Being a parent of a young child is almost like a balancing act. Days are busy with working, dirty diapers, making sure the laundry is clean, bath time, grocery shopping, dinner on the table by the evening, and so much more! Helping foster your toddler’s language development should not have to be an additional “chore” on the to-do list. Whether your child is on track with their speech-language milestones, or requiring some extra support to flourish, these 5 easy language strategies can be integrated into any routine to foster growing functional communication.
This strategy is something you may already do without thinking, and it also helps our young one’s learn vocabulary! Self-talk is when an adult “narrates” their own actions during everyday activities. For example, when you are getting dressed in the morning with your child near you, simply talking through what you are doing: “Mommy’s shoes on. Shoe on foot. Tie them up. All done!”. This strategy can be easily incorporated in any activity throughout the day!
Parallel-talk is almost a sister-strategy to self-talk. However, instead of narrating what you are doing, narrate what your child is doing! For example, during mealtime, talk about your child’s actions aloud: “Drink milk. Mmm yummy! Cup on table. Drink, drink, drink”. Nouns, verbs, exclamatory words, and early prepositions (in, on, off, up) are all fair game. Young children often love this one as the attention is drawn toward them, and it helps build vocabulary knowledge at the same time!
TIP: It is important to remember to model language at your child’s developmental level, especially if your child is a late talker or has a receptive language delay. Keep things simple! It may be too hard for them to comprehend long, complex sentences. A good rule of thumb is using 1-3 word phrases before words emerge, when your child has a limited vocabulary, or not yet combining words.
Providing choices is an easy way to help develop multiple language skills. Expressive language, receptive language, early communicative gestures (e.g., pointing, touch/grab), and joint engagement. Not only can this strategy target communication skills, it is a great way to give your child autonomy and a feeling of control/involvement in their daily routines. For example, during meal/snack time, offering a choice between two different drinks or snacks: “Milk or juice?”, “Cracker or cookie?”. Remember to keep it simple! Begin with two choices to not overwhelm your child. Additionally, having both objects in hand when offering the choice can ensure your child’s understanding.
- Verbal Routines
Young children thrive in routine. It is how they learn to understand their environment, expectations, and it promotes a sense of security and stability. Building verbal routines throughout your child’s day can also capitalize on their understanding and expectations of language. Common verbal routines include “Ready, set, go!”, Barney’s Clean-up song, or even simple books read to our children each night before bed (e.g., Goodnight Moon). However, verbal routines can be customized to your family and values. Repetition and simplicity is key. After a while, you may even hear your little one try to join-in. Encourage their involvement by leaving off one-word to see if they’ll fill in the blank (“Ready, set, ___!).
TIP: Remember to make learning language FUN! Get into the mind of a 1–2-year-old when utilizing these strategies. Amp up your facial expressions, heighten your energy level, and exaggerate your tone of voice. Silliness is the best way to gain and keep your child’s attention. You can model language until you are blue in the face, but it is first needed to lock-in your child’s interest and joint engagement for them to effectively learn new things.
Expansion is a language strategy utilized to give a push toward combining words and lengthening phrases. For this strategy, follow the +1 rule. Only add 1 word onto your child’s words or phrases. For example, if you child says “car” you immediately reply “red car”. If your child is at the two-word level, add a third word on (e.g., “blue shoes” à “your blue shoes”). The idea is for your child to form the association between words. We want them to repeat what we say and eventually, say it spontaneously on their own. It is difficult to implement this strategy effectively if we move above the child’s developmental level before they are ready. The possibilities are endless with this simple strategy and easy to incorporate anytime, anywhere, with any activity! Get creative!