Infants and toddlers are unique in their own way as they begin developing, growing and learning—and it is no different for language development. Infants begin learning in the womb and can differentiate the family member’s voices almost immediately. In the second half of the first year, they are able to differentiate foreign languages and sounds from the language they will be using (Klass, 2017). Language development is critical for young children because it allows them to communicate and express feelings. Language development supports problem solving and allows humans to develop and maintain relationships, which in turn helps them with self-confidence in reading, writing, speaking and independence.
When working with young children, it is important to know and understand the developmental stages that children progress through as they grow and develop. Whether you have a child of your own or you are teaching and working with young children there are so many ways to encourage and help them on their developmental path.
We must remember that not all children develop at the same rate, but when it comes to supporting language development in infants and toddlers, there are things we can do to deepen their engagement and support them towards developmental milestones.
Don’t forget they are always listening and watching you
Infants are so interested in your face and your voice. They love hearing you talk, they are learning every second, so don’t waste any time!
- Talk to them, use facial expressions and voice fluctuations. They are learning from everything you say and do, along with what your face looks like (mad, sad, excited, happy etc).
- Respond to the facial expressions and noises your infant makes. This begins to show them how conversations work.
- Sing songs and say nursery rhymes - the repetition helps build cognitive development and memory.
- Read books - babies and children love repetitive games and text, so it is ok to read the same book over and over! Picture books may be a good place to start!
- Play finger games
They want to engage with you, they are excited to tell you everything they know!
The list above does not stop as your child develops. Keep adding to what you are already doing! Toddlers are busy, and the babbling will begin to turn in to real words and sentences.
- Continue to talk to your toddler. Ask questions, tell them what things are, explain things even if they don’t understand. They are learning to carry on a conversation and learning how to ask questions.
- Begin having them point out objects, body parts, colors and have them tell you what they are.
- Play games at home
(build with blocks, color, paint) and talk about the processes.
- point out cars that are certain colors, tell stories about the clouds. Let them have a turn, and go back and forth in speaking.
- talk about different words in the book to develop their vocabulary, have them point out objectives in the pictures.
- this helps your child begin communicating about something they feel is important. Show and tell has gone away in many schools but was something I did every morning. I wanted my students to practice speaking in front of others in a complete sentence, using vocabulary that they knew and understood and spoke about something that was important to them!
- this teaches them vocabulary, how to carry on a conversation, etc.
- Go on a nature hunt - look for sticks, rocks, or climb a tree.
- Play games - play, in some respects, has become extinct and children need to play to develop. It is their vehicle to learning, and so important for language development.
- Begin teaching the child words such as “thank you, please and excuse me”. Teach them what they mean and what being polite is.
- Group activities, play dates, centers - all of these activities engage children in speaking with others their same age.
These ideas are only a few things you can do with your child to help them develop language at home. These things can also be used in the classroom and implemented into the daily schedule. Be creative, have fun and engage with your child. These stages will only last a little while!
Don’t forget that a child’s language development is a critical part of their growing and development and that “every family—regardless of income, education level or their spoken language—can help their child develop the language needed to learn and be successful in school” (Language Development in Young Children, 2020).
About the Author:
Dr. Tisha Shipley has been an early childhood advocate for 18 years. She has taught Pre-K, Kindergarten, Gifted and Talented and was an elementary principal. She has been in higher education for the last 13 years working with teachers, administrators and aspiring teacher candidates. She always reminds her students “Education is something no one can ever take from you”.
Klass, P. (2017, Feb 21). Language Lessons Start in the Womb. New York Times.
Pennsylvania’s Promise for Young Children. Language Development in Young Children.
(2020). Language Development in Young Children.