Communication is the most important skill you can teach your children. But how do you help your toddler to improve their speech and language skills at home? You don’t need to become a teacher or a speech therapist! Simply make communication a priority in your home with these top tips. From talking to singing and even watching television – there are lots of ways language can be taught, learned and absorbed. But if you want to give your child that extra support then keep reading and learn how to boost your preschool child’s speech and language development at home.
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What is speech and language?
The phrase ‘speech and language’ covers all types of communication and comprehension. Speech is the physical act of creating words and speech sounds with your body. It is a complex process that involves the muscles in your face, tongue and lips. Language on the other hand describes the universal concept of communication and includes the cognitive processing and construction of both verbal and non-verbal languages.
How does speech and language start to develop?
Babies are born with an innate social ability that helps them to interact with their parents and caregivers. They spend a long time absorbing the speech sounds and general patterns of the language around them, before making attempts at vocalisations of their own. Early speech sounds like ‘baa’ and ‘maa’ start to emerge as babies develop their ability to physically coordinate speech output. Babies also start to use meaningful gestures like pointing from 8 months old. This helps us to understand just how much comprehension a baby has, even before their first words have been uttered!
Physical and cognitive development happen rapidly throughout the first year of your baby’s life. Then all of a sudden their ability to communicate explodes between 12 – 18 months. The continuing development of your child’s speech and language skills is really vital and the foundations built before children turn three years old will impact how they communicate as adults.
How can i help my child to communicate?
So how can you help to boost your preschool child’s speech and language development at home? The first thing to consider is how do you communicate? Communication starts early with those first funny faces and games of peek-a-boo you play with your baby. But as I mentioned, babies can start to communicate with meaningful gestures from as young 8 months old. So before your child’s main communication skill develops to a stage of clear speech, it’s important to ensure they have other methods of communicating their wants and needs.
Baby sign language classes or learning Makaton are great options for increasing quality time and interaction between you and your child. But natural gestures like pointing, nodding and shaking your head are the most important. Visual clues in general are a powerful way of helping preschool children understand new information.
Remember that repetition is vital for learning. Children need information to be presented over and over again so that it can become embedded in their long term memory. The more ways you can communicate the same information the better. For example, saying the word apple while pointing to it and then signing ‘apple’ as you say it again, will really support you child to process the connection between the physical object and the word.
Won’t they sign instead of speaking?
Many parents worry that teaching their child to sign will result in them avoiding speech all together. In actual fact, using augmentative methods of communication alongside speech will boost your child’s speech and language development. Preschool children who learn to sign are likely to have a wider vocabulary and less behaviour issues as they are able to communicate their needs and wants more easily.
Activities to boost preschool speech and language development
Now you know what speech and language is and why supporting your child’s ability to communicate is so important. So let’s get stuck into exactly how to do that! Here are my top ten ways to boost your preschool child’s speech and language development at home.
No. 1 Ask Me About stickers
Top of my list is the ‘Ask me about Sticker.’ I first encountered this, fantastically simple, speech and language idea in a ‘Word Awareness’ training session for early years workers. All you need to do is grab some plain, white labels and a marker pen – that’s it! Then try to notice the ideas, words and concepts your child is drawn too in a day. Write a related word on the sticker and then pop it on their jumper. This will prompt any adults they come into contact with to ask them all about the words they have been learning.
I love the ‘Ask me about Sticker’ as it is really effective in nurseries and playgroups. Often children go home where parents ask ‘what have you done today?’ and the child doesn’t answer. Parents struggle to start an interaction because they aren’t aware of everything their child is up to outside of the home. But the ‘Ask me about Sticker’ can help bridge that gap!
So why not harness the power of the ‘Ask me about Sticker’ at home? It can be a great tool for prompting interactions with friends, a working parent, grandparents and people you meet on outings.
SERVE AND RETURN
Babies and toddlers need responsive caregivers who help them practice their social and conversational skills. Next time you are chatting to your baby or toddler, think ‘serve and return’. Just like a tennis match where the players serve a ball, one person needs to serve a behaviour to start a social interaction. The other person then needs to return with another behaviour. Try it out and see how long you can keep your ‘tennis match’ going for!
For toddlers, you want to encourage as much speech as possible. But it’s also really important to recognise other types of communication. For example, facial expressions, noises and vocalisations, hand gestures, sign language and any other behaviours your child has learnt to communicate with. Parents need be sensitive to these cues and respond consistently, so that they keep the interactions going. That’s why games like peek-a-boo and pulling funny faces are so important! You are actually building the brain pathways your baby will use later in life to engage with other people and to communicate their needs and wants.
No. 2 Coat Hook
Number 2 on my list of ways to boost your preschool child’s speech and language development at home is a Coat Hook. That might sound a bit unexpected, so let me explain! Encouraging independence in your child is really important. And communication is a big part of that! Often parents will rush in to help with practical life skills, like putting on a coat and shoes. This may be met with little resistance when you have a baby, but as your toddler starts to become self-aware and keen to practice their new found independence, overbearing parenting may result in conflict. Toddler tantrums are a whole other blog post which you can read at your leisure. But here is one simple tip, make a space in your home for a coat hook at your child’s height.
How do I make a coat hook for my toddler?
Making a coat hook is easy. Choose a hook from your local hardware store and put it on the wall where your child can easily reach to hang and remove their coat. Add a label or a sign with their name or a picture of their face.
Why do I need to make a coat hook?
This provides a space that your child can access every day to do something independently. It also encourages you and your child to have a conversation at least twice a day, when you leave and return to your home. You can talk about the weather, what outerwear you need, the type of fastenings on the coat and shoes, teach left and right for their hands and feet, and discuss accessories like hats, gloves and scarves too.
Not only does a coat hook inspire independence and conversation, but if you add your child’s name and photo it also introduces the written word. Name recognition is an important skill for your toddler to learn. Pre-school children often learn their name once they begin attending an early education setting. But why not boost your child’s speech and language development by introducing name recognition games at home too? Teaching your child their first and second name is also important for safety; for example if they get lost in the supermarket or need first aid. So why not add a little colour to your home with a new sign and a coat hook?
No. 4 Bedroom sign
Talking of signs, number four on my list is a Bedroom Sign! This is another great way to boost your preschool child’s speech and language development at home. Again, name recognition and becoming familiar with the written word are benefits of the bedroom sign as well as the coat hook. But adding a bedroom sign also introduces the idea of a private space.
Young children need a lot of help to learn words with abstract meanings. But it’s important to teach your child about privacy for several reasons. It helps instil social skills and boundaries early on, it will help to keep your child safe, and it will be a great way to encourage emotional self-regulation.
How does a bedroom sign teach my child about privacy?
A bedroom sign opens up discussions around what a bedroom is used for, who it belongs to, how it can be kept private and what body parts and behaviours are acceptable in different situations. These might seem like big topics, but if you keep them simple toddlers can grasp them pretty quickly!
You can also use a removable door handle sign like the ‘do not disturb’ pictured above. Practice privacy by taking it in turns to place the sign on a door handle and then go inside and shut the door. The person on the outside of the door needs to knock and wait for the first person inside the room to tell them it’s okay to enter. Remember to practice this in your daily life as a parent too. Young children can find it hard to understand privacy when they have never had any!
Talking about Public & Private
Try explaining that you are shutting the bedroom door and closing the curtains to keep things private when your child is getting changed too. You can explain that this means no one else can see them when they have their clothes off. When you are out in public, you can reinforce the opposite idea, by explaining that you are ‘with people’ and that you can see lots of people and they can see you.
If your preschool child engages in behaviour that is inappropriate in public – like taking off their clothes – then you can remind them that they need to wait until they are in their private place which is the bedroom or bathroom. These types of discussions really enhance your child’s understanding of language and help to take seemingly abstract concepts and attach them to concrete experiences. Watch the Pantosaurus video from the NSPCC website for more help with these discussions.
No.4 Book corner
Another great way to boost your preschool child’s speech and language development at home, is to create a cosy Book Corner. This is a small cosy space where your child can sit comfortably and choose from an array of books. There should be an easy to access display, which is laid out in an inciting and engaging way.
Add a blanket, bean bag or cushion to the area to invite your child to sit or lie down with their books. Art work at your child’s height can also brighten up an otherwise blank wall – drawing them in and capturing their interest. A positive relationship with books is important for your child’s reading skills later in life. The more your child enjoys an activity, the more willing they will be to repeat it, and therefore practice, process and master the skill.
No. 5 Bedroom & Bathroom Baskets
Number 5 on my top ten list is Bedroom & Bathroom Baskets! And by this I mean, baskets filled with language rich activities which can be placed all around your home. I have a basket in my son’s bedroom and both of our bathrooms.
The bedtime basket has soothing, calm stories including classic fairy tales, as well as modern breastfeeding books to help us in our night weaning journey. I have also included a cute zip up bag to contain his baby monitor, a calming pillow spray and a lavender scented body lotion. These items make bedtime much more interesting and help to create a calm, night time atmosphere.
In the bathrooms, we have baskets filled with exciting lift the flap books, interactive action stories, toileting related tales and even a few toys sneak in there to help us with role playing our personal hygiene tasks. Activity baskets are great for encouraging children to sit on the toilet. They also provide a wonderful opportunity to boost your preschool child’s speech and language development. So why not add some extra resources to your home and make your own bedroom and bathroom baskets?
No. 6 Visual Timetable
Number 6 on my list is a Visual Timetable. Communication is so important for boosting your child’s speech and language development, and as I mentioned earlier that includes augmentative and alternative methods of communication too! Engaging in as many informative, enjoyable interactions with your child as you can is the best way to encourage their communication skills.
How do i use a visual timetable?
Using visuals is a really brilliant way to interact with preschool children as they are generally able to process visual clues more easily than other types of information. A visual timetable usually consists of a few tasks or pieces of information at a time. These are presented on a chart, in a book or on a keyring and often have removable pieces so that the tasks can be put away when completed. This makes it more fun for your child too!
The visual attachments themselves need to be images that clearly depict the task ahead. Young children develop their understanding of symbols gradually over time, so it can be helpful to use real photographs to begin with. You can make it even more engaging by using photos that you have taken yourself of the real items and places your child uses and will recognise.
Words and Pictures
Visual timetables should include the written word for each task, to help develop your child’s whole word sight vocabulary. This means that your child can recognise the familiar shape of a word, almost like an image, while they develop the skills needed to separate and sound out letters individually.
Timetables like this also introduce language for time passing, such as now, next and then. I am a big fan of visual aids and would really like to encourage you to try out a visual timetable with your toddler. Providing as much information as possible will help your child feel more in control and able to rely on what is coming next in their day. This is a great strategy for preventing feelings of overwhelm and the resulting tantrums or meltdowns.
No. 7 Calendar or Weather Chart
Before you start your day, you might also like to do a daily calendar or weather chart with your child. These simple tools are brilliant for boosting preschool children’s speech and language development. Like the visual timetable, a calendar also introduces language for time. But you aren’t only focusing on the day in front of you, you are putting it into context with the day, week, month and year.
A calendar can help to make these terms visually accessible and the idea of seasons becomes much more concrete. Likewise a weather chart can help to draw a connection between talk of seasons and what we are seeing outside. You can buy a magnetic calendar on a budget really easily. We got ours from The Works online for £5. But you could also make one yourself. Why not give it a go and see how much communication you open with your toddler?
No. 8 Flashcards
Number eight on my list is Flashcards. I love making flashcards and you can grab a copy of my FREE Little Red Hen flashcards here. They are so versatile and can be included in any activity or be the activity themselves! From matching to sorting and labelling, and even search and rescue games! Flashcards are a brilliant way to boost your child’s speech and language development by introducing new vocabulary and encouraging their use of whole word sight reading.
No. 9 Story Sacks or Stations
Number 9 on my list is a Story Sack or Story Station. Story Sacks are just what they sound like. You pop a few items related to your chosen story into a bag or a sack. Then you can explore the bag with your baby or toddler. Story Sacks help your child engage with the story and give them physical representations of the ideas in the book. The element of surprise makes a Story Sack exciting for young children to explore and it also allows them to practice their fine motor skills by grasping objects and pulling them out of the bag.
Building a positive relationship with books
A positive relationship with reading is really important for boosting your preschool child’s speech and language development. Story Stations are another fun way to develop a love of reading. You can see our Halloween Story Station pictured below. This spooky Story Station is what early years workers call an ‘invitation to play’. You don’t need to direct your child to read the story or act it out, it’s simply a familiar story being used to spark your child’s imagination.
use books to inspire your play
I love to theme my play setups, especially when I can turn them into a Story Station. First off, because it can be hard to come up with novel play ideas from scratch every week. And secondly, because it really does bring the story to life and encourage your child to love the written word.
This particular Story Station is inspired by Julia Donaldson’s book ‘Room on the Broom’. I have included puzzle pieces with words from the story. But if you don’t have puzzles like this at home, you could use homemade flashcards or simply draw some pictures and write the words underneath.
To make your Story Station even more exciting, try to include a variety of textures and colours. In our Halloween Story Station we had:
- Hard toys
- Soft toys
- Colourful scarves that could be hidden under or waved in the air
- Recycled cardboard packaging for our fire
- A cauldron
- Bendy pipe cleaners
- Craft leaves
- A witch’s hat
- And of course the story book itself!
You can do this with any story you have at home. Just look through the book for salient words, characters or ideas and try to find items from around your home that represent each one. Which story will you use? I would love to know! Tag me @athomewithmrsblake in your posts!
No. 10 Nursery Rhyme Play
Finally, number 10 on my list is Nursery Rhyme Play. Do you remember the nursery rhymes you used to sing as a child? Don’t worry if the answer is ‘no’. Sometimes we need a little help to jog our memories when we become parents ourselves. That’s the great thing about baby classes and toddler groups, they will always sing nursery rhymes and help you practice them for using later at home.
But if you want to build up your confidence on your own first, then check out the Scottish Book Trusts’ Nursery rhyme library on their website. Nursery Rhymes don’t have to just be you singing to your baby or toddler. They can be made lots of fun by including CDs, instruments, homemade shakers, puppets, actions and even bubbles!
Why are nursery rhymes important for speech and language development?
Nursery rhymes increase your child’s phonological awareness, which means being able to notice and manipulate the sounds in words. Phonological awareness is then related to reading and spelling abilities later in life. Nursery rhymes are also a great way to support name recognition. As modern rhymes often include a chance to ‘say hello’ to the child and repeat their name as you sing.
It doesn’t matter how good a singer you are, the nursery rhymes and social interactions are far more important. And remember repetition? Preschool children love to sing nursery rhymes again and again. This allows your child time to process the meanings of words and practice the words in the context. When they feel ready to join in, the repetition in the lyrics themselves will help your child to practice their speech and articulation too!
Nursery Rhyme Play: The Little Bag Game
Why not try the Little Bag game? Fill a bag with items that represent each of your favourite nursery rhymes. Sing the words below and then let your child pick an item out of the bag. Sing the song associated with that toy and then play again until the bag is empty. You can download a copy of my FREE Nursery Rhyme Cards here. They are fully printable and perfect for popping in your bag. Babies and toddlers will love the little bag and the excitement of choosing a song. So what are you waiting for?
Little bag, little bag – What’s inside?
What little song are you trying to hide?
Are you ready to boost your child’s speech and language development?
Will you try out these ideas to boost your preschool child’s speech and language development at home? I would love to know how you get on! You can email me or tag me in your posts @athomewithmrsblake online. Remember to join our AHWMB Community Group on Facebook where you can get lots more ideas and connect with other parents.