Learning to talk is an exciting milestone that begins right from birth. Your baby’s first sounds and facial expressions will morph into gestures and, eventually, words as your toddler learns to communicate with you and others around him. Want to help him out? We spoke to Sarah Ecclestone, a speech-language pathologist at Erinoakkids Centre for Treatment and Development, for ways to encourage language development in toddlers every day.
1. Read together
Sharing a picture book with your tot is a great way to build vocabulary and understanding. Reading the story in fun voices will make it more enjoyable, engaging your kiddo longer, which will give him more opportunities to learn language. You can also point at pictures on the page and encourage a conversation by making a comment (“The dog is hiding”) or starting a sentence to allow your child to fill in the blank (“The dog is hiding in the…”). “Don’t worry about reading every word,” says Ecclestone. “Having conversations about the pictures will help them make connections between the book and real life.”
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2. Have floor play
Put away the screens and get right down on your tot’s level to play with her. Let your little one be the leader, and don’t be afraid to get silly. Be sure to pause to see how your little one wants to play: “Maybe your child wants the cow to drive the tractor, rather than putting it in the stall,” says Ecclestone. “Talk about that with her.”
3. Narrate your day
When you’re out with your kiddo, talk to him about what you’re both seeing. Get descriptive, like “The birds are flying.” At the grocery store, talk about what you’re putting in the cart: “Look at this pineapple—it’s big and bumpy.” You can talk your way through chores at home, too: “These are Daddy’s socks—they’re big! This is your shirt—it’s small.”
4. Give options
Instead of just handing your toddler a drink, ask what she might like. For example, “Would you like milk or water?” Your tot has to communicate by pointing or using a word to get what he wants.
5. Slow down
When talking to your toddler, be sure to comment, then pause to give him a chance to respond before jumping in. As your kid realizes she’s got your full attention, she’s bound to engage with you using sounds, gestures and words, says Ecclestone.
6. Do something silly
You can get your toddler’s attention and create an opportunity for her to communicate just by being silly or doing something unusual. Try putting her in a tub without water or leaving her cereal bowl empty. She’ll have to communicate with you that something’s wrong, whether through gestures, sounds or words. Then, have a conversation with her about what you need to do to make things right.