20 Tips for Creating a Language Rich Environment for Your Toddler

A portrait of a mother and a son reading a book

Guest Post by Katie of Playing With Words 365

We know that exposure to print and letters/letter sounds is imperative for literacy development. A quick Google or Pinterest search for terms like “preschool literacy” or “toddler literacy” will provide you with millions of literacy activities. With all the emphasis on these types of activities, you may be surprised to learn that a very important predictor to a child’s later literacy skills requires just you, your child, and some conversation.  Within this post, you will find some great tips for creating a language-rich environment for your toddler.

The Power of Our Words

There is a plethora of research that indicates that children with strong language skills in the preschool and early school years will have strong literacy skills later in life. Specifically, these studies tell us this:

    • The quantity of words spoken to a child in the first three years of life is strongly associated with a child’s language skills, vocabulary size and IQ later in life. Quantity is especially important in toddlers aged 12-24 months for vocabulary development.


    • Quality of words is also so important on vocabulary development. Especially in toddlers aged 24-36 months, who benefit from hearing more sophisticated vocabulary.


    • Children exposed to more positive feedback and statements in relation to negative feedback in the first three years of life had the highest language skills at age three and beyond.


    • Children who were engaged more in conversation by their caregivers or teachers knew more colors, letters and shapes at age three than children who were engaged less in conversation in those first few years of life.


    • Conversations and narratives about past and future events are especially important for preschool children aged 36-48 months.


    • The size of a child’s vocabulary in kindergarten predicts his ability to learn to read.


    • Children learn language and vocabulary when they are directly spoken to, not so much from passive exposure like from watching TV.


    • Children learn language in everyday moments and through PLAY.


So, we know that more exposure to language in the first several years of life correlate to overall stronger language and literacy skills later in life. The question is, how to provide our children with a language rich environment in which to learn, especially in the first few years of life? Today I’m going to share some tips with you to do JUST that!



Creating a Language Rich Environment

It is absolutely amazing watching children learn to talk. They start out with babbles that morph into single words that they soon learn to string together to form sentences. By age three, we can actually have conversations with these little people! And the more amazing thing is that these children are learning language in the everyday moments of life! I’m talking about meal times, diaper changes, dressing in the mornings, and in their everyday play. These sometimes boring and mundane activities for us adults are actually the ones that matter most. Here are some tips on making those everyday moments count, especially with little ones. Click on the link to read more tip in more detail.

1.  Slow down and be truly present in your interactions as much as possible. Put down the phone, close the computer, and be present with your body and mind, as much as possible.



2.  Talk to your child throughout everyday activities



3.  Follow your child’s lead in everyday activities. Believe it or not, this can be challenging sometimes!



4.  Whenever possible, get down at your child’s level to communicate with him/her.



5.  Don’t just focus on your child’s words; watch your child (especially pre or non verbal) for his nonverbal communication cues. This is especially important for children who are not yet communicating with any/many words.



6.  Interpret your child’s messages (both verbal and nonverbal).



7.  Respond meaningfully to your child’s communication attempts within your child’s Zone of Proximal Development.



8.  Try to keep your language positive. Balance the inevitable “no’s” “stop’s” and the “don’ts” with LOT’S of positive talk! I suggest 5-6 positive comments for every negative.



9.  Talk about what you are doing and what he is doing during your everyday routines. During diaper changes, meal times, bath times, etc.



10.  Ask questions, but not too many. Balance your comments to questions at around 4 or 5 comments to each question.



11.  Expand on what he/she says. If your toddler says “car!” expand his words and tell him “Yes! A blue car!” Stress those new words.



12.  Provide your little ones with opportunities to communicate throughout their day.



13.  Read, read, and read some more! Ask questions, talk about the pictures, stress new words and have FUN.



14.  Invest in quality toys that do NOT require batteries! I have some tips on picking toys here.



15.  Consider a toy rotation.  Children are more likely to stay with one toy for longer periods of time, allowing a more rich learning experience, when less toys are within reach.



16.  Play with your child. I know this sounds like a given but when was the last time you got on the floor and played with your child? Children learn through their play and play is your perfect opportunity to jump in and follow their lead to respond meaningfully!



17.  Stop counting, and start communicating! Sure, incorporate letters and numbers into your daily life but don’t make those the focus of those early years (especially the first three years).



18.  Start SINGING! Singing is awesome for speech and language. Itsy Bitsy Spider, Wheels on the Bus, even Let it Go (ha…if you aren’t sick of it yet!)



19.  Stay active! Head to the park or outdoors as children often learn language while on the move.



20.  Limit screen time. For two reasons: 1) research shows vocabulary is best learned through direct conversation and 2) time spent on the screen is time spent NOT doing other things, that are better for their development.




When Talking Isn’t Enough

Sometimes, you can do everything “right” and still have a child who struggles in the area of speech and language development. In fact, my own son has a mild speech delay and I am a speech and language specialist! If your child is displaying any Red Flags for speech and language delays, I suggest you have your child seen by a certified speech-language pathologist in your area. You may also be interested in checking out my How to Help Your Child Talk series, where I share tips on how to interact with your child t best support his speech & language development (many of which I’ve shared above, and many more coming in the weeks ahead!) If you’d like to learn more about speech and language development, you may want to check out my Speech and Language 101 page as well.

I’d love to hear how YOU get the conversations going in your house! What fun things do you do to introduce new vocabulary and allow opportunities for meaningful conversation?


KatiePWW365This guest post is from Katie Yeh, M.A., CCC-SLP, a pediatric speech-language pathologist who blogs at Playing With Words 365 where she shares information about speech and language development, therapy ideas and tips, intervention strategies and a little about her family life too. She’s Mom to three kids ages 5, 3, and 8 months. She is passionate about educating, inspiring and empowering parents of children with all abilities. In addition to her own blog, Katie is a regular contributor to The Friendship Circle’s Special Needs blog.


Seek and Find Color Hunt

seek and find color hunt


Guest Post by Jody of Growing Book by Book

One of our favorite literacy activities to do is go on a seek and find color hunt. It’s super quick and easy to put together and will keep the little ones busy on a long walk or a trip to the store.


What literacy skills does a color hunt build?

  • Recognizing color words
  • Categorizing
  • Noticing details
  • Discriminating
  • Building language

Here are the materials you need to prepare your seek and find sheet.

  • a clipboard or heavy piece of cardboard
  • 1 white piece of paper
  • 6 different paint color samples or construction paper
  • writing utensil
  • tape or glue

1. On each paint color sample or construction paper square, write the name of the color at the top. Select colors that your child needs to practice.
2. Tape or glue each square down onto the white paper.
3. Attach the sheet to a piece of cardboard or a clipboard.
4. Grab a writing utensil and you are ready to start your hide and seek color hunt.
During the hunt, children should find objects that match the colors on their sheet. They can either draw a picture or write the name of the object in the correct box on their sheet. Talking about what objects they are selecting and why they are making those choices helps build language skills. This activity works well for so many age groups!
We love to take outside walks for our hunts. We also use them on trips to the grocery store. They are a great way to keep little ones occupied while running errands. There are lots of color hunts you can take with your kids. Where else could you have kids hunt for colors?


Jodie Rodriguez is a National Board Certified teacher, reading specialist and administrator with over 18 years of experience. She currently stays at home with her two young sons (3 years and 21 months). Her newest adventure is the creation of the Growing Book by Book blog dedicated to helping caregivers nurture young readers. You can also connect with her on Facebook and Pinterest.


“I Love You to Pieces” Valentines

I Love You to Pieces Valentines


This simple “I Love You to Pieces” Valentine Craft is the perfect personalized gift for parents, grandparents, and friends!  It is also great for fine motor development because it requires your child to tear small pieces of paper, which is excellent for developing the small muscles in the hands.  :)


Here’s what you’ll need:  construction paper, clear contact paper, scissors, markers, and a glue stick.  



1.  Lay out a small piece of clear contact paper with the backing removed.  Give your child some pieces of construction paper.



2.  Have your child tear the construction paper in the tiniest pieces possible.  This is GREAT fine motor practice and helps to develop those small muscles in the fingers!

IMG_5756 3.  Once your child is finished tearing paper and placing it on the sticky part of the contact paper, cut out another piece of contact paper the same size and sandwich the tiny pieces in between the two sheets of contact paper.



4.  Fold another piece of construction paper in half.  Use a template to trace a heart in the center of the folded paper.



5.  Carefully cut the heart shape out of both layers of your folded piece of construction paper.






6.  Lay your contact paper inside the construction paper with the heart cut out.  Use a glue stick on the inside, fold, and press.



Looking good!



7.  If your child is able, have him/her write “I love you to pieces!” on their creation.  If they aren’t able to write the entire thing, at least encourage your child to write his/her name.




















Check out more fun Valentines Day ideas here and on our Valentines Day Pinterest board!  

Olympic Activities and Crafts for Kids

The Ultimate List of Olympic Crafts and Activities for Kids


The 2014 Winter Olympics will be here in a few short weeks!  In August of 2012, I created a free printable Olympic eBook (that is still available).  This time around, I decided to compile the Ultimate List of Olympic Activities and Crafts for Kids into a post.

I have a few more Olympic ideas that I hope to share over the next few weeks, which I will be adding to the post.


Olympic Crafts


Olympic Torch Craft



O is for Olympics

O is for Olympics Craft




Baking Soda Modeling Clay Olympic Medals




Olympic Ring Printing with Pool Noodles


Olympic Olive Wreath Craft





Olympic Flag Craft



Olympic Activities


Olympic Ring Toss




Olympic Ice Skating with small toys Miniature Olympic Ice Skating Rink for Small Toys




Indoor Ice Skating

Indoor “Ice Skating” 




Olympic Ski Matching

Olympic Ski Matching




Olympic Snacks


Olympic Cookies





Olympic Ring Pretzels




Finally, check out some great Children’s Books about the Olympics:  




 What is your favorite Olympic activity for kids?  


Shape Ornaments for Toddlers and Preschoolers

Shape Ornaments for Toddlers and Preschoolers


These Shape Ornaments were so simple to make and would be a great craft for toddlers and preschoolers learning to recognize shapes!  Little Brother enjoyed getting to decorate some ornaments for our tree while I was happy to sneak in a little learning.  :)

Here’s what you’ll need:  craft sticks, Elmer’s glue, paint (which we received compliments of CraftProjectIdeas.com), a paintbrush, ribbon, decorations, and a hot glue gun (or tacky glue).



1.  Glue your craft sticks in the shape you wish to make.  We made a triangle for a tree and a square for a present.




2.  Paint!









3.  We let the first coat dry and then painted a second coat.  Let dry completely.




4.  Start adding your embellishments.  We used leftover pom-poms from our pom-pom sorting activity.








 5.  Use your hot glue gun to add the ribbon to the back (and we added a bow on the front of our square “present”).












They look so cute on our Christmas tree!