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.


Pom Pom Push

Preschool Busy Bag: Pom Pom Push

Guest Post by Malia of Playdough to Plato


I’m sometimes surprised by what my boys find entertaining – cardboard boxes, bubble wrap, duct tape… This Pom Pom Push definitely fits in that category too. It’s not fancy but kids find it seriously fun to play. And, as a big bonus, it’s a great way to build the fine motor skills they’ll use for writing later.

To prep, I grabbed a pile of pom poms, a pair of scissors, and a small Gladware container. Using the pointy end of my scissors, I poked a hole in the middle of the blue lid and then cut out a circle.

Pom Pom Push.

Note: If you’re making this project for two year olds, you’ll want to cut out a large circle like the one pictured above and give them large pom poms to stuff inside. For three and four year olds, cut out a smaller circle and give them smaller pom poms. Using a tinier size makes the activity more challenging.

I placed the supplies on our table and invited my four year old to join me. I showed him how to push a pom pom through the top. He quickly jumped in and stuffed the rest of the pom poms into the container. That’s it!! Pretty easy, right?! Although this busy bag isn’t complicated, it truly is a favorite in our house. My younger son {age 2.5} will sit, stuff and restuff his pom poms for ten minutes before losing interest. That’s record breaking for a boy his age.


Looking for more fine motor activities for your kids? Try squeeze bottle salt writing and check out my fine motor Pinterest board.



Malia is a National Board Certified elementary teacher turned stay at home mama to three young kids {4, 2.5 and 5 months}. She shares fun learning activities over at Playdough to Plato. Stop by her site and follow along with her newest activities by email.


Can Watching Television Improve Your Child’s Reading Ability?

Guest Post by Kristen of Busy Kids = Happy Mom

Hello I Can Teach My Child friends! It’s so good to be back! I’m an elementary Reading Specialist and blogger over at Busy Kids = Happy Mom.

So, the big question today is “Can watching television really improve my child’s reading ability?” Before I even answer it, let me start by saying the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that your child have no more than 2 hours of technology time per day. This includes all technology: educational games on your iPad, videos on your phone, Baby Einstein on a DVD or your DVR, Phineas and Ferb on your TV…. you get the picture.

Can TV Watching Improve Reading

The truth is, we all let our children watch television. As hands on as I’d like to be, sometimes we all need some down time. What if there was a way to make television time more educational?

The Answer: Closed Captioning! (see above)


“While watching captioned television, readers simultaneously absorbed both the spoken word and the printed text that flows across the screen.”

Readers are supported by listening to the same text they are reading.

Research from Koskinen, et al., 1993; Postlehwait & Ross, 1992 in The Fluent Reader by Timothy Rasinksi

Personal Story:

My friend Angie (mom and teacher) was the first to tell me about the benefits of Closed Captioning. Here are her thoughts:

“CC was used for my family when I was growing up because my sister is deaf. I never thought of it as a reading aid because it was a necessity for my family. Through the years and as I began to have my own kids I realized out of habit I always had it on. As my children have become readers we have all seen the benefit of having the CC on while we are watching a movie or TV show. The way Adeline refers to it is “CC is like having someone reading to you while you watch TV – I love it!” The funny thing is my husband wishes he had started watching TV with closed captioning earlier. It’s a way to keep you brain going while vegging out to TV.”

Bottom Line:

If you’re going to watch TV, why not turn on the closed captioning? It’s a WIN – WIN!

Have you also thought about, AUDIO books? Reading and listening at the same time. Another great way to get kids reading! This link contains great age appropriate resources. Another great way to improve reading!


Kristen is a Reading Specialist who currently works with children in Kindergarten through 3rd Grade.  She is the blogger behind Busy Kids = Happy Mom, a site dedicated to fun, practical, and purposeful activities to do with your kids.  Follow Kristen on FacebookPinterest, and Busy Kids = Happy Mom.


Bambini at the Car Wash

Guest Post by Erin of Bambini Travel


At Bambini Travel, we believe in providing young children with real life experiences and building on these experiences through books, songs, and activities at home. Together adventures and hands-on activities help young children make sense of the world and build connections. Here is how we used the Car Wash to build further understand about one of our favorite forms of transportation.


Before Our Adventure:

We usually start with a few books. Our absolute favorite before this adventure was Car Wash by Sandra Steen & Susan Steen. After we read the book a couple of times, we talked about what to expect at the car wash. (The procedure, the darkness, the loud noises, the bubbles, etc).


Tips for Visiting a Car Wash with Children:

  1. State any expectations – ex. staying in their seats with their seat belts fastened.
  2. Scope out your car before the car wash and afterwards with your child. Helps if your car is particularly dirty!
  3. Be prepared that your child may feel nervous. Model calm enthusiasm, but realize that the darkness or noises might freak them out a little. If they do get upset, stay calm and offer to hold their hand while you explain again what is happening. Bringing a stuffed animal along to see the car wash might also be a comfort if the need arises.
  4. Plan your car wash for a less busy time. Especially avoid the first warm day of winter.
  5. Talk to your child while you are waiting in line and if they get nervous, but otherwise allow them the time and space to process what they are seeing. You can have lots of conversations afterwards.


After Your Adventure:

The key to making your adventures – big or small – meaningful is what you do after. Indeed, conversations that practice new vocabulary and verbally process what you heard and saw is important. We also plan a couple of hands-on activities for home that will further expand on their knowledge.


Here are two quick activities for after the Car Wash…


Toddler Car Wash:

Repetition and dramatic play are two of the best ways for toddlers to learn. Relive your exciting adventure with your own car wash.


Bambini Car Wash



Car (Yours is obviously sparkling clean, but maybe you have another car or there’s a neighbor/grandparent willing to donate their muddy car to a worthy cause?)

Swim Suits


Soapy Water






Get your swimsuits on, fill your bowls with soapy water, and carry your supplies out to the car. Encourage them to wash the whole car. Focus on naming parts of the car. For example, “I see you are washing the bumper” or “That handle is looking very clean, what could you wash next?” This will not be a perfect car wash, but it is good soapy fun that develops gross motor skills, builds vocabulary, and further cements understanding.


Gluing Shape Cars

This activity is another chance to talk about the parts of a car.


Car Wash Craft


Copy of Toot Toot Beep Beep by Emma Garcia
Construction Paper


Scissors (for adult use)



Beforehand, cut out basic car shapes, circles for wheels, rectangles for windows.
This activity could be done without the book, but it is the perfect book for any car loving toddler. Garcia combines the toddler love of cars and car noises with an introduction to a wide range of transportation, color, and size vocabulary. After reading this book many, many, times, we made our own cars based on the simple illustrations in this book.


Focus on supporting fine motor skills and practicing vocabulary words (window, tire, circle, etc.), don’t worry about them looking like cars.  Proudly display your child’s creations!

I hope you are feeling inspired to get out and experience the world through little, curious eyes!


 Erin Buhr is the co-creator of Bambini Travel. She has a Master’s Degree in Early Childhood Education and worked with young children for 10 years before deciding to stay home with her own children. She currently spends her days exploring and creating with her two year old twins.


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.