (and seeing the shape of their mouth) while looking in the mirror
- Making kiss sounds to encourage muscle movement
- Drinking from a straw
- Making funny faces
- Exaggerate primary sounds of words, and repeat beginning sounds (ex: ba-ba-ba-ball)
Unless a child is presenting signs of potential hearing loss, most kids who show a relative understanding of instructions and commands will eventually start to incorporate their knowledge through expressive speech. Parents might be surprised to see just how quickly their children will start to pick up on typical speech and language habits when they are engaged, having fun, and spending quality time with their loved ones. It doesn’t always take an arsenal of therapy-quality games and tricks to enhance speech development. Sometimes, simply being engaged and participating in your child’s playtime is enough to motivate them.