Children are born programmed to develop spoken language. Speaking to children, from the day they are born, invites them into the world of language and communication. During the first five to seven years of a child’s life, the brain is in a critical period of language development and acquisition. There are many forms of play and activities parents and teachers may use to encourage language development during this time.
Read to Baby
Children are never too young to be read to. At the OSU Extension, they recommend holding your baby in your lap while you are looking at a magazine, and let him look at the pictures. Describe the pictures to him. As he gets older, he may point to pictures in magazines and board books. Being read to is an easy and fun way to encourage your child’s language development, as well as a love of reading.
Respond to baby’s babbles by babbling back. This encourages her conversational language development as she learns that language is a back-and-forth activity. Children who receive immediate responses for their babbles, coos and cries are primed to develop higher language skills. Turn this into a play activity by copying her babble patterns.
Child development experts at UC Davis remind us that children develop language as they play and interact with others. Dramatic play areas in toddler rooms and preschool classrooms are vital for giving kids a vehicle to develop language skills. Dramatic play areas often have clothes for dress-up or puppets imaginative play. Donning a doctor’s coat, or putting on a pair of high-heeled shoes, gives the child a character to play and a chance to explore new uses of language. For example, a preschooler may not usually ask her friend, “How are you feeling today,” but she might if she were imitating a doctor. Parents can set up dramatic play areas in the home, and play-act with their young children.
In the peer-reviewed journal “Early Childhood Research and Practice,” Janie Heisner writes about incorporating stories and elements of dramatic play into the block center in a preschool classroom. This is easily implemented in the home, as well. Block-play in the classroom, Heisner observed, was social but devoid of language; i.e., the kids were not talking to each other. She read the children a story and built something from the story with the blocks. She incorporated other toys in the block area, including little plastic animals. By basing the block-play on a story, she got the kids talking to each other and developing language skills. In the home, parents may read stories and build blocks as a connected activity. They may also discuss what the child is building with blocks. Ask your child, “What are you building? Tell me about it.” to encourage her use of language.