As parents we are our children’s first teachers. Children learn by watching us and listening to what we say during our familiar family routines. Sometimes toddlers may seem to understand what is said to them but still don’t use as many words as other children their age. Here are some ways you can encourage your child’s language growth during your everyday routines at home. These strategies can be used by parents, grandparents and caregivers.
Label the names of familiar objects your child sees every day. Provide single word models as you point to the item and then pause to give your child a chance to repeat the word. Snack time is a great time to label favorite foods as well as words like more, cup, plate and spoon. When you help your child get dressed in the morning talk about clothing words such as shirt, pants, and socks as well as body parts such as head, arms, legs, or tummy. Books are also a wonderful way to model vocabulary. Label single words as you point to the pictures on the page instead of reading all of the text. Look at the same books often so your child hears the modeled words many times and comes to expect what words will be talked about.
Routines are very important for language learning. Use the same words to describe what you are doing each time you do it. Your child will learn what to expect because you repeat the activity often. Children are more likely to imitate single words and short 2 word phrases even if they understand long sentences. By shortening what you say to them to 1-2 words during familiar routines you give them more opportunities to imitate what you are saying. For example, while giving your child a bath talk about what you and they are doing and use the same words every time you give them a bath. Here are some example phrases that can be used during a bath time routine.
“Water on. Wash arms. Wash legs. Splash, splash. More soap. All done. Need towel.”
Giving your child choices allows them to feel in control while providing them with verbal models. Give them a choice between two items that you are okay with them having. Start by labeling the two items while you show them to your child. Keep the items just out of their reach so that they have to respond before they get what they want. For example, offer two choices for snack as you show them the snacks “crackers or cheese.” They can start responding by pointing but also encourage them to imitate the words.
The Rule of Plus 1
When your child begins using single words on their own model for them how to combine words into phrases by repeating the word they said plus one more word. Try to vary the type of words you model for your child. Don’t just use the words more or please. Give models for describing words too. For example if your child says “cup” you might say back to them “blue cup” or “my cup.”