I have spoken to several parents of young children with speech/language delays who are getting mixed messages about the nature of language development. Our culture seems to be placing more and more emphasis on academic readiness and static learning – such as letter naming, matching, reading, and labeling flash cards. While teaching these skills is not inherently ‘bad’, we need to be cognizant of the fact that children learn language best when they see it function in the moment, particularly during the early years (toddlers, preschoolers). Language is itself a social construct that helps people build conversation, share ideas and emotions, and direct the attention of others. Toddlers, for example, are beginning to build conversation when they point out things in their environment to direct a caregiver’s attention.
And the good news is that facilitating language development was never meant to be so complicated. Instead of opting for fancy computer games, talking books, apps on your iphone, or flashcards, here are some ideas to enhance your child’s language during everyday routines and interactions.
- Offer your child choices during snacks or activities (e.g., Do you want crackers or cheese?)
- Give your child a reason to communicate (e.g., Put a desired toy in sight but out of reach)
- Spend some time playing face to face with your child, showing an interest in what they are doing or looking at. Try to minimize questions or direct the play. Use language to comment on what you or your child are doing (e.g., Uh oh the blocks crashed!).
- Use language that your child could imitate if he/she wanted to – instead of speaking in long, complicated sentences, try reducing your phrase length and repeating key words frequently (while ensuring that your sentences are still grammatically correct).