Let me paint you a scenario. You are standing on one side of a long bridge that is high off the ground and sustained by only ropes. You suddenly glance at that other end which appears more distant than you thought. In order to reach that far distant end there are a series of small steps in which you will need to take.
That first step is crucial. In fact, it is the most important. It will be the determining factor in your pace and confidence level to get across the bridge.
That is exactly what words are in early language development. The first step in the bridge to cognitive development and understanding for a child.
One of my favorite early childhood education theorists is Led Vygotsky. When I was attending college, all his theories had such a profound effect on my learning. It is through those theories that I began to comprehend how monumental of a tool language is for children.
“Vygotsky believed that words are used to build the scaffold, enabling cognition to develop. Just as a builder could not construct a house without tools (even though once the house is built, the tools are no longer apparent), so a child’s mind does not develop without language. Language is a key mediator between brain potential and what children actually understand and remember.” (The Developing Person Through Childhood and Adolescence Seventh Edition).
Language is essential to intellectual growth, but it is more than just learning words. There is expressive language (speech) and receptive language (what one hears and understands). It is fundamental for children to learn BOTH in order to have a firm foundation.
For example, when you are talking to your 6 month old baby who is already babbling sounds such as “bababa” “mmmmm” dadada”, he/she is in the beginning stage of using expressive language (speech). If we continually model the structure of a conversation when talking to baby, it will encourage the development of both expressive and receptive language.
For example: “Josh, do you see the green ball? (Pause) It’s in the brown basket over there. (Point at the basket) Should we go get it? (Pause) Let’s go get it together!”
By using descriptive language, gestures, repetition of words, labeling items, prompting questions, baby will learn language cues in which will help him/her associate words with things.
Examples of a baby who has receptive language skills are:
- Shows awareness of speaker, quiets when spoken to.
- Turns head to direction of sound or voice
- Will notice toys that make sounds
- Consistently responds to own name by looking
- Will look at familiar objects and people when named
- Able to follow some routine commands that are paired with gestures
Quick reminder mommies! It is important to ALWAYS remember that a baby must feel a secure attachment to his/her primary caregiver in order to thrive. For example, when your baby cries you consistently pick him/her up and comfort them. When he/she soils their diaper you change it right away and when baby is hungry you feed him/her. You build a relationship where baby feels love, confidence and trust in YOU to meet all of his/her needs.
Ok very important side note! Inherited genetics from each parent can play a role in the development of a child’s learning.
*Children who are diagnosed with Autism, Asperger syndrome, ADHD, ADD, Down Syndrome, or any other type of developmental disorder, WILL have different guidelines and expectations for learning. They may require extra assistance from a licensed professional such as a speech pathologist. That is why it is so important to have Pediatric care from early on to help address any problems or concerns. Remember mommies, ONLY YOU KNOW YOUR CHILD BEST. If you EVER suspect something is wrong or off with your child’s development, always seek the help of a professional.
Now back to language development!
The average 12 month old will speak or sign a few words and some can even respond to simple directions.
The average 16-18 month old will have a language explosion, where they begin speaking in 2-3 word phrases like “kick the ball” “no more juice” “want more cheese”. Some toddlers will have less words and some will have more. It all depends what they have been exposed to in expressive and receptive language.
Around this “language explosion” time we as mommies should help expand not only their usage of words but their vocabularies, grammar, and emotional awareness.
Reading is not only a great tool to encourage language development, but it is an opportunity to incorporate emotional intelligence.
When I am reading to the boys I ask open ended questions which promtes imagination and expands their thinking.
For example, “What do you think will happen to the fish next? Why do you think the fish is sad?”
I also like to encourage the boys to create their own stories. For example, I would ask Josh to tell me a story about a red monster! He gets very excited and creative.
In the beginning however, I would model this myself by just making up a story with a simple yet clear beginning, middle and end. This will help them learn how to structure a story. I would also incorporate some kind of moral lesson and use their names to make it more personal.
Since kids are egocentric, using their names will instantly get them to listen!
Here is Josh’s favorite!
“Once upon a time there was a yellow monster. He was very sad because he didn’t have a special bear to go to sleep with. So one day as Josh was sleeping, the yellow monster tried to take Josh’s brown bear. Josh immediately woke up and said, why are you taking my bear yellow monster? The yellow monster said, because I am so sad that I don’t have one. Well I have an extra blue bear I can give you, said Josh. Oh thank you, said the yellow monster. I am so sorry I tried to take your brown bear, said the yellow monster. It’s ok yellow monster, said Josh. Now you know we cannot take things that belong to others. Now you have your very own special blue bear!.” THE END
Every time I could see his little eyes light up and get wider as I was narrating. It’s pretty amazing to watch!
From time to time I would also ask them to retell a story we read in the past. For example, “Remember the fish that was sad in the book Rainbow Fish? Tell mommy about it please. I forgot how the story goes.”
As a child heads into the toddler and preschool years, language is what drives his/her day. They use it to engage in everything. From communication, playing, emotions, to problem solving. The best way language is utilized is through play.
PLAY is so important! That is a child’s job!
A child’s play is not merely a reproduction of what he has experienced, but a creative reworking of the impressions he has acquired. ~Vygotsky
Here is a an example scenario when my youngest is engaged in play.
Josh: Hulk do you want to help Iron Man save Captain America from the Joker?
Ok friends let’s hide behind the Batman castle and wait to attack!
On no watch out! The Joker is ENORMOUS! We must stop him! Hurry lets HULK SMASH!!!!!
Iron Man get Captain America! Here you go Captain America. You are safe now. We are all happy now! Heros of the day! (Josh will then walk around with a fist in the air and his other hand behind his back.)
His play is detailed in language and scenarios. He even throws emotions in there.
It is so important to get down on the floor and engage in meaningful play with your child.
Whenever my husband and I play with the boys, we have always made the characters talk and come to life. I specifically give them feelings, while my husband naturally does the whole rough and tumble play. The boys get a good balance!
Prompt open ended questions during play time as well to encourage them to use their imagination, expand their thinking and build vocabulary.
Here is an example I use with Josh. Why is The Hulk angry? What do you think he will do next?”
When we clean up toys, I always tend to give the toys a voice. For example, “Can you help to put me back in the super hero basket where I belong Josh? I need to go to my home now please.”
The key is to find teachable moments in your child’s everyday life. There is no need for a very structured educational experience, especially when they are toddlers.
Utilize play time to teach concepts and ideas!
For example, I ask Josh what color is Hulk or Captain America. I also ask what shape is Captain America’s shield or how many toes Hulk has. Get creative mommies! These are very simple tactics that work!
Narrating daily scenarios is another great way to build up expressive and receptive language. When you are cooking, grocery shopping, putting gas in the car, driving, cleaning, doing laundry, the possible scenarios and ENDLESS!
The outcome will be WONDEROUS!
I want to share something that is personally extremely important to me!
I try my absolute hardest to model the usage of please and thank you in daily conversations with the boys. I think manners are so important for children to learn at a young age.
I also try my best to model bigger vocabulary. Here are a few examples:
- hinder instead of stop
- pivotal instead of important
- frightened instead of scared
- frustrated instead of mad
- extremely instead of very
- enormous instead of big
My oldest Ethan loves to use bigger words when it comes to expressive language and his teachers have always commended him on his extensive vocabulary.
Remember that children are the world’s best imitators. They will copy your words, actions, mannerisms and behavior.
In every single day are steps of opportunity to help get your child across that bridge of language development.
Toward the end of the bridge are reading, writing, and literacy comprehension which are all milestones of language acquisition, but there is also social, emotional, and cognitive ones that are just as important.
When a child has a firm/solid foundation in early language development, taking the next necessary steps will be easier as he/she goes across the bridge prepared and confident.
By nourishing and supporting the child’s brain and curiosity, it will drive all aspects of development.