How can I encourage my child's early language skills?
The first 3 years of a baby's life is crucial in terms of language development.
It's important to remember that expressive language doesn't just begin when a child is using words - it also includes using gestures, sounds and vocalisations to express their needs. I want to share my favourite activities to encourage early language skills; these are ones that I often talk through with parents in my sessions with the little ones on my caseload!
1) Lots and lots of gesture Use gestures when speaking, not just words. This can be especially helpful for toddlers who have a shorter attention span as this can motivate them to listen and help develop their ability to follow directions. By using gestures, you are providing another easier way for them to imitate you. You can use them during nursery rhymes (e.g. pointing up/down, row your boat), to indicate information (e.g. thumbs up) or to support vocabulary (e.g. making the shape of a ball with your hands whilst saying "ball").
2) Don't underestimate sounds Sounds are easier to imitate than words - they are also funny and motivating for toddlers. An awareness of sounds is a hugely important step towards using words. Some examples may be making silly sounds, animal sounds or environmental sounds (e.g. whoosh, broom). You could also use a mirror to make silly faces when making these silly sounds with your child, which my little clients find hilarious!
3) Provide opportunities As parents, you know your little ones so well that you can sometimes predict their needs. This is a great thing but this sometimes limits their need to communicate. You could try giving them choices, for example "do you want an orange or an apple?" to encourage them to indicate their desired item. Try not to anticipate their wants/needs.
4. Involve them in daily routines And talk about things as they happen! For example, when getting dressed, you could say "we are getting dressed, let's put on your jumper, jumper on. Now we put shoes on" and so on. This will extend your toddler's vocabulary and is consistent each day. You can also involve them in the interaction, e.g. when changing their nappy, show your child the nappy and say "we are going to put nappy on". Then give them the nappy and say "can you hold the nappy?" to let them explore the item. Finally, you take the nappy from them and continue the routine as normal.
Give your toddler ample time to respond! You can add pauses to familiar rhymes e.g. "heads, shoulders, knees and ...." to see if they attempt to fill in the blank. The same applies for "ready, steady...". Always give your toddler at least 3-5 seconds, giving them that space to process and respond. They may respond with a look or a vocalisation at first, and this may turn into a word!
These are just a few of the many ways we can work with your child to help promote their early language skills. If you are concerned about your child's expressive language or communication, our therapists are trained to assess your child's needs and work closely with you to help encourage their skills. This would also involve working with you to create a plan for home too. We have upcoming slots for assessment in the next few weeks - just give us a call on 07534 043087 if you are concerned, and we can have a chat with you.