Language development is an important developmental milestone. Each child has different growth and development rates. But there are a few basic parenting strategies that can be practised by all parents to encourage early language development.
These strategies helped us with our son. When we started with these we didn’t do it with a goal of enhancing his language; it was just our way of interacting and nuturing a bond with him. But along the way we observed how this parenting style helped him start talking early and pick up a variety of words. I thought it would be great to share these tips with other parents just starting out or those who still want to try and help enrich their childs vocabulary. So lets begin;
Talk, Talk, Talk
Start talking with your little one from day one. At this stage they crave to hear your voice since they cant see very well. They respond with coos and gurgles and this marks the beginning of early communication. Examples of talk with babies can be as simple as asking; how are you today? Are you happy to see mumma? What is my little one upto? Modulate your voice to get them interested in what you are saying and pause for them to respond.
Point at things
As a few months pass by and your baby’s eyesight is getting sharper start pointing out things. Describe what you see around you at home or outside. Examples: Look at that red bus. These are beautiful yellow flowers. Look at the butterfly. Keep repeating everyday objects from their envirnoment. On repeatedly talking about the crows and making sounds of the crows during your walks for example, they pick up the word “crow”.
Be specific in your instructions
As they grow in their toddler years, a lot of times its difficult for parents to understand what exactly child wants. They cry and throw tantrums for lack of knowledge on how to communicate their feelings. It is best to give clear instructions and ask specific questions to communicate well with your toddler. Examples: Mommy cant hear you over the crying, do you want_____? ; Leave the bucket in that corner. This type of communication encourages them to speak and also helps them understand what is expected of them.
Baby led weaning is a great way to getting messy at the table and in turn encourage language development. When the child touches and feels their food through this form of sensory based self feeding, they start understanding words associated with certain non solid objects; example: hot, cold, liquid food, soft food, squishy peas etc. I personally felt baby led weaning and messy eating at the table helped immensely with my sons grasp of certain words. Another way to incorporate getting messy is through messy play like coloring, painting, playing in a sandbox etc.
Read, Read Read
I cannot emphasize this point more. Read to you child from the very beginning. Even if its just a board book with few images make an imaginary story around those images and read to baby. Reading helps them learn words, encourages their creativity and imagination too. Look for books with rhyming words, these get toddlers excited when read aloud. They pick up rhyming words quickly too. I am adding a list below of books I observed helped my son pick up a lot of words from, hopefully you will find them useful for your child too.
What the ladybug heard next
Polar bear polar bear what do you hear
The very hungry catepillar
Vikas tiny board books
Little baby books everyday
Eyes, nose, fingers, and toes
Here come Poppy and Max
Around the 16-18 month period toddlers start enjoying pretend play. Use pretend play to introduce new words, associations, etiqutte, and style of talking. A kitchen set is most apt for this age group, but you can get anything your toddler enjoys and engage in some pretend play.
Open ended toys
Some open ended toys too promote language development, for example jungle animal sets, fruits and vegetable sets. You can use these for pretend play or allow toddler to explore and try out different games with these. A fun game my son came up with is to match his toy safari set to the pages of a book he is reading where the animal is featured. His eyes light up and he squeals in joy when he finds a match. This type of association building between real world objects and age appropriate toys and books facilitates early language development.
Getting out of the house
In one of the previous points I spoke about how you should point at things and describe them in detail to your baby. Well getting out of the house is important activity that can aid this step. When you are out you can show your child a variety of things. Take them for a walk in the park, or a local museum, art gallery, beach, resturants, malls, play areas, library. Every experience outside is teaching them new words and igniting their creativity with how to use these words.
Once they are a little older start taking them to family functions, festive celebrations, and parties. These social events create an envirnoment where your child is exposed to different styles of spoken language. And in a country like India, maybe even a different language than one spoken at home.I know many families don’t take small babies out to social events. But, you can always take them to grandparents place and family and friends place. They crave interaction and this helps to get them interested in talking from a young age.
I hope these points get you started on interacting more deeply with your baby. Talk to them, read to them and most importantly spend quality time with them. With busy lives we are all turning to screens to help us with our kids. But a screen is a consumption device that cant help the child to interact in a two way manner thus restricting their language development. Use screen time judiciously and try and introduce them to books and other activities where they can engage positively. I wrote here on how you can engage your child in non screen time activities.
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