Developing Language Skills in Young Children:
Strategies for Families and Childcare Providers
1. Talk about what is happening during routines and activities at home, daycare, school, and other community settings (such as the playground, park, library, etc). Your child needs to hear the words for what he or she is experiencing throughout the day.
2. Simplify your language as you talk (use more single words and phrases instead of long sentences).
3. Pair some of your important words with simple signs such as more, play, book, come here, open, go, finished, etc... This is called sign language stimulation.
4. If you are using picture communication systems, point to the pictures that represent important words while you are talking. This is called Aided Language Stimulation (Goosen’s, Cram, & Elder) Because you “aide” or pair your spoken language with pictures so your child can better understand what you say and can more easily learn to express himself or herself. For example, during play with bubbles, you would point to the pictures on the “Bubble Board” of blow, pop, big, little, more, uh-oh, etc as you say those words alone and in phrases. Picture (and object) communication systems allow your child to “see” and “feel” language in addition to hearing it. Language learning becomes more experimental and meaningful.
5. Say key words and phrases (and signs/pictures) over and over again. This natural repetition helps your child learn important language concepts. When making juice you could say “Pour… pour… pour it in …stir …stir …stir the juice” (Also pair with the sign and/or picture).
6. Pause often while you are talking to allow your child time to process what you are saying and to provide opportunities for spontaneous communication.
7. Although you may know just what your child wants, wait somewhat to encourage him or her to communicate needs and wants through gestures, words, signs, and/or pictures. Don’t wait too long if your child frustrates easily, but do get in the habit of not anticipating every need.
8. Use modeling & expansion techniques.
- If your child communicates nonverbally through gestures or facial expressions, model the word, sign, and/or picture that matches the nonverbal communication. If your child hands you a cup, you could say, “juice… you want juice”. If he or she looks at a favorite toy on the shelf, you could say “truck… I’ll get your truck”. Remember to pair signs and/or pictures too if you are using these techniques with your child.
- If your child communicates through a word/sign/picture, model a spoken 2-3 word phrase with signs and pictures (so your child experiences a higher level of language). If your child communicates, “book”, you should say and show “read book?” or “more book”… “Ok, let’s read more book.”
9. Provide motivating, interactive communicative situations. Make communication interactive and fun rather than stilted and boring. Limit lots of question asking and be more descriptive instead.
10. Use a variety of “sabotage” techniques to encourage spontaneous communication from your child, such as the following:
- Place objects out of reach (favorite toy on a shelf, glass of milk across the table)
- Make items difficult to get (glue or bubbles cap tightly closed, unopened pack of crackers)
- Take advantage of other children’s or adult’s “turns” as opportunities for modeling and competition
- “Forget” something (a shoe during dressing, milk for cereal, paint during art, a turn during game, turning TV on or off)
- Limit amount of items so that child has to ask for more (Pour 1/3 cup juice instead of full cup; hand out an almost empty glue container)
- Limit number of items to a small group of children to share (one pair of scissors, glue container, paint brush)
- Be “silly” (begin story time with the book upside down)
11. Provide frequent opportunities for choice making throughout each day. Examples of choices:
- Breakfast foods
- Clothes to wear
- Toys to play with
- Persons to play with
- Recreational/leisure activities
- Songs to sing
- What to draw
- Color of paint or paper
- Books to read
- Persons to read with
- Snacks to eat
- Playground equipment to play on
- Which child to have the next turn
- What to cook
- Whether to pour or stir
- To go to Pizza Hut or McDonald’s
- Help wrap a present or make a birthday card
- Feed the dog or the fish
- Play a trick on dad, sister, etc
- Call grandma or a friend
12. Use a variety of prompts and cues when encouraging communication from your child
- Situational cues
- Facial cues
- Verbal cues
- Gestural cues
- Hand-over-hand assistance
13. Create a language-rich environment
- Have communication accessible to your child
- Signs know and modeled by home and school
- Picture systems set up in multiple home and school environments
Burke, C (1997). Simple Technology Encourages Independence in Play and Communication for Infants and Toddlers with Disabilities. Association/or Childhood Education International’s Division for Infancy Newsletter, Spring, COL9, No.3, pp1-3.
Goossens & Crain (1986B). Augmentative Communication Intervention Resource. Chicago, IL: Don Johnson Developmental Equipment.
Goossens, Crain, & Elder (1992). Engineering the Preschool Environment for Interactive, Symbolic Communication, Southeast Augmentative Communication Conference Publications, Birmingham, Alabama.
Grimm, D. (1988). Simplify Your Language to Help Your Child Understand. Parent Articles 1. Psychological Corporation’s Communication Skill Builder’s Division. Tucson, Arizona, pp 93-94.
Staab, C. (1983). Language Functions Elicited by Meaningful Activities: A New Dimension To Language Programs, American Speech Language Hearing Association’s Journal of Language, Speech, & Hearing in the Schools, July, Vol.14 , pp 164-170.
Ostrosky, M., and Kaiser, A. (1991). Preschool Classroom Environments That Promote Communication, Teaching Exceptional Children. Summer Issue, pp 6-10