Supporting Language and Communication in the Home.
Regardless of where we’re living right now, life looks much different than it ever has in our lifetime. Many families are at home with children, struggling to play the role of the teacher in addition to all our other roles. If this is you, you’re not alone. Better yet, there’s help in the form of well-intentioned tips that may not make it all better. However, they can certainly be useful during a time when we need access to all the tools in our toolbox.
As parents, we want to be supporting language and communication in the home. But often we anticipate our children’s needs without them ever having to communicate. However well-intentioned we may be, we’re missing language opportunities. For example, when we do routine things like help them put on their clothes or prepare their breakfast, without using language. Everyday routines are essentially toddler activities at home that we can use to support their language and communication in the home.
Tips For Supporting Language and Communication in the Home.
It’s not uncommon to get caught up in the use of words that we forget about other forms of communication. One common way toddlers communicate is through the use of gestures. If your toddler is consistently using a particular gesture to communicate with you, please validate and encourage that behavior. They’re being intentional with their language. The best thing we can do is encourage them while also modeling the word or words they don’t yet have. During speech therapy, I regularly pair gestures (not to be confused with sign language) such as “open,” “all done,” “more,” “eat,” and “I want” with the corresponding word by using both in unison. One day, with repeated practice and patience, they will also combine the word with the gesture. Eventually, the gesture will fade out, leaving only the words we had always hoped they’d be able to say. Be patient and consistent and it will pay off.
Giving Children Choices
Another thing we can do is expect them to use words they already have by giving them 2 choices. For example, “do you want cars or blocks?” as you hold both choices up in front of them. If they don’t yet have the word, they will typically point to an item and you will give them both the item and the word by saying something like, “cars are a great choice! Here’s the car.” To be clear, this concept does not apply to food. I will never condone withholding food or liquids from a child for any reason, as your child’s health comes before anything. When it comes to children’s physical needs, such as hunger or their bowels, be supportive, but flexible. Toys, however, are something you can be more consistent with.
In the Kitchen
One of the most natural things you can do is have your child ‘help´ you prepare a meal. No matter their age, there are numerous language opportunities in everyday activities. You do not have to always be preparing special activities for toddlers for supporting language and communication in the home. Consider the benefits of having your child join you in the kitchen while you’re cooking dinner. Talk to them about what you’re doing and use it as an opportunity to bond with them. Narrating your actions often takes some getting used to, but the benefits are significant. Children crave attention and the kitchen is full of colors, smells, sounds, and textures that naturally lend themselves to language building. This is just one way to provide multiple everyday opportunities for social interaction, learning, and language modeling.
In the Bath
Bath time might very well be the most fun your child has all day, especially if you offer them bath toys or waterproof bath books. You can explore concepts such as sinking and floating, hot and cold, pouring, splashing, and blowing bubbles. This is especially ideal for parents who don’t feel there are enough hours in the day to have quality interactions with their toddlers. Engaging them during bath time doesn’t require setting aside extra time, it’s already built into the daily schedule and just being capitalized on. Consider it a way to use your time with your toddler more wisely. This is just another way everyday routines are toddler activities at home.
Follow Their Lead.
Parents often ask me for a list of toys they should buy, and while I do have preferred toys, the message that I’d like to drive home is that none of them are a need. Use what you have and follow your toddler’s lead. That often means getting down on their level (sitting on the floor with them), and joining them in their play with the intention of extending it. Doing so also provides a valuable opportunity to bond with them while allowing you to provide quality language modeling. It doesn’t matter what they´re playing with…play with them. Or at the very least be next to them until they’re ready to bring you in. And again, narrate what you’re doing. If you’re pushing a car across the floor, you can say “the car goes ‘vroom, vroom!’” If you’re building, you can say, “the blue block goes on top, and this red block next to it,” adding positional words into the mix as well. The possibilities are truly endless. Everyday play activities for toddlers naturally support language and communication.
I know you have heard it time and time again but setting aside time during your busy day to read to your child is so important. It does not necessarily have to be at bedtime, but even 5-10 minutes a day starting from birth can make such a significant long-term difference. It increases their understanding of language, vocabulary, and exposure to experiences beyond their reach. For example, experiences such as a beach vacation, building a snowman, desert habitats, or a coral reef. If you haven’t been able to start this wonderful habit yet, it’s never too late. It is also perfectly fine for this to be your playful time with your toddler. There is nothing more engaging to a child than when their loved ones become very expressive to bring a story to life.
Final Word of Advice: For Supporting Language and Communication at Home.
It’s important to note that we cannot expect a child to produce a word that they do not yet have. No matter how many times we say a word, they should never be expected to repeat a new word. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t continue to model words for them. Rather than, your expectation shouldn’t be that they produce a new word on demand. Be patient and give it time. The words will come, but they will come easier without any added unintentional pressure.
About the author:
Jessica L. Paramo, M.Ed, M.S, CCC-SLP is a multilingual former National Board Certified early childhood teacher. She has 9 years of experience in the classroom, where critical thinking, writing skills, and inclusion for ALL learners were among her top priorities. Her passion for helping others led her to pursue a 2nd career as a Speech-Language Pathologist (SLP). During which time she has worked in a variety of settings, including neuro rehab and acute care at two large hospitals. Jessica has more than 8 years of experience treating both children and adults as an SLP. She has recently opened her own practice, offering both Teletherapy and in-person services in Miami, FL, USA.
If you have any further questions, don’t hesitate to reach out. I have a genuine passion for helping others. My DMs are always open on Instagram @msjessicaisback and my email can be found on my website, www.msjessicaisback.com. Jessica shares many activities for toddlers on both of these platforms. Check them out!
If you would like to read about how play can support language and communication read The Importance of Play by Sue Atkins.