Parents play an important role in helping their children with language development. After all, you are their first teacher. Whether you have an infant, school-aged child or anything in between, it is never too early (or too late) to introduce routines that will enhance their language learning skills. Studies have shown that literacy skills begin in infancy, and it is important to continue working with your child on their language skills as they enter kindergarten and beyond.
Fortunately, it doesn’t take much to make language learning a routine. Try some of these simple activities to boost your child’s language skills, and you will find that it only takes a few extra minutes a day to make it a habit. Remember to keep it relaxed and fun for your child so that these are enjoyable activities they look forward to. The most important thing is that you are spending some quality time bonding and communicating with your child.
Reading with your child every day is one of the most important things you can do for their language development. Even the youngest babies benefit from a daily story time, even if they are too young to understand the story. Reading to your infant will expose them to word sounds, sentence structures, and intonation that they can mimic as they begin learning their first words. Older children benefit from learning new vocabulary, and seeing words on the page while you read will begin to teach them about letter sounds and phonics.
If you are struggling to find time to read with your child throughout the day, try making it a part of their bedtime routine. Not only will this help with their language skills, but it can also be a relaxing activity to get them ready for bed. During the day, get into the habit of reading anything and everything aloud, as long as it is age appropriate. If you are reading a magazine article or a recipe, your child will benefit from listening to you say the words out loud.
Narrate Your Day
It may feel a little silly at first, but describing the things you are doing and seeing throughout the day is a great way to expose your child to language. Experts agree that the more words and sounds children hear, the more they learn. Give them a chance to respond and they will also learn conversational skills, which they will benefit from socially.
When you are out for a walk with your child, talking about the things you see along the way is a great opportunity to learn new words. Even cooking dinner or a trip to the grocery store can introduce your child to new vocabulary, as long as you are talking. Of course, pay attention to your child’s cues and allow a little quiet time when they need a break.
Remember those nursery rhymes your parents used to sing to you? They are actually a great tool for introducing babies and toddlers to language. Not only can they teach new vocabulary, they also introduce young children to language concepts like rhyming, rhythm, and storytelling. Older children often enjoy these songs as well, especially if there is an interactive element.
If you have a few minutes of down time during they day, practice singing a nursery rhyme with your little one. Adding hand motions will help keep them engaged if they aren’t already. Before you know it, they will be singing along, and may even learn their numbers and ABCs well before kindergarten if you choose the right songs. It’s never too early to introduce the alphabet song!
Practice a Second Language
If you speak a second language – even if you only studied it for a couple of years in school – share it with your child. Research shows that even limited exposure to a second language has a positive effect on language-learning skills in young children. Children who learn a second language often have greater word recognition skills when they begin reading and a more advanced understanding of how language works than their monolingual peers.
If you know how to read and pronounce the words in another language correctly, make it a habit to practice some vocabulary together with your child. Your library probably has books for children in your second language that you both can learn from. You may be surprised by how quickly your child picks up the new words, and it may improve their language skills in English as well.
Games are a great way to spend some screen-free time with your children and a great way to help build vocabulary. Board and card games for young children often involve numbers, directions, colors and shapes. Other language-based games that don’t require anything at all (think “I Spy” or “Telephone”) can be a fun way to experiment with vocabulary and introduce basic grammar concepts like adjectives.
Try out some of your old favorite games from when you were a kid and start a family game night. While older children may be more interested in following directions, toddlers and preschoolers may have more fun playing with the cards and pieces. You can still make it educational for your child by asking questions like, “What color is that card?” Make it a weekly activity and there will be plenty of opportunities for learning.
Weikle, B., & Hadadian, A. (2003). Emergent literacy practices among parents of preschool children with and without disabilities. International Journal of Special Education, 18(1), 80-99.
Yelland, G. W., Pollard, J., & Mercuri, A. (1993). The metalinguistic benefits of limited contact with a second language. Applied psycholinguistics, 14(4), 423-444.
My name is John Haber. I’m a Pediatric Occupational Therapist and the founder of Nogginsland. I became a COTA in 2003, and then went back to school much later, receiving my Master’s Degree in OT from Mercy College in New York in 2016.
Over the years, I’ve worked with a variety of populations in different settings, from school districts, to developmental disability centers, to children’s hospitals.