From babbling babies to talkative toddlers, learning to talk is a huge task for littlies! Helping our babies along in the process however can be a bit trickier for parents, so we sat down for a chat with speech therapist, Melanie Yates of Treetop Therapy to talk about how we can encourage language development in our little ones.
What can I expect of my child’s language development by the time she is a toddler? A preschooler?
By 2 years old you would expect a child to be using at least 50 words and starting to put two words together, for example: mummy car. Toddlers are also able to understand simple questions and follow short instructions.
By 2 ½ to 3 years old, toddler’s verbalization becomes much clearer. You can expect them to be using between 100 and 200 words and starting to put 3 words together into small sentences.
Between 3 and 3 ½ years, preschoolers are able to follow and understand conversations about things they are interested in. You can expect them to use sentences of 4 words or more and understand (most of the time) those things that are familiar and unfamiliar to them.
What are your top tips, games or ideas for encouraging language development in toddlers and preschoolers?
There are many things you can do with your toddler to help their language development.
My top tips include:
When playing with your child, get down to their level to ensure eye contact. This may mean you have to lie on your tummy if your little one is sitting on the floor.
Comment on what your child is doing or what your child sees. Use short simple sentences. Talk about things as they happen, like when you’re unpacking the shopping, having a bath or watching the television.
If your child says something incorrectly, say it back the right way. Do not make your child repeat it.
If your child is already saying words, then use language that is one level above. For example, if your child is saying single words, then you can use 2-3 word sentences. If the child says “car” you could say, “car is driving”. You need to model language that you want your child to imitate.
Read, read and read some more! Reading storybooks has been shown to maximise language learning.
Children learn when they are interested. Have fun together! Be silly!
To help develop your child’s attention and listening skills you can play the identifying sounds game:
Grab things around the house that make a noise. Try whistles, a spoon to rattle in a cup, keys to jangle, paper to scrunch, paperclips in a jar etc.
Let your child play with them so that she becomes aware of which object makes which sound.
Ask your child to cover her eyes while you make a sound. Let her show you which sound she heard.
If your child can manage this activity easily, you can make it more difficult for her by increasing the number of instruments that she has to guess from or by playing more than one instrument.
Taking turns is a very important skill for children to learn for communication. You can use almost any game to work on taking turns, for example building blocks, putting cereal in a bowl, building a puzzle, rolling a ball etc. Use words like, “mummy’s turn, Sasha’s turn”.
To help develop your child’s language (both single words and sentences) you can:
Sing nursery rhymes and songs, especially those with actions.
Play games in which your child has to find a named object from a selection. Let her post the object into a box when she finds it. Use everyday/familiar objects.
Take clear photos of some of your child’s toys and/or household objects; look at these together and talk about the pictures. Match the real objects to the pictures.
Pretend play. Try playing dress ups, shops, play scenes with transport vehicles, playing with dolls etc.
How can I encourage my child to speak, when she prefers to point at everything?
Try rearranging the home environment to encourage your child to initiate communication. For example put things away or on a high shelf so there is a reason for your child to ask for the item. If your child points, offer a choice, “do you want the car or the blocks?”
Use gesture and signing. Signing can be used to bridge the gap between being unable to talk and talking, thereby decreasing frustration (yours and your child’s). And no, signing does not inhibit talking! In fact research shows quite the opposite.
Finally, get down to your child’s level when talking to them. Use lots of repetition paired with gesture and never insist that your child repeats a word after you.
How can I encourage my toddler/preschooler to have a conversation with me?
In order for your child to communicate she needs to be motivated and interested.
The following is very effective (and can be done every day!) to encourage conversation:
Set aside a “special time” just for you and your child each day. Try to spend 10 minutes giving your child undivided attention. Reduce distractions by turning off the TV, radio and *gulp* your mobile phone. If it is noisy, close the doors or windows.
Let your child choose a toy. Use toys that are highly motivating for your child. Have a choice of 2 or 3 different toys on the floor. You could also look at books or sing songs.
Be face-to face with your child. Sit or lie on the floor so you can be face to face.
Follow what your child wants to do with the toys. Try copying or extending what she does. Try not to direct her play.
Don’t ask too many questions. As adults we love asking questions! Try reducing the number of questions you ask, rather make comments on what your child is doing. Don’t be afraid of silence either, it’s ok to be quiet and wait for your child to initiate communication with you.
Give your child lots of praise. You can do this with facial expression and tone, as well as saying nice things.
Originally from South Africa, Melanie Yates is a speech and language therapist who runs her own clinic, Treetop Therapy with colleague Fátima Ionescu. Passionate about working with children and their families, Melanie has been working in Singapore for 4½ years in a variety of different settings, having completed her university studies in the UK. Melanie is also a mama to a beautiful 20-month-old boy — who she completely adores!