Children do not begin to master language until they are 5 to 6 years old but they begin learning words and their meanings earlier than that. Parents can do a lot to ensure the progressive development of language in their child. Studies have shown that a child’s ability to learn can increase 25% or more depending on whether she or he grows up in a stimulating environment.
So how do you create a stimulating environment for your child? You may be surprised that it’s very easy and natural to do. There are many speech therapy activities that you as a parent can engage with your child to stimulate language development. Here are some age-appropriate activities:
Birth to 2 Years
The 5 Ws (and one H): Share with your child the who, what, where, why and how as you feed, dress, and bathe him/her. Here are a few examples:
- Who? Introduce animal sounds to associate a sound with a specific meaning: “The kitty says meow.”
- What? Identify colors.
- Where? Emphasize place as you walk with your baby, “Here is the kitchen, here is your bed, here is the floor.”
- Why? Maintain eye contact, respond to child’s speech, and imitate sounds. Use different vocal patterns and emphases such as raising the pitch of your voice to indicate a question.
- How many? Count items.
Coach your Child:
- Encouragement is what your baby needs in order to communicate effectively.
- Use gestures such as waving goodbye to emphasize meaning.
- Acknowledge the attempt to communicate with a verbal cue.
- Encourage your baby to make vowel-like and consonant-vowel sounds such as “ma,” “da,” and “ba.”
- Imitate your baby’s laughter and facial expressions.
- Coach your baby to imitate your actions like clapping hands and blowing kisses.
- Play rhyming, “hands-on” games such as pat-a-cake, peek-a-boo, and the itsy-bitsy spider.
- Reading to your child is very important. Studies show that children may need to hear a word 9-14 times before they actually know what it means. So read clearly and often.
- Read books that are meaningful in substance and engaging on a visual level (i.e. the bigger and more colorful the pictures, the better).
- Point to pictures and ask your child, “What’s this?” and encourage him/her to do the same.
2 to 4 Years
Baby talk vs. Adult Talk:
- By now you should be talking to your child using intelligible speech that is clear and simple for your child to model.
- Use baby talk only if needed to convey the message and joined by the proper word. “Would you like num-nums? Would you like food?”
- Pick and choose. Ask questions that require a choice. “Do you want a banana or a pear?” “Do you want to read the Dr. Seuss or Mother Goose?
- Play the yes or no game. “Are you a girl?” “Are you Samantha?” “ Do whales have polka-dots?” “Can elephants fly?” Encourage your child to make up silly questions too.
- Indicate that you understand what your child said by repeating him/her. Build and expand on what she said. “Want ice cream? I have vanilla ice cream. Do you want vanilla ice cream?”
- Cut out pictures of different things and group them into categories, such as animals, things to wear, things to ride on, things to eat, etc.
- Mix and match pictures. Glue a picture of a pig flying a plane and talk about what is wrong with the picture and ways to “fix” it.
- Present nursery rhymes, songs, and poetry so your child can learn about the facets of oral language. Rhymes encourage children to explore how sound works in language.
- Read books clearly and often.
- The brain grows best in a nurturing and safe environment. What better way to create a safe and nurturing environment than sitting closely together at home reading a book?
4 to 6 Years
Stop, Look, and Listen:
- When your child starts a conversation, give your full attention whenever possible. So stop, and give them eye contact and listen to what he or she is saying.
- Stop: Pause after speaking. Give your child an opportunity to continue the conversation.
- Look: Make sure you have your child’s attention before you speak. Make eye contact.
- Listen: Recognize and encourage all attempts to speak. Show that you understand the word or phrase by fulfilling the request, if appropriate.
- Describe spatial relationships: up, down; first, middle, last; on and off.
- Encourage your child to give directions. Follow his/her directions to playing a game.
- Help your child follow two and three-step directions: “Go to the closet and bring me the umbrella.”
- One of these things doesn’t belong: Name a number of items and have your child determine which one doesn’t belong such as elephant, lion, monkey, giraffe, computer.
- I spy with my little eye: Give clues as to what you are describing. “We use it to clean the dishes. It is loud and washes plates (dishwasher). “It feels soft and barks loudly” (dog).
- Story time: Have your child describe his/her favorite story to you or what happened when you went on vacation.
If you are concerned with your child’s speech or language development, please contact Chicago Speech Therapy by calling 312-399-0370 or by clicking on the “Contact Karen” button on the upper right section of this page.
Karen George is a Chicago speech-language pathologist. The practice she founded, Chicago Speech Therapy, LLC, provides in-home pediatric speech therapy in Chicago and surrounding suburbs. Karen and her team of Chicago speech therapists have a reputation for ultra-effective speech therapy and work with a variety of speech disorders. Karen is the author of several books such as A Parent’s Guide to Speech and Language Milestones, A Parent’s Guide to Articulation, A Parent’s Guide to Speech Delay, A Parent’s Guide to Stuttering Therapy, and A Parent’s Guide to Pediatric Feeding Therapy. She is often asked to speak and has addressed audiences at top Children’s Hospitals and Northwestern University. Karen is highly referred by many Chicago-area Pediatricians and elite schools.