Developing speech and language through routines

While all children develop language at different rates, parents can help stimulate their child’s language long before they even speak their first words. Social routines can be used to target language development in children of all ages.

Daily routines including bath time, dressing, reading books, and singing songs provide opportunities to build upon a child’s language skills. These repetitive routines provide children a structured way to develop language skills within their natural environment.

Below are a few examples of how to target language skills through routine activities.

Singing songs

Hand motions can be incorporated with many children’s songs such as “Itsy Bitsy Spider” and “Wheels on the Bus.” While singing these songs with your child, pair the hand motions with the words. Pause throughout the song and allow your child the opportunity to fill in the missing word or complete the gesture. When singing “Old McDonald,” try slowing down the words “E-I-E-I-O” and see if your child can imitate you. Or try singing “E-I-E-I” and pause to allow your child to fill in “O.”

Getting dressed

Dressing your child provides opportunities to work on a variety of new vocabulary words, including clothing items and body parts, as well as teaching concepts such as “on/off.” While getting your child dressed, describe what you are doing using simple language and short phrases such as “pajamas off” or “shirt on.” Use the opportunity to talk about where each clothing item goes, for example “Hat goes on our head.” Try pausing to see if your child can complete the statement, “Shoes go on our_____.”

Reading books

Reading with your child allows endless opportunities for language stimulation. While reading together, it is important to read the words, but it is equally important to look at and talk about the illustrations. Label objects in pictures or talk about what the characters are doing (e.g., “boy eating apple”). Books with repetitive story lines such as “Brown Bear, Brown Bear” are a great way to target early language development. When reading these types of books, pause to allow your child to fill in the missing word. For example, “Brown Bear, Brown Bear, what do you__________?” “I see a yellow duck looking at _____.” Books can also be used to target “wh” questions with older children (e.g., “What are they doing?” “Where is the boy?” “Who is swimming?”).

Delayed responses

During play routines such as racing cars or playing with dolls, use familiar phrases with delayed, emphasized responses such as “Ready. Set. GO!” or “I love……YOU.” After practicing these phrases, pause and allow your child to finish the phrase.

Routine “sabotage”

Throwing off a familiar routine can also be beneficial in promoting language. What would happen if you gave your child an empty cup or placed a favorite bath toy out of reach? These forms of “routine sabotage” allow your child opportunities to correct you or ask for assistance. Encourage your child to use their words to tell you what’s wrong. During snack time, try giving your child only one piece of snack and wait for them to point or request “more” on their own. Screw the lid on a container extra tight before giving it to your child and wait for them to request assistance.

If you have concerns about your child’s language development, discuss them with your pediatrician or contact a speech-language pathologist.

– Candice Smale, M.A. CCC-SLP, Speech and Language Pathologist, Children’s Speech and Language Pathology Department, Beaumont Health

Pediatric speech and language: Frequently asked questions

baby boy reaching for man's face

Cropped image. Harsha K R, Flickr. CC license.

Pediatric speech-language pathologists get asked a lot of questions about childhood development. After all, we work with children every day! Below are a few of the most commonly asked questions about speech and language development.

Q: What are important early speech and language milestones for young children?

A: Children are developing skills constantly, and at different rates, but here are a few basics to look for at various ages.

  • 0 to 3 months: Cooing, smiling at familiar faces, crying differently for different needs, calming or smiling when spoken to, and recognition of your voice.
  • 4 to 6 months: Babbling with different consonant sounds (e.g., /p/, /b/, /m/), laughing, vocalizing excitement and displeasure, moving eyes in the direction of sounds, paying attention to music, and responding to changes in the tone of your voice.
  • 7 months to 1 year: Babbling long and short groups of sounds, using speech to get and keep your attention, using gestures to communicate (e.g., waving, holding arms to be picked up), imitating different speech sounds, using one or two words around first birthday, enjoying simple games like peek-a-boo, turning and looking in the direction of sounds, listening when spoken to, recognizing some common words, and beginning to respond to requests.
  • 1 year to 18 months: Shaking head “no;” may use between 5 and 25 words; begin making animal sounds; communicating needs by using single words, pointing, grunting, gesturing, facial expressions, or eye contact; imitating common actions (e.g., brushing hair, feeding, talking on phone); pointing to objects when named; and following simple one- and two-step commands.
  • 18 to 24 months: Using 50 to 200 words, responding to “yes/no” questions, attending to books, following multiple step directions, pointing to pictures, and attending to activities for 10 to 15 minute stretches.

Q: What are the best ways to stimulate my young child’s speech and language skills?

A: For children from the age of 0 to 1 year old, the best ways to stimulate their language include:

  • Responding to your child’s coos, gurgles, and babbling
  • Staying simple and consistent with your vocabulary and using the words repetitively
  • Matching language with your activities (e.g., “Shoes on,” “Mommy driving”)
  • Looking at simple picture books. Label the pictures, take your child’s hand and point to the objects.
  • Telling nursery rhymes, singing songs, and playing simple games together such as peek-a-boo and pat-a-cake
  • Encouraging simple directions (e.g., “Give me the cup,” “Kiss the baby,” etc.)
  • Teaching your child the names of everyday items and familiar people
  • Taking your child with you to new places and situations

For children from the age of 1 to 2 years old, the best ways to stimulate their language include:

  • Rewarding and encouraging early efforts at saying new words. Asking your child to “show me” if something is unclear.
  • Talking to your baby about everything you’re doing while you’re with them
  • Having your child imitate new words and ideas
  • Talking simply, clearly and slowly to your child
  • Describing what your child is doing, feeling, and hearing
  • Going on trips and adventures (e.g., visit the zoo, plant flowers)

Q: What are the best toys for young children working on improving their speech and language skills?

A: As a speech-language pathologist, one of the questions I’m asked most often is, “What toys should I buy to help my child talk?” The toys listed below include those that I often use with children working on increasing their speech and language skills, as well as those that I would generally recommend to parents of young children. The best toys to promote speech and language development for your child are the simplest toys. Items that allow children to get creative with play and allow them to use the toy in a variety of ways are great for promoting language development. These toys include:

  • Blocks
  • Cars/trucks/trains
  • Play kitchen and food
  • Farm set
  • Baby doll and accessories
  • Doll house
  • Dress up clothes
  • Tool set
  • Tea set
  • Mr. Potato Head

Q: What is the best way to introduce a second language? Is there a “window” of time that is best?

A: It’s never too early or too late to introduce a second language, but research shows that for the most part, earlier is better. Children learn language by listening to people who speak that language, whether it is their parents, family members, teachers, friends or others. The best models for language are native speakers, but when that’s not available, there are classes, apps, games and high-quality television programming that teach other languages to children.

Children who are bilingual experience benefits that reach into adulthood, including higher academic achievement, better problem solving, increased executive control, and overall better communication skills!

Q: What should I do if I think my child is falling behind in his speech and language development?

A: If you suspect any kind of difficulty or delay in development, talk to your pediatrician. She may recommend a speech and language evaluation by a certified, licensed speech and language pathologist, who can help determine if intervention is needed.

– Erin Reaume, M.A., CCC-SLP, Speech and Language Pathologist, Children’s Speech and Language Pathology Department, Beaumont Health

Singing helps speech and language development

little girl singing at piano

Unaltered image. David Simmonds, Flickr. CC license.

As a speech-language pathologist, I often incorporate singing songs and dancing during my therapy sessions as a fun way to target speech and language goals. It is common for my patients’ parents to ask, “Why songs?”

Children’s songs are very beneficial because they often include simple verbiage and repetitive language, and are commonly motivating to children. Those three key factors are recommended for early language learners in order to encourage engagement, whether vocally, verbally or physically.

Simple verbiage is important to a child who isn’t speaking yet or to a child who is beginning to speak. Why? Simple language increases attention and children are more likely to imitate. The longer and more complex sentences are, the more likely a child will lose attention and interest. Songs made for children are often short and use common vocabulary words that most children are familiar with.

Repetitive language enhances understanding of words or phrases, and increases practice opportunities for children to imitate or attempt to imitate. Typically, the more often children are exposed to an object, activity or place, the more comfortable the children become. This concept also applies to songs. The more repetitive a song is, the more children can anticipate the words and/or actions. This can help elicit more vocalizations and imitation attempts.

Songs are motivating! They capture a child’s attention and motivate them to imitate because they want to join in the fun. Being silly, laughing, and dancing with your child is a great way to bond, but also encourages your child to participate in the activity.

How do songs improve receptive language skills?

Receptive language is your child’s ability to comprehend experiences, words, people, etc. Songs often include concepts such as counting, body part recognition, animals, and more. Children tend to learn these concepts with ease when they relate to something more concrete and when it is fun! Many songs also build your child’s ability to follow directions and improve auditory memory (hearing information, processing, and later recalling).

Recommended songs:

  • Wheels on the Bus
  • Itsy Bitsy Spider
  • Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes
  • If You’re Happy and You Know It

If you want to make some of those well-known songs a little more entertaining and challenging, try a few of the five tips toward the end of this related article.

Song use also supports understanding reciprocal communication, vocabulary development, rhyming, concentration, spatial reasoning, and fine and gross motor skills. Use songs and enhance speech and language skills!

– Lauren DeClercq, M.A., CCC-SLP, Speech and Language Pathologist, Children’s Speech and Language Pathology Department, Beaumont Health

Myth busting: Speech delay in siblings

Brothers

Myth: Younger siblings can have a speech and language delay because the older sibling(s) will interpret or speak for the younger child, possibly resulting in a need for speech-language therapy.

Truth: Parents often attribute a speech and language delay to a child being a younger sibling. However research shows that birth order isn’t a risk factor for speech and language delays; having an older sibling who speaks for a younger sibling doesn’t cause a delay in speech and language skills. Although if a child has a delay, it is more likely others will talk for him/her.

While being a second (or third, fourth, etc.) sibling does not cause a speech and language delay, it can impact early language skills. Several research studies found:

  • First-born children reach the 50-word milestone earlier than later-born children. Later-born children quickly catch up, so there are no lasting differences in vocabulary.
  • First-born children have more advanced vocabulary and grammar skills, while later-born children have more advanced conversational skills.
  • Second-born children are more advanced with use of personal pronouns (e.g., he, she, them, they).

Birth order contributes to different language learning environments. First-born children may benefit from more one-one-one attention, while later-born children may benefit from hearing and participating in conversations between parents and other siblings. Neither of these environments are detrimental to speech and language development and there are no lasting developmental differences between first-born and later-born siblings.

Rather than compare first- and later-born children, it is important to focus on whether an individual child’s speech and language milestones are being met. Important milestones can be found here:

Ideas for stimulating speech and language skills can be found here.

If you have questions about your child’s language development, talk to your pediatrician or contact a speech-language pathologist.

– Amanda Vallance, M.A., CCC-SLP, Speech and Language Pathologist, Children’s Speech and Language Pathology Department, Beaumont Health

 References:

  • Berglund, E., Eriksson, M., Westerlund, M. (2005). Communicative skills in relation to gender, birth order, childcare and socioeconomic status in 18-month-old children. Scandinavian Journal of Psychology, 46, 6, 485–491.
  • Reilly, S. (2007). Predicting language at 2 years of age: a prospective community study. Pediatrics, 120, 6, e1441-9.

 

How can I tell if my child is really talking?

Two baby girls "talking" on a bench

Unaltered image. Dean Wissing, Flickr. CC license.

Communication begins at birth, but talking is harder to define.

A newborn initially communicates primarily by crying, then soon after, eye contact, smiling, laughing and vocal play emerge. A child of 6 months is generally babbling, using sounds in repetitive sequences (e.g., “bababa,” “dadada”), including intonation, to communicate mood. Before any real words emerge, babies should be making a lot of sounds, both independently and in imitation.

Children are expected to use their first real word around the age of 1 year, with the most common words being “dada” or “mama.” (Sorry Mom, the /d/ sound is easier than /m/, so many babies say “dada” first!) Sometimes the first word is “hi.” Sometimes it’s “no.”

So how can you tell if something your baby says is really a word?

Since babbling can sound similar to real words, it might be difficult to know whether a vocalization can be considered a true word. It really comes down to consistency and intent. A word, no matter how clear, is a true word if it is used consistently for the same specific purpose.

For example, a child who always says “mama” when looking for his mother and interacting with her is likely to be using it as a real word.

However, a child who says “mama” all the time, while interacting with his mother, but also while playing with his toys, looking out the window, sharing a snack with dad, and waking up from a nap might not be using it as a real word. The word isn’t being used specifically for his mother.

Another potentially confusing element of learning to speak is jargon. Jargon is characterized by long strings of unintelligible sounds that include adult-like stress and intonation. Quite simply, it sounds like your child is speaking a language you don’t understand. Is this talking? Kind of. While jargon is not made up of real words, it is part of the process of children learning to converse like adults. Further, real words may be mixed in with long strings of jargon. It is a good idea to respond to jargon, and the intermittent real words within it, as if your child is talking with you. Jargon should peak around 18 months, and then decline as children’s expressive vocabulary and utterance length increase. You can read more about expressive language skills here.

If you have questions about your child’s language development, talk to your pediatrician, or contact a speech-language pathologist.

– Kellie Bouren, M.A., CCC-SLP, Speech and Language Pathologist, Children’s Speech Pathology Department, Beaumont Children’s