Promoting Language Development in Young Children

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By Hayley Jackson, Extension Educator in Lancaster County

Language development in young children is a process that lays the foundation for their future communication skills, cognitive abilities and overall success in life. Parents, caregivers and educators play a crucial role in supporting this development. Let’s look at some effective strategies and tips adults can use to help children flourish in their language skills.

1. TALKING AND LISTENING. From the moment a child is born, they take in the world around them. It is never too early to start talking to your child! Engage in regular conversations with your child. Talk to them about their day, ask them questions and even simple things such as narrating what you are doing are helpful for children. Exposing children to lots of language and a variety of words is a great way to foster their language development. It is also important to actively listen to what they have to say when they speak to you. As a caregiver, you can help to expand the words your child is using in back-and-forth communication. For example, a young child may come up to you and say “horse!” while holding a blue plastic horse in their hand. To expand their language, you could respond “Yes, you’re right! You are holding a blue horse. The horse says neigh!” This back-and-forth exchange started with your child’s words and then expanded to include more words as well as information about the subject they’re speaking about.

2. READING ALOUD. Reading books with your child is another excellent, fun way you can help support their language development. Find developmentally appropriate books and read to your child on a regular basis. This can be included in some of your daily routines as well, such as reading a few favorite books during bedtime. While reading the books, ask your child questions and listen to their response. Point out different aspects of the pictures in the books and talk to your child about what they are seeing. Another helpful tip for book reading is to use your finger to follow along while you read the words. This helps children understand that the words you are saying correspond to the text written on the page. Book reading is a fun and easy way to help children’s language while also enjoying time together.

3. PRETEND PLAY. Playing with your child in an imaginative and creative way is not just fun, but it can also help give children the opportunity to use their language skills. Play with them when they are pretending to play house or pretending to be a superhero and encourage them to describe what they are doing. You can facilitate their play by expanding on their ideas and giving them new vocabulary words. For example, if they are playing superhero, you could ask them who the villain is and explain that the word ‘villain’ is another name for a bad guy.

Talking, listening, reading aloud and pretend play are all fun and easy ways parents and caregivers can help build their children’s language skills while getting to spend quality time together.