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