It is hard to underestimate the importance of early language skills; a child’s early development of language will lay the foundations for future learning and communication, and ultimately success in life. During the first years of life a child’s brain is developing rapidly and the interactions that parents have with children will impact how they develop and learn. This is the ideal time for parents to start developing communication skills for toddlers.
Children who develop strong language skills will arrive at school ready to learn and are more likely to show higher achievements. So what can we do to encourage and develop communication skills for children? Here are five ways to promote early language skills:
1.Elicit rather than demand speech: It is so easy to demand speech, ‘Say thank you’, ‘Say please can I have a biscuit!’ Demanding speech may work in the short term but will often result in the child withdrawing and reducing spontaneous talking. Try to elicit speech instead through meaningful interactions such as, ‘It’s a …….’, ‘A duck says……’ with enthusiasm. Model rather than demand speech, for example, ‘It’s time to say goodbye to Auntie… Goodbye!’ Gestures such as waving goodbye or hello will be helpful as they take the pressure off ‘talking’ and this usually encourages the child to have a go at saying the word. Singing songs and then pausing before a key word and looking expectantly at the child is another form of elicitation, for example ‘Head, shoulders, knees and ……’.
2.Use location and frequency: A child learns language through hearing the same word in the same location many times. When we change the words we use this makes it more difficult and children will take longer. When children are very young, use the same words in short phrases in the child’s routine, for example, ‘brush teeth’ before bedtime, ‘go in car’ before going out. Parents can use an object to support a child’s understanding and trigger talking, such as giving the toothbrush to the child and saying ‘brush teeth’ before that activity.
3.Read interactively: Activities for children’s communication skills are often more effective than taking a passive approach. Reading interactively is a great way to develop communication skills for children and particularly their early reasoning. Choose simple picture books to look through together. Research has shown that children can be encouraged to name or point to concrete items at 2 years e.g. ‘Show me a dog’; at 3 years children can be encouraged to look at objects in more detail, e.g. ‘Show me something big’, and then at 4 years they can answer why/because questions and predict what might happen next. Talking about pictures will play an important role in developing communication skills for children.
4.Be a Commentator: Tune in to your child’s interests by observing what they gravitate towards and comment on their play. Commenting on what your child is looking at or doing is a great way to give children examples of how to use language and modelling phrases for them to use. Research shows that the more parents model language for children, the more children will talk. For example as your child is playing with or looking at cars, make comments such as ‘The blue car goes under the tunnel’, ‘The blue car goes very fast’ etc. This is a very effective way to develop communication skills for toddlers.
5.Encourage early problem solving: As children develop in their language they will learn they can communicate for different purposes. An important emerging purpose at around 4 years of age is for the child to suggest solutions to problems e.g. ‘We need glue to stick this!’ Before children will talk about solutions they need to experience and learn that they can problem solve. This can start early, for example, when they are riding a bike and cannot get past an obstacle. A parent’s natural reaction would be to move the obstacle for them whether they show frustration or not. Instead try waiting and see if they will try to solve the problem themselves. If not model it for them, e.g. ‘Let’s try to move this chair so you can get through. Can you help me?’
Children develop their early language skills through the positive interaction with adults around them in play. By engaging in activities for children’s communication skills, you can help them become critical thinkers and effective communicators.
‘Home is the most important school young children will ever know and children’s parents are the most important teachers they will ever have.’ – Edwin Gordon 2013
Supporting our children to explore and engage in early problem solving will set our children up to be strong learners in school. At KLAY, we believe in grooming children to hone their power of language and communication in interactive and engaging ways!
About the Authour
Clinical Director and Co-founder of the London Learning Centre.
Jackie Harland is a qualified Speech and Language Therapist with over 30 years of experience and has established four multidisciplinary clinics within the UK and internationally. She is a founder and Director of Services in the London Children’s Practice in central London and is the co-founder of the London Learning Centre in Delhi.
She has a Masters in Early Childhood Education and has co-authored an early years framework and online screening tool that supports early years teachers in good practice within pre-schools. She has also conducted research in early childhood education in the UK and internationally.