6 ways to encourage language & speech development

I love watching little people play. I recently learned something, I wish I knew years ago, children are their own masters. While they may not have the ability to communicate (on our level), or work out their frustrations without tears - they are pretty awesome at connecting with the world and learning incredible skills that we take for granted. One of those skills is language and speech development. 
Here are some ways that you can help your child's speech, language and communication development:

Start slow & keep it simple

Routine is everything to a child, especially when it comes to communication.  Diaper time, bath time, at meals, dressing or undressing, are the most obvious because we do these things every day. These moments are great for learning vocabulary relating to the particular routine (ie, bath time = learning about body parts etc).

Maintain eye contact & proximity
Due to busy schedules and long to-do lists, it can be so hard to connect with the kids on the most basic level. While we are likely to boast about our multi-tasking skills, communication (especially with children), should never become an area where we "master" these skills.
Knowing that my preschooler understands complex instructions, I often shout instructions from another room (ie. please put your toys away...go wash your hands and get ready to eat..."
Slowing down our days is so important...this means getting down to the child's level (making eye-contact) and speaking slowly. This helps you and the child simultaneously: you from getting frustrated when child does not follow instructions, and the child, by keeping him/her focused on your message.

Simplify Toys & rotate if possible
Children learn through play. Therefore if play is complicated or distracting, your effort in teaching your child can and will be counter-productive. 
They don't have to be the most expensive, or the most popular on the market, but toys should have a purpose.  They should help your child navigate and learn. It's also a good idea to rotate toys so that kids will not get bored. 
This means that:
  1. brightly colored plastics, polyester, noisy toys that flash and blink rarely encourage children to play/create. They simply "do", which means that your child is not doing.
  2. baby equipment that push precocious development and videos that claimed to make your child brighter or more independent do not allow for serious play-based learning or enhance communication development. 
  3. toys that do not allow open-ended play limits a child's imagination, therefore, inhibits language development.
Stand back
I often watch parents as their children play. One of the things that I have noticed is the need for them to "encourage" the child to perform a specific task or activity (this is related to open-free play, not structured activities). Personally, I find it obtrusive.
I know it seems strange that speaking less could help kids in their language and communication development, but hear me out! When children are at play, especially with other children, there is often little need for us to get involved. Your job is to facilitate, ensure safety and redirect if conflict arises. 
By staying silent and allowing kids to engage in true play with their peers, you are forcing your child to learn how to use language and other non-verbal cues to navigate play.
Force them to use their words

My preshooler's calculator is often a train; his water bottle, a big tower, and a box of crayons becomes yummy french fries. He's got quite the imagination. 
have observed on few occasions that a child will pick up a certain object (a ball for example) and a parent will say "...are you going to kick the ball?" In order to assist in language development, one could ask "what do you have there?" However even this can be an interesting exchange between parent and child because perhaps in the child's imagination, the "ball" is in fact a spaceship or an giant bubble. 

In addition,  forcing your child to communicate is a great way to introduce or teach a new language. In my home we use 3 languages. This means that my kids can expect to hear stories, or instructions in all 3. This does not confuse them; it's actually great for brain development. 

How can you achieve this?
  • Force your child to ask for things. Don't make it frustrating, but to allow free access to things - food (specific types of foods too); toys, needing help to do certain tasks...anything and everything. 
  • Be silly. Call things by the wrong names, and let your child correct you. If he can't find the words, help him out, but do this a few times and you will be amazed that he has been paying attention.
  • At story-time ask younger children to point to a picture (after you have told him what it is). An older child can help to finish a story. Interestingly, if you have read the book enough a child might know it by heart, so you can play the silly game there too (point to the yellow cat and say the brown cow, for example...).
Mix it up
Some kids can count, know the alphabet and colours (all from memory), but it doesn't mean much for your child's actual development.  Story-telling, drumming, nature walks, shopping, the arts, free play (to name a few) are great ways to help kids express themselves. Learning does not have to be a planned activity, just let it flow. 

In short, communication is vital in all areas of life. The developing child is amazing when it comes to navigating the land of words, gestures, sights and sounds. There are many ways that we can encourage speech and language development in children. Some obvious things like shutting off TVs, and not putting iPhones and Tablets into the hands of our little ones too soon are an obvious. 

We can also talk to other parents (not the competitive ones whose kids can do everything better than yours), but people who are humbled about childhood development, and exchange concerns and ideas. If language/speech development is an issue of serious concern, it is never too late to connect with a specialist in that field.

linking with mom blog party

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“A hundred years from now, it will not matter what kind of car I drove, what kind of house I lived in, how much money I had in the bank…but the world may be a better place because I made a difference in the life of a child.”
~ Forest Witcraft

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