We all know there are language milestones our kids should be hitting. As a long time speech therapist, I am well aware of the benchmarks. If you are unfamiliar with where your child should be at here is a link to some milestones:
I have two daughters. The first was extremely verbose. She was using sentences (let’s call them that, 3 words joined together) between 15 and 18 months old. She is a natural linguist. She loves talking and reading. I don’t remember using any strategies in particular to help her along, she just kind of did everything she needed on her own (maybe it was a foreshadowing of her stubborn independent streak).
Dear daughter number two, seemed to be rolling along just fine, but not quite as chatty as the first. I found myself in a similar situation to the parents at Parenting from the Heart. They too had a quieter second child. Her blog post lists 6 ways to encourage toddler language development. As a veteran speechie – I can say her thoughts are spot on! These are the same ideas she listed, but in my own “speechie” words.
1. Be a sports commentator. Talk about EVERYTHING you, they and others are doing. Use action words (stirring, walking, sleeping) and pronouns (I, me, you, my, he, she). Fill your home with language. When my girls were babies, I spoke to them even when they couldn’t answer back (that’s all changed!). I would talk about what I was buying in the grocery store or ask them questions about what we were doing.
2. Watch and wait QUIETLY. A conversation is two sided. While we want to provide lots of language, we also want kids to have their turn. Initially, we may only see their eyes look at something they need, want or enjoy. The sounds and words will come. Waiting quietly is HARD. Count to three in your head and then do count again. When you think you have waited long enough, wait some more. Trust me.
3. READ! I know, I know, you’ve heard it before, but you’ll thank yourself if you can raise a reader. Start with super short books, with bright pictures. Flaps are awesome for kids who don’t like to sit still. If you can’t manage a whole book, start with one page, two the next night etc. My other advice is that until kids can actually read the words, YOU DON’T HAVE TO READ THE WHOLE PAGE! There are many great books with so much story in the pictures. Talk about the actions and the people. Forget the actual text when they are too wiggly to sit through it. Make it shorter!
4. Ask questions about what you are reading. Reading a book doesn’t have to be “I talk, you listen.” You will find kids will attend more if they are engaged. Ask open questions “what do you think?” and “what might happen?” for older kids, for little ones ask about the people and actions (I know, I keep throwing that out there. People and actions are important. We want our children to speak with more than just labels (nouns) for things they see.)
5. Creative stupidity. This is my favourite strategy. Start to pour milk without a cup, pass out dinner without utensils. Put the kids in the bath tub without water. Watch and wait. Listen for what kids will say. Nothing gets their gestures and words going more (or at least a smile and laugh) than adults being goofy. You will, for sure, have their attention.
6. Sing anything and everything. Make up your own songs. Sing songs whenever you can. Music has a way of grabbing a child’s attention. Learn simple ones like “this is the way we ___ ___ ____” and don’t worry about your singing voice, the kids dont’ care. I made up words to a bath routine and we still sing it and my girls are going to be 5 and 7. That’s 7 years of singing,
This is the way we wash our belly, wash our belly, wash our belly;
this is the way we wash our belly and our stinky pits.
This is the way we wash our hair, wash our hair, wash our hair;
this is the way we wash our hair and our little girl bits.
Yup, slightly ridiculous, but they get clean and they sing along and love it. Smiling all the way. Also, we have actions and body parts – double language whammy!