Using daily routines, like bath-time and getting dressed, are all great times for a language learning opportunity. Breakfast, lunch, snack, and dinner times can be important learning times in your child’s daily schedule too. Talking and eating is something social that we all do as adults, so make mealtime another language building opportunity with your little one.
Remember that your child is learning words from you. So it is important to be that ideal language model.
As always, use the five methods of word learning to reinforce and teach your child new words and concepts. Since mealtime can be repetitious, its a great opportunity to give your child multiple exposures to certain words and concepts. Here are a few to use:
Objects Actions Concepts Location
spoon sit down mine/yours on the plate
fork pour more/less next to the cup
cup stir, mix all/none under the table
plate, dish cut hot/cold in/inside your belly
milk, water bite, chew empty/full
food names wash crunchy/mushy
napkin clean up all gone
Time to eat, Wash hands, Sit down, your chair, Hot!, Blow on it
My spoon, my plate, my chair, Pour it- Psshh, Want more?
Milk please, Stir it up , Clean face, clean hands
Describing foods by their shape, texture, size, and taste is another great opportunity to use words that your child might not otherwise hear in their day. For example, This carrot is crunchy, This cookie is chewy, This tomato is round, This cracker is rough
You can also work on identifying foods and related items:
Identifying by Name: Show me carrots, show me banana, show me spoon, etc.
Identifying by Attribute: Which one is long, Which one is round, Which one is green, etc.
Using daily routines, like eating, bathing, and dressing are the best times to enhance your child’s language skills. These suggestions can help to expand receptive vocabulary and continue to provide the opportunity for hearing that ideal language model for enhanced language production later on.
The evidence on play and language skills being directly related is astounding. Many researchers have found that these two skills go hand and hand. As an expert in language development and play, toy rotation is highly recommended.
Toy rotation actually helps your child to increase their attention span with just a few toys per week. It gives your child the opportunity to fully engage with a few toys without being overstimulating by so many.
It allows for toy mastery, more creativity, and critical thinking with your little one. If a child is exposed to too many toys, it can lead to “scattered play,” rather than strong schematic play, which has stronger developmental benefits.
Maria Montessori, known for her philosophy in education, which is used globally now with typically developing children ages 2 to 6, found that children show deeper attention and concentration with repetitions of an activity, and moreover preferred a structured and orderly environment. She also found that children in this age bracket learn best in practical settings, such as a living room or a kitchen, so the idea of a “playroom,” may not be the most developmentally appropriate.
The idea is selecting just a few toys, and swapping them out every 5 to 7 days.
A few guidelines for Toy Rotation:
Toy rotation is most effective for children in infancy, through age 5
Choose less than 10 toys to have “out” and easily available to your little one during play.
Book sharing is a great way to continue word learning. Allow your child to explore the world of literacy and be exposed to an unlimited amount of great books. If you feel like the books are even too much, rotate those too!
Remember during play with your child, to make those toys visually appealing, to better keep their attention. Longer attention spans means smarter kids.
The rotation part is important! As your child learns one concept, and masters that concept, challenge them with new experiences, that they can learn from.
Although it seems that in the first few weeks and months of your baby’s life, he is only sleeping, eating, crying or hiccuping, the research tells us otherwise.
Babies are listening to the sounds in their environment from the very beginning. In fact, research shows that newborns process their mother's voice differently and more actively than that of strangers.
Talking with your baby from the first day of life gives them a valuable start towards language development.
"The only thing we know of, that makes babies smarter, is talking to them," says Lise Eliot, neuroscientist and author of What's Going on in There?
So, use every opportunity to talk with your baby. Create a moment of communication and connection at every possible moment. Daily routines, such as changing times, feeding, bath time, or going out, are all excellent chances to prepare your baby for a transition through words. For example, “Mama’s going to feed you now,” “Mama’s going to take off your clothes, then we’re gonna take a bath.”
From providing a language rich environment from the start, babies begin to understand what speech sounds like. Soon, they will learn that these sounds become words and have meaning.
To maximize word learning and communication in those first few months of life, use close face-to-face contact during awake times and during conversation. Respond to your baby’s “ooohs” and “uuhhs,” so that he knows he is being heard.
I spoke with Jennifer Laurent, life coach, mom, and author of Excerpts from the Heartof a Mom, to discuss just how capable babies are of communicating, even before they have words to express it.
"Our awareness of the ability to communicate with our children allows us to create a deeper parent/child relationship from early on. As new mothers, we can sometimes feel overwhelmed, making it very easy to overlook the innate wisdom our little babies have. By finding ways to slow down and truly validate to our babies that we know they can understand us and we respect their needs as unique beings, we immediately cultivate a relationship based in trust, respect, and unconditional love.
"When we slow things down and quiet the stresses and worries, we are then able to see with our hearts through our eyes. We can take a moment to stop when are babies are crying and really listen, feeling them at a deeper level and calling forth our own innate wisdom and inner voice. We can hear the slight difference in a cry, tune into the look in our babies eyes, and notice the way they take in our love.
"Suddenly we are communicating and it is as if we have a language of our own, a language easily understood by both mother and child.
"This connection is possible and it is profound. Take the time to quiet your mind in whatever way works for you, allowing you to connect with your inner voice.
"Speak to your child and listen to what they have to offer back. Listen with your heart and your entire being. Hold them not only with your arms, but with every inch of love within you. Take time to look into their eyes, seeking to connect with them at the deepest level possible. Open your heart to the gift of communication available to you from the beginning."
Jennifer Laurent wears many hats as a single mother, life coach, author, and yoga instructor. Born and raised in NY, Jennifer earned a BA in Psychology and a Masters in Clinical Social Work. In her first book, Excerpts from the Heart of a Mom, Jennifer presents readers with fundamental insights on her approach to conscious parenting. LiveThroughTheHeart.com is Jennifer’s website where she blogs about life experiences and shares her life coaching skills with readers as a source of inspiration.
This blog was completed in collaboration with Jeff Stephans, a member of an elite squad… proud dads with daughters. You can check out his anecdotes at CrazyDadLife.com
Remember the good ol’ days when families would get home from work and school, a warm home cooked dinner would be prepared, then everyone would sit down and have a nice meal together as a family? Well, if you are a parent of children under 18, chances are that nowadays those experiences are sporadic at best.
Let’s face it, sitting down at the table with the family every night for dinner is a lost art. Put it up there with pulling out your checkbook register at the grocery store and balancing your checkbook right there as everyone queues up (although this still surprisingly happens and usually in your line).
While you may not be able to coordinate a specific and consistent time for everyone to be together at once, communication is still incredibly important to understand what’s going on in your kids’ lives.
Here are 6 opportunities for engaging your kids in conversation and making the most of the times you do spend together.
1. Morning Prep - Yes, mornings are usually hectic. But, as you are fixing lunches and gathering stuff for their backpack, talk to your child about the day to come. With teens this may be difficult as they are borderline zombies in the morning, but try to get them to open up anyway. What’s coming up in school? How do you feel about the Spanish test? What’s the after school plan? Avoid the yes/no questions (e.g. Did you study for your Spanish test?), because chances are you’ll just get a one-word response. Ask open ended questions, and don’t forget to share about your day too. Conversation is mutual. It also helps your kid start to understand that mornings are meant to get your day organized and to prepare yourself for all that you have planned for the day.
2. After School - The school day is over and your child jumps in the car or meets you at home. First question from the parent is usually, “How was school?” to which the usual response is “good.” Apparently that response sums up EVERYTHING. Try a different approach next time. What’s the best thing that happened today? What’s the worst? This will open doors to not only talk about their academics, but their personal experiences too. Listen, and don’t forget to offer your best/worst happenings in exchange.
3. The Chauffeur - You probably have the pleasure of driving your kid around to various sports, after school activities, or social events. Take car time to talk about external events, like pop culture, current events, politics, sports, and entertainment. Ask their opinions and offer your own. Play devil’s advocate and gauge their interest or ability to see the other side of the argument. Fostering these critical thinking skills with complex language and new vocabulary will make them a stronger thinker, while staying connecting to the world around them.
4. Texting - People may raise their eyebrows when mentioning texting as a method to communicate with their kids, but this is the 21st century and let’s face it, kids are constantly head down in their phones. It may be short conversations, but it means a lot to the kids that their parents are ‘plugged in.’ Keep your conversations with your children on a private level, and make sure you ask open-ended questions. If their response is still short, and you’re craving some elaboration, a simple “...” or “???” might do the trick.
5. Night Time Wind Down- The family finally gets to spend some time at home as activities come to an end. Dinner is thrown together and eaten quickly wherever people may be located, doing homework or other nightly tasks. Continue to keep your kids involved in communication. Ask questions and see if they want to “work” together. Create a quiet environment, and as you’re catching up on emails, your child can sit across the table working on an English paper. Chances are if you’re sitting there, they may ask you for a little help, opening more doors to communication.
6. Bedtime - The long day is finally over. Take the time to talk to your kids as you tuck them into bed. Communication at this point is softer and more personal. No need to discuss planning, school, and the general insanity of tomorrow. Spend the time to listen to your child and hear what they have to say. These times are often the most important and reinforce the fact you are always there for them, proud of them, and don’t forget to tell them you love them.
Just remember to have fun, enjoy the exchanges with your children, and make their opinion feel welcomed and valued. Open communication and using these 6 opportunities for conversation will encourage them to get talking, not just at the dinner table.
Jeff Stephens is a proud dad blogger from the Washington DC area. His website, CrazyDadLife.com, is dedicated to all those parents that are experiencing the craziness of raising kids in today’s non-stop world. His insight, advice, and stories from the front lines provide a humorous and (sometimes) informational slant on navigating daily family chaos.
The benefits of reading to your child are no secret. Its great for parent-child bonding, building attention skills, fostering social-emotional development, and of course excellent for language development.
When they are young, we read aloud. Several of us have probably already adapted our own Do’s & Don’ts related to reading, whether it be a particular time of day, reading chair, or book selection method.
Book sharing is a great way to enhance speech and language development. Pictures within books foster the early knowledge that words have meaning. We can use picture books to build comprehension skills for objects, animals, and people. Have your find and point to those named objects on pages of a book.
But here is the real secret...
Book sharing is so much more meaningful, when it is dynamic. That means the same book can be read over and over again, but still be different. Here is what YOU can do to take reading with your baby or toddler to the next level.
1.) Use different voices and varying intonation when talking for or about certain characters. Dramatic pauses and exaggerations are good!
2.) Repeat, Repeat, Repeat. It is the #1 way children learn words. Repeat phrases and sentences within a page, and emphasize different parts.
3.) Ask questions... good questions. Not just “What will happen next? or What’s he doing?” Also ask critical thinking questions, like How or Why. If your child is too young to answer these, ask them anyway and give them the answer!
4.) Let your child turn the pages, and say “Turn the page” every time. Even if your kiddo is little, try hand-over-hand to get them to participate in book sharing more. It allows for good predictability and sustains attention longer.
The best opportunities for language learning and enhancement are through daily routines, like getting dressed and mealtime. Bath time can be a fun way to teach new vocabulary words, like nouns, verbs, and new phrases. You'll have to tailor some of the words and phrases depending on your child's age. Or you can work on identifying/finding items in the bath. For example: Find your ears, Find a bubble, Find your ducky!
Use these words in combination with short repetitious phrases. For example: wash hair, scrub feet, blow bubbles, pour water, pop bubble
water wash hair/head in/on
soap pour eyes under
bubbles splash nose up/down
shampoo pop mouth wet/dry
towel blow ears clean/dirty
tub/bath dry belly full/empty
Any Bath Toys! scrub feet all-gone/all-done
Bath time is a great time to teach body parts and ask your child to identify those parts on himself followed by a playful scrub.
Toys that can also help with word learning include bubbles, balls, animals, boats/trucks. You can always incorporate a fine motor or gross motor activity during bath time too! Here are a few suggested toys to facilitate play and new word learning at bath time:
These past two weeks have been all about attention and eye contact in your child and why these two most basic forms of communication are so important.
To make sure that all of you parents are the experts... we have just one more week of take-away information that you can start using today with your baby.
Researchers at the University of Iowa are conducting a study to determine just how important it is that our babies are looking to learn. Remember that seeing is how they explore their world, and as their visual environment changes, learning begins through visual exploration.
As parents, we can create just the right experiences for infants, and begin having a profound impact early on. Here are some things to do at home:
In the first 3 months, create time for face-to-face contact. Smile often and stay engaged as your baby coos and gurgles
In the first 6 months, pay close attention to your baby as he begins to babble, maintain that eye contact. Narrate play-time activities with simple toys (for example: Give him a toy and say something about it, like “Feel how fuzzy the teddy bear is.”) and try to hold your baby’s attention on one object by eliciting eye contact for longer.
In the first 9 months, be patient as you try to decode your infant's baby talk and nonverbal communication, like facial expressions, gurgling, or babbling sounds that could signal either frustration or joy. Keep narrating and stay interested as your baby “talks.”
Infants are learning by seeing, playing, and exploring. For instance, if an attractive toy is sitting in front of your child, they may first look for a variety of reasons: its color, a noise it makes. But as a parent, you can increase this “look time” to make an object look more visually appealing, which captures the infants attention... This starts a process for memory formation. But if you create an experience that allows the child to hold the object actively in their mind for longer, there will be a learning trace, which lingers, even when your baby looks away.
All those memory traces create learning over weeks and months. And researchers have found that better and more efficient learning is possible.
Researchers studied a model of two infants: one that had a “responsive” parent and one with a less responsive parent. The “responsive” parent demanded extra time and support for the infant to focus on an attractive toy (by shaking it, singing about it, or bringing new dimension to the toy in some way).
They found that the model with the “responsive” parent learned more and learner better, in that they could more easily distinguish known versus novel objects. They could even detect subtle differences from one object to the next.
So, how will you continue to capture your child’s attention and eye contact during playtime? If you can teach them to sustain their attention for longer, they may be talking sooner. Or if your child is at risk for speech and language delays, you can provide this method of training to make their early experiences more memorable for easier learning.
2). Build routines - Creating routines for your child, no matter how old or young, is so important. Children thrive on structure, it gives them security and helps with self-regulation. It allows for children to know their expectations and usually they cooperate a bit more easily too. Change is difficult for all of us, so changing one thing at a time for your kiddo before establishing a full routine all at once. Create a routine for the morning, mealtime, and bedtime... in the end, it will give more time for you.
3). Teach competence - Toddlers especially are always wanting to do things on their own. However, they also typically have a low frustration tolerance. As a parent, there is only so much encouragement you can provide before your child has a complete meltdown. And it can be difficult to stop and find patience to allow them to complete a task independently when its just faster to do it for them sometimes.
First, model the behavior. Whether its buttoning, zipping, or tying... get your child’s attention and narrate exactly what you’re doing while they watch. Next, try active teaching by setting up the task, then slowly allow them to do more and more as they gain confidence. Lastly, and probably most importantly, praise them for a specific great thing they did. For example, “I love the way you buttoned that shirt all by yourself!”
4). Say no to “no” - We’ve heard it before, and it can be really difficult to do. But try to use “no” less. Instead of “No hitting,” try “Hands to yourself.” Instead of “no yelling” try “Use a soft voice.” Explain the desired behavior you want your child to show, rather than the behavior you want them to stop.
5). Family resolutions - If your child is old enough (3 and up), start creating responsibility and goals for them too. A resolution as simple as “cleaning up toys,” “washing hands more often,” and “saying please and thank-you,” can give your child a good sense of daily accomplishment. Keeping a reward chart can also be greatly motivating. Its another fantastic way to give your child specific praise for the great things they do everyday. Consistent praise is a way to recreate a desire behavior from your child, and its true that every kid loves a cheerleader.
Some of my annual resolutions have always been to take more pictures, floss daily, and show more appreciation to the people I love the most. This year, I’m adding a goal to empower and support parents and caregivers to be experts in language development for the children that are so important in their lives.
Its true that early morning and late night activities, like getting dressed, can sometimes be a chore. But in 30 seconds, you can be that ideal language model for your child, to increase vocabulary and further speech and language development.
In 30 seconds you can repeat the same word or phrase to maximize new word learning up to 5 times! And if you do the same thing, once a day... your child is bound to add that word to their vocabulary.
Here are some target words and concepts to try out when dressing your little one:
Object WordsAction WordsConcepts
Shoes Stand up On
Socks Sit down Off
Pants Give me Clean
Shirt Find Dirty
Button Put on Mine
Zipper Take off Yours
Head, arm, hand, leg, foot Pull
You can work both on comprehension and use, of particular vocabulary words. Have your child “find socks” or “find pants” amongst the pile of the day’s outfit. Be sure to narrate what you’re doing as your child gets dressed, for example “Shirt off, take out this arm, take out this arm... shirt off.” You can also incorporate teaching and reinforcement of body parts when getting dressed.
For the older toddler (2-3 years), you can begin to reinforce colors (identifying, matching, and naming colors) and begin teaching concepts of different clothing that will keep them cool/warm.
Getting dressed is also a teaching moment for fine and gross motor activities, so encourage their independence!
Some basic milestones for dressing include:
12-18 months - starting to get undressed
18-24 months - can get completely undressed without help
2-3 years - put on socks and shirt
3-4 years - get dressed and undressed with minimal help
4-5 years - dress independently, including zippers, buttons and buckles
5-7 years - tie shoes