After your little one has been babbling for months, the moment you have not-so-patiently been waiting for has finally arrived. Your little baby is growing up and has said their first word! But as your toddler’s language is developing, what exactly do you need to know and do in order to support them with their expanding vocabularies?
Why You Should Be Purposeful in Supporting Your Toddler’s Language Development
Your toddler learns a lot while they are developing their language and communication skills. In fact, many other skills are dependent on their ability to communicate with the world around them. Becoming aware of your toddler’s language and supporting it purposefully can help improve your child’s development in the following skills:
As your toddler learns more about what they see in the world, you will notice that they have more of a desire to communicate with you. They may want you to label things around them or explain how things work.
Supporting your child’s efforts in communication will help their ability to express their needs, wants, and emotions. A child who has a harder time expressing themselves will become more easily frustrated, most likely resulting in those infamous toddler tantrums.
Critical Thinking and Problem Solving Skills
Take a minute and notice what you are thinking. What thoughts are popping in your head right now?
Did you notice how you were using language in your thoughts? Language literally surrounds you, even if you are not speaking the words aloud.
Helping your toddler’s language skills can support them in developing higher level thinking skills and processing new information about the world around them.
Reading and Writing Skills
Language is the first step in being able to read and write.
Reading is a very complex skill that first involves your child understanding that groups of symbols (letters) can form the words that we speak out loud. Your child needs to understand that the words on a page each have a meaning and purpose before they can begin to read.
In addition, children need to understand how language works and express themselves orally before they will be able to express themselves in writing. Being able to speak or communicate with language is a critical foundation for early literacy.
Children use language for a variety of things, but one of the most prominent things they may do when they are first learning to speak is to express their feelings and their likes and dislikes. Expressing these ideas, even in their simplest form, can help your child build friendships and maintain important relationships around them.
Vocabulary is a key skill to nurture while supporting your toddler’s language development. Acquiring new words and incorporating them into their vocabularies is critical to learning to read.
When children encounter words in a book that they already know because those words are a part of their vocabularies, they will more likely be able to decode them, which helps them to comprehend the text better.
Tips that will Support your Toddler’s Language Development
Now that you understand the importance of supporting your toddler’s language development, what can you do to help them grow? These 15 simple tips will have your toddler talking their heads off so much…you might need to get a pair of earmuffs!
1. Read Books Together
Reading is probably one of the most valuable activities you can do to support your toddler. Books contain a variety of words and many of those words are not ones that you would use in an everyday conversation with your child. There are so many benefits to reading to your little one.
Sometimes reading to a toddler can be a struggle, but the more books you read with your child, the more words they will be exposed to.
Don’t be afraid to point out words that you think your child doesn’t know yet and explain them. Even though your toddler is little, their brains are sponges. Explain what the word means and then try to use it with your little one in future conversations.
Another important thing to do while reading with your toddler is to make sure you point to the illustrations as they are described by the text. This helps your toddler assign meaning and a visual to the words that you are saying. As your toddler learns new words, you can have them start pointing to pictures in the book and even try describing them.
2. Listen to Music Together
Music is extremely engaging for toddlers. There is rhyme, rhythm, and they get to test out their coordination and balance with some awesome, often laugh-worthy dance moves.
So how do songs help your child improve their language skills? Just like books, songs also help to teach your toddler about the world around them and introduce them to new vocabulary words.
Think about the song, “The Itsy Bitsy Spider”. Aside from the fun movements that help your toddler be a part of the song, they are learning a bit about spiders and how troublesome rain can be. Plus, have you ever used the word “spout” in a conversation with your toddler?
3. Slow Down
When your toddler is just beginning to learn how to speak, you are their number one role model. They are learning words through the environment they share with you and the words they hear you say.
To help them acquire and understand more new words, speak clearly and slow down to emphasize your daily routines. When your child is taking part in an everyday routine, they know what to expect so their minds are very open for learning.
4. Look at Your Child When Speaking
Your child is looking to you to learn how to say new words. They want to see what their mouths need to do in order to get those words out so you will understand them. Make it easy on them! When you are speaking to your child, face them and look at them so that they can observe what your mouth looks like when speaking.
Also, when you look at your toddler as they are speaking to you, you are showing them that you are listening and care about what they have to say. This models some very important social skills as well.
5. Mirror Play
On the same note, since your toddler looks to you to learn what they need to do to say new words, they will love to explore their own faces while they are saying words.
If you both look into a mirror at the same time, your toddler will mimic your face to try to make theirs look the same. This is especially helpful if your little one is having difficulty with language or speech delays. Don’t forget to make this exciting and something they want to do by being silly!
6. Narrate What Your Child is Doing
One of the best ways to support language development is to simply talk, talk, talk. Since we already talked about how your child learns best during routines, take advantage of routine times and narrate everything you or your child is doing.
This helps them to learn more about their everyday environment and exposes them to words that they can and will need to use in everyday conversation.
7. Elaborate, Don’t Correct
This is a very common tip, but a considerably powerful one. When you constantly correct your child, you aren’t really valuing their input or encouraging them to take risks when communicating with you.
Instead, when your toddler says a word to you, elaborate on that word by describing it more. For example, if your toddler says, “ball”, you can say back, “Yes, look at the big, blue ball. Do you see how the ball bounces? Wow! It goes so high!”
If your toddler does say something incorrect, you can use elaboration as an encouraging way to address a misconception. For example, if your toddler holds up a ball and says “blue”, but the ball is “red”, you could say, “Yes, look at that ball. That big, red ball can sure bounce high! Can you say ‘red ball’?”
8. Give Choices
A great way to help your child build their vocabulary, improve self-esteem, and create an opportunity to use language is to consistently give your child choices.
Providing your toddler with choices allows your little one to practice giving more than just a yes or no answer, but forces them to use the words you want them to use. Simply asking if they want ravioli or meatballs for dinner avoids a yes/no answer and makes them feel like they are contributing to family decisions.
It’s an empowering win-win!
9. Interest Studies
Interest studies are a favorite way of mine to build your toddler’s vocabulary.
To create a successful interest study, you will want to determine your toddler’s favorite topic of the moment. This could be dinosaurs, baby animals, construction vehicles, unicorns, or anything else that piques your child’s interest.
Gather a bunch of children’s books on your child’s topic. Take them to the library or local bookstore to peruse through the books on that topic. Spend a week or two using the books to learn all about the topic and gathering new vocabulary about the topic that you can use together.
During your interest study, it is key to create engaging, playful activities around the topic as well. This could include field trips, sensory bins, imaginative play, art creations, and so much more.
These studies allow your child to learn more about something they love and provide opportunities for them to use the new language they have learned in context. This gives them more opportunities to incorporate these words into their growing vocabularies.
Related Post: 7 Activities To Get Your Toddler Talking
10. Go on a Hunt or Play I Spy
Going on a little hunt in your home or playing I Spy in the car is a great way to expand your toddler’s language. You can expose your child to a lot of new language and descriptive words when describing an object you want them to find.
Another way to play is to find multiple items that fit one descriptor. So you might have your child try to find all of the items that are fuzzy in your house. Try to see if they can label the items too!
11. Wait Time
Wait time is an extremely simple and beneficial tool for you to use, but it can be somewhat challenging. Whenever you ask your toddler a question, it’s natural to be eager for their response.
However, challenging it may be, simply wait! Giving your toddler time to think, process, and respond gives them more opportunities to use language. Sometimes it just may take a little longer than we expect for our toddler to try to communicate their answer, but waiting before we jump in is a powerful way to increase language production.
12. Wordless Books
Wordless books are a great tool for toddlers who are starting to speak in short phrases or sentences. These types of books allow your child to talk about what they see in the pictures and create their own storyline.
They encourage imagination and support narrative skills and language development.
13. Role Play and Use Toys that Encourage Language
Any chance your toddler has to use their imagination is a wonderful opportunity to support language. Play is a huge motivator for language, but be aware of the types of toys you are providing your child. You want to try to use toys that encourage language use such as play kitchens or grocery stores.
Role playing allows them to practice conversing with you. Your little one can learn a lot of social language through role play and the importance of conversational turn-taking.
14. When Your Child Points to Something, Talk about It
Your toddler will become increasingly curious about the world around them as their language continues to develop. When they point to something, label it and talk about it. You are teaching them something new. And yes, this may lead to the never-ending, “What’s this?” loop, but at least you know that your child is benefiting from it!
Related Post: 21 Tips to Teach Your Toddler to Talk
15. Don’t Be Afraid to Use Bigger Words
Sometimes when we are speaking with our little ones, we can’t help but to speak more simply and explain things on a very basic level. While this is perfect for a young toddler just learning to speak, your older toddler who is speaking in phrases or sentences can definitely handle you introducing and using new and more difficult vocabulary with them.
Remember, your toddler understands a lot more than they can express with their words. This can make it extremely frustrating for them when they can’t get out what they want or need to say. Be patient with them as they grow and don’t rush this time with them. Enjoy every single moment while your little is still little!
Jenna is a mama, Literacy Coach, and Family Literacy Educational Consultant who specializes in Language and Literacy development. She is passionate about empowering busy mamas to make it easy and fun to raise lifelong readers from the bump and up. She shares quick, simple and effective tips and strategies to support your little one at home at simplyworkingmama.com. Follow her on Pinterest, Instagram, and YouTube to get actionable tips you can try today!