Did you know that babies and toddlers are laying the foundations for all of their communication skills as an adult? The idea that you need to teach them EVERYTHING might feel rather overwhelming. But don’t panic! You can help to boost your child’s speech and language skills at home by introducing these simple activities. So keep reading for my top ten activities!
What are speech and language skills?
So you know that your child is developing super-fast in the first three years. But you aren’t sure what it is they need to learn or how to help them do it. Don’t worry – I have got you covered! The speech and language skills being developed in the early years will lay the foundation for your child’s communication skills throughout their life. But what is speech and language?
Speech refers to the sounds and words we use. It includes the way sounds are articulated using the muscles in our mouth, lips and tongue. For example, when you were a toddler, you needed lots of practice learning to move your tongue from the back of your mouth where you made the sound ‘C’ all the way to the front of your mouth where you make the sound ‘T’. Try it now. Say the word ‘CAT’ and focus on where your tongue is inside your mouth.
Speech also covers the tone and pitch of your voice and your ability to adjust the volume of your speech. There are also natural rhythms to speech, where you pause, repeat noises or stop to draw breath. All of these abilities can be thought of as the mechanical and practical elements of speech.
In contrast, language refers to the meaning of what you are saying. It is embedded in the words you use and how you use them. Language is the transfer of ideas from one person to another. It is how you convey and understand messages. So language includes the meaning of each word and how this changes depending on the context. It also refers to the way words are built and put together, and how you might deliver these words differently in different situations.
What do pre-school children struggle with?
People of any age can have issues with speech, or language, or both areas together. But even without any long term issues, pre-school children often struggle to communicate. This is because the ages of 0-3 are when the foundation for all communication is being built. That is a lot to learn! It makes it easy to mix up words, struggle with sentence structure, reverse sounds and generally find communication hard work! So it is really important to be supportive and help your child to build as strong a skill set as possible.
So how can you boost your child’s speech and language skills at home?
You are probably already doing lots of great activities to support your child’s communication skills. But it’s important to keep that learning going! So here are my top ten activities to boost your child’s speech and language skills at home.
Number 1. Signing
Number 1 on my list of activities to boost your child’s speech and language skills at home is Signing. Did you know that babies can learn their first sign from 5 months old? I loved taking my son to baby signing classes. I took him to Tiny Talk classes from 6 months until 2 and half years old, and he learnt well over 50 signs. This meant he could ask for milk, toys and even to use the potty at just 9 months old.
Babies can communicate very early on because they have an innate ability to interact with others from birth. You can find some of the research here. Speech doesn’t catch up until later on, so it’s great to give your baby a way to ask for what they want and need before their verbal skills are readily available.
Signing provides a visual cue for key words you use in day to day life. Tiny Talk classes use a baby version of British Sign Language (BSL). There is also Makaton which is another simplified version of BSL. It doesn’t really matter which version you pick, as long as you are consistent. So, for example your, sign for milk will always be the same. This way your baby has something visual to attach to the sound you are making. Add this to actually receiving milk and hey presto you have created a three step process for learning the word milk.
Signing is a great way to boost your pre-school child’s speech and language skills at home
Lots of nurseries use Makaton or other simplified signing systems to aid communication too. Try introducing just one sign a week and see how you get on. There are plenty of free resources on the Makaton website. For toddlers and older children, learning signs to accompany words like ‘help’ and ‘stop’ can be useful for boosting social skills too. Another great social skill, is learning to identify emotions and use signs to name them. This can be super useful when those big toddler meltdowns happen!
Number 2. Story Sacks
Number two on my list of activities to boost your child’s speech and language skills is Story Sacks. Story Sacks are a fun way to engage your child in storytelling. Simply choose a story and fill a bag with items that represent characters and objects from the book.
For example, the photo above includes the book Fox’s Socks by Julia Donaldson. When my son was a baby, I made a simple story sack with a pair of socks, a vest and a fox toy. But you can make it as detailed as you like!
The Little Red Hen is another popular children’s story. You can fill a bag with a chicken, pig, mouse and cat toy. Then read the story to your child and encourage them to explore the items in the book. Siblings can practice taking turns choosing a toy. This activity will help encourage a love of reading and provide opportunities to repeat nouns, introduce adjectives while describing the toys, and try out different verbs as you act out parts of the story. The Story Sack is a really memorable experience to help your child process the story and boost those speech and language skills!
Number 3. Flashcards
Number 3 on my list of activities to boost your child’s speech and language skills is Flashcards. I love flashcards and have plenty of FREE printable packs you can download. Flashcards are perfect for games like matching, sorting and labelling. You can also include them in messy play or create a ‘search and rescue’ game by hiding them around the house.
Flashcards help your child by providing a visual clue along with the word. This additional information helps create a stronger memory of that word’s meaning. In my packs, I include large photo flashcards and small photo word cards. This is so your child can start off focusing on the pictures, then you can include the words that go along with them.
Introducing written words is important because it will help to build your child’s sight vocabulary. It’s possible to read words from an early age by imprinting the whole word like a picture and remembering the sounds that go along with it. This is the pictorial stage of reading and precedes the phonological stage where you are then able to identify individual sounds or ‘phonemes’ from the written letters.
Number 4. Bedroom Door Signs
Number four on my list of activities to boost your child’s speech and language skills is to introduce even more written language to your home. Bedroom door signs are a brilliant way to help your child recognise the importance of written language. You don’t have to make it complicated. Just pop a sign with your child’s name on the door. It could be a picture they’ve drawn, a ‘do not disturb’ hanger, or even a framed print!
Introducing a personalised sign will help your child develop name recognition, which is an important skill and a great tool for encouraging an interest in reading. Your child will love reading something that is all about them! Door hangers can also introduce the idea of privacy which is a super important concept but can be tricky to teach. Help your child hang the sign up and close the door whenever they are getting undressed. You can even have fun playing knocking games. Check the name on the door sign, knock and wait for your child to open the door.
You can even pretend to be a postman if you like and introduce more written language with your child’s name written on an envelope. The important thing here is to introduce written language around the home with signs and labels that will help to boost your child’s speech and language skills.
Number 5. Calendar
Number five on my list of activities to boost your child’s speech and language skills at home is a Calendar. This is another great way to encourage reading and ideal for practicing conversational skills. I found this fab magnetic calendar on The Works website for only a fiver. It’s a lovely way to start the day and my son can easily pick out the season and the types of weather from the pictures. He has a look out of the window and we chat about what the weather is doing today. Then I help him find the day and date to stick on too.
Again, the calendar has plenty of written language and it encourages us to use words that might not pop up in our usual conversations. The weather is also a really common topic for small talk. So it’s a nice way to practice conversational skills for when he is out and about. Why not have a child friendly calendar in your child’s room and an adult version in the kitchen? You could even try days of the week underpants! These little additions add up to mean lots of speech and language opportunities in your home!
Number 6. Activity Baskets
Number six on my list of activities to boost your child’s speech and language skills at home are Activity Baskets. I started these for my son when he was 9 months old. I introduced a potty for child lead toileting (which is a whole other blog post) and with it the ‘potty stations’ were born. I put together simple activity baskets to live in each of our bathrooms. These are mainly filled with books but I have also included stickers, toys and even puppets on different occasions!
Activity baskets are great for keeping your child entertained during toilet training, but you don’t have to limit them to the bathroom. Why not set up themed baskets in different rooms of the house? This will encourage your child to explore and have different topics to talk about throughout the day.
Number 7. Story Stations
Number seven on my list of activities to boost your child’s speech and language skills at home are Story Stations. Just like the activity baskets, you can set these up anywhere in your home. A story station is an area you have filled with items relating to one particular book. I love to add toys, household objects, multi-sensory items and of course a copy of the book! You could also include flashcards or cards with a question about the story for older children to answer.
The idea is informal exploration. So don’t try to structure it too much. Let your child lead and see which parts of the story station grab their interest. Story Stations can be a great way to celebrate different seasons too. Check out the photo of our Halloween story station for Julia Donaldson’s book ‘Room on the Broom’ above.
Number 8 ‘Ask me about…’ Stickers
Number eight on my list of activities to help boost your child’s speech and language skills is ‘Ask me about…’ Stickers. This is simply a plain, sticky label that you can grab from any stationary aisle. Whenever something grabs your child’s attention or when you’re trying to focus on a particular skill, write out an ‘Ask me about…’ Sticker and just finish the sentence.
For example, ‘Ask me about chickens’. Then the next adult your child sees will hopefully be prompted to ask the question. At the very least, they might ask what the sticker is for. And hey presto! More conversation, more language and more learning!
Number 9. Coat Hook
Number nine on my list of activities to boost your child’s speech and language skills at home is a Coat Hook. When your child starts nursery, you will probably notice that they have a coat hook with their picture on it. The nursery also usually have somewhere your child can ‘register’. This might be a peg doll with their name on it or it maybe just a name tag that can be moved from one location to another when your child arrives. These activities are brilliant for encouraging name recognition. So why not harness this fab learning and use it at home too?
Coat hooks are easy ways to boost speech and language
Pop a coat hook at your child’s height in your home. Then label it with your child’s name. Easy peasy. Then just encourage your child to hang their coat and bag up each day. This will prompt them to look at their name label and elicit an extra conversation each day. Perhaps you suggest a warmer coat for the weather or maybe you just ask how your child’s morning went. Whatever the topic, more speech and language in your home is a bonus.
Number 10. Visual Timetable
Finally, number ten on my list of activities to boost your child’s speech and language skills at home is a Visual Timetable. Basically, what it says on the tin. A visual timetable is a few pictures which show what will be happening today. It’s really that simple.
It helps your child to know what is happening now, what is happening next and what is happening after that or ‘then’. Children thrive when they have a safe, predictable routine to rely on. A timetable with detachable pictures can also be a great way to give your child some feeling of control. They can add a task while planning their day with you, and they can remove it when a task is completed.
If your child struggles with too much information, then just start with one picture at a time. But I usually print off a piece of paper with ‘Now’ and ‘Next’ on it. Then I laminate it and use Velcro dots to attach smaller laminated squares with the photographs on. If you haven’t got a timetable, you can grab my Daily Visuals Bundle for FREE!
How will you boost your pre-school child’s speech and language development at home?
So there we have it! My top ten list of activities to help boost your child’s speech and language skills at home. The bottom line here is that anything you can do to add more reading and talking into your home is going to boost your child’s speech and language skills. So which activities will you choose? Tag me @craftytoddlercompany in your posts and remember you can always email me email@example.com if you want to ask questions or simply let me know how you are getting on!
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