In the first 3 years of life, children go from communicating their needs through crying and facial expressions, to gestures and body movements, to verbal and sign language. Language is the principal tool for establishing and maintaining relationships with adults and other children. Learning to understand and use words is complex. Language also involves learning about the structure and sequence of speech sounds, vocabulary, grammar, and the rules of engaging in appropriate and effective conversation. Expert Sandra Crosser, Ph.D. developed supportive activities you can do at home to enhance your child’s language development.
Ways to Support Language Development at Home:
Enhancing the Language Development of Young Children
By Sandra Crosser, Ph.D.
Infants and Toddlers
Infants are engaged by rhymes, simple word games, and songs like “So Big,” “Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes,” or original songs and games made up by the caregiver. Rhymes and songs that are repetitive and involve moving the infant’s body easily and rhythmically are particularly good for feeling the words.
Books are for babies too. Books with either black and white or colorful pictures of familiar objects stimulate infants. While the infant cannot follow a story line, he or she is neurologically stimulated by the flow of the language that accompanies book reading.
Family snapshots are favorites of older infants who love to have family members pointed out, named, and talked about. Ask parents to send small photo albums to child care for such purposes. Snapshots taken at child care could be posted on walls as well. As children are carried about, take a moment to stop and talk about the photos.
Experts advise that adults use an interactive reading style with preschoolers (Senechal, Thomas, & Monker, 1955). Interactive reading encourages children to make comments, predict events, and ask questions about the story and illustrations during reading. When we tell children to be quiet and listen until the story is finished, we are actually interfering with language development. We need to encourage children to talk about the story while it is being read.
Preschool-age children are able to follow a story line and like to talk about characters and events in their books. Rereadings of favorite stories facilitate the preschooler’s language development. As children hear the story language, time and again, they come to anticipate words and phrases and will insert the vocabulary if the reader pauses at key points.
Seek out good children’s literature. Most public libraries make it easy for teachers to check out collections for long periods of time. Choose literature with strong story lines and good poetry as well as factual books and interesting magazines. Make the literature available to children and read, read, read.
Make up different endings, play with the words, and encourage children to retell the stories and act them out. Make simple props and costumes for the children to use while acting out the stories. Supply poster board characters with holes for arms and faces to peek through. Props need to be kept simple, just suggestions to engage the imagination.
Three and four year olds are questioners. They have learned how to ask questions about what and who. However, they also ask why and how questions, especially if they are encouraged. Preschoolers have developed the cognitive and linguistic abilities to ask questions for clarification. “What does island mean?” “What is a bracket?” “How did you make that?” By encouraging questions, teachers promote language.