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Develop your Child’s Speech and Language Skills


Develop your Child’s Speech and Language Skills

It is not hard to develop your child’s speech and language skills. The early years of a child’s life are key to the development of their speech, language and cognitive skills. For this reason it is important to give them all the stimulation, positive role modeling and human contact that we can. Providing positive input to help develop childrens speech and language skills is not a science and can be done easily through play and simple daily interactions.

The child’s brain is like a sponge, they are keen to learn about the world around them and are soaking up all the information and experiences they have.


Top 10 tips for developing your young child’s speech and language:

1. Have a joint focus – look at things together, point to things and name them.

2. Look at books together, name the pictures, read them stories.

3. Get down to their level and face them when talking.

4. Get a push-chair that has the child facing you so you can talk to them.

5. Take the pacifier out and turn off the TV, and play with your child.

6. Repeat back their vocalizations and words to provide good modelling.

7. Get their hearing checked in case of “Glue Ear“.

8. Sing songs and nursery rhymes to your young children.

9. Make every activity a language learning activity.

10. Remember to keep your level of language simple and easy to understand.



The importance of play

Play is absolutely vital to a child’s healthy development. A child’s exposure to play provides physical, intellectual, emotional and social development. Some research shows that up to 75% of brain development happens after birth, and the early years of a child’s life are the foundation for healthy growth and development.  Every time a baby or child engages in an activity the nerve cells in the brain are stimulated and connections are made. This process influences the development of fine and gross motor skills, language, speech, socialization, personal awareness, listening and attention, emotional well-being, creativity, problem solving and learning ability. A child learns to master his environment by practicing things over and over again.


The stages of play and the development of the child

Jean Paiget’s ground breaking theories have influenced the way we think about child development. Although some researchers now have differing opinions on Paiget’s theories, many of his observations and research still dominates the explanation of children’s thinking and development. Paiget saw play in 3 stages:

Practice play – this takes place in the first 2 years and involves a lot of repetition of simple actions. The child learns about the properties of objects and how to manipulate them. The child also learns to monitor the effects of play on their environment.


Symbolic Play – the child then starts to create a world of pretend and make-believe play. Children start to identify one object as another, e.g. a brush becomes a boat. This play later develops into imitation and elaborate sequences where the child may take on the role of a doctor or a teacher. The child starts to become less self focused and have more of an awareness of others. By age four the child starts to show an interest in games that have rules and they will move away from parallel play to play that involves more social interaction. These rules are very much based around sensori-motor aspects of play which provide structure and repetition. This play continues to ages 6 or 7 years.


Games with Rules – these games, such as sports, involve rules and are not made up games created spontaneously. Children may occasionally negotiate the rules of the game. There is also more focus on the social aspects of play and the acceptance of the group.


Although there is discussion around the ages at which these forms of play begin to emerge and whether some of these stages can be broken down into further stages, Paiget’s explanation gives us a simple guideline on child development. These stages involve key processes that will influence the child for the rest of their lives. Their involvement in play will help them learn the concept of rules, it will develop their social skills, speech and language, cognition and imagination. Play is vital to a child’s healthy development.

To find out more about play and how you can use play activities to develop speech and language skills go to the Normal Development category of our Downloads Section.

Alternatively, access our Resource Centre to find books, information and resources that relate to all aspects of childrens communication development.


Building a loving, learning and language rich environment through play and positive daily interaction

Building a language rich environment is, on the face of it, an easy thing to do. Unfortunately, in today’s busy households and with the busy lifestyles of parents who have to work full-time it is harder than many of us realize. However, there are many opportunities to use and teach language in everyday situations.

Firstly, if you can make time to spend with your children and have a shared focus, then great, because this is premium one-to-one time that will benefit your child in the long term. If you have the time, but just put your child in front of the TV with a dummy in his mouth, you are doing him no favours whatsoever. There are a few (and only a few!!) children’s TV programs that are in any way educational, and the child is more likely to learn about things from one-to-one playtime with his parent or carer. TV and video games are passive entertainment and do not encourage any interaction. Studies are now showing that many children who watch too much TV have difficulties with attention and listening when they reach school.

Building a language rich environment is about using every opportunity to use speech and language, to interact, to share a focus, to talk, to take turns. Building a language rich environment is also about building a nurturing environment, giving your child love and affection and building their self-confidence. And finally, it is about building a learning environment, creating a place where love, language and learning can all take place together.


This all might seem quite complicated, but let me give you a small example. You are a dad and you have 15 minutes to spend with your 4-year old son, Bill. You decide to be firemen and imagine that you have just got a call to put out a fire in a big building.

Firstly lets think about the language we will be using:  Nouns – fire, fireman, hat, boots, hose, water, fire engine, smoke, ladder  Verbs – drive, climb, run, jump, smell  Adjectives – hot, wet  Prepositions – in front, in, on

Social skills: – turntaking and shared focus

Self confidence – let your son be the chief fireman, let him give you the orders

Affection – give him a hug to celebrate when you put the fire out and save all the people

How easy was that!! This is just one short simple little role play where Bill is playing, learning, hearing and using language, building social skills, building self confidence, and bonding with his dad. Dad only needed 15 minutes out of his day to do it. So it is not always hard to do, you can do it in short bursts when you have little pieces of time.


Here is another example. Mum has to wash 2 year old Amy’s hands.

Mum: “look your hands are dirty” (takes Amy to the sink)

Amy: “baa”

Mum: “lets turn on the tap….whoosh, here comes the water, whoosh”

Amy: squeals with laughter

Mum: “put some soap on”

Mum: (rubs Amy’s hands together and sings) “wash, wash, wash, wash your hands”

Amy: laughs

Mum: “lets dry them now” (dries Amy’s hands)


Here is a typical example of a daily activity, but mum makes it fun and at the same time uses lots of language. This is a learning activity, with lots of language and it is a fun moment for mum and daughter. How easy is that!! Positive interaction like this is enriching interaction for the child. Surely these activities that last only a few minutes are worth more than an hour sitting passively in front of the TV.


Remember your language level

One of the biggest things to be aware of when using language around your young child is the level and complexity of the language you use.  Think about their age and how much language they use.  A young child will generally understand more words than he uses in speech.  You can use the milestones guide to have a broad idea of your child’s language level.  Assuming your child is developing along normal lines think about where to pitch you language.  For instance, if your child is aged 2 years and 6 months and is able to follow a short instruction containing 2 key words, be mindful of this when you talk to her.  If you use long sentences she will not understand you.  If your child does have difficulty understanding, just use key words, more intonation, and gesture, or point as you say the words.


Take a step back and feed in language

You can enhance your child’s development of language by sometimes taking a step back during play and letting them take the lead. This gives the child control of their environment and builds their confidence. Although you are still involved in the play you are not dictating what is happening. However, you can still be feeding language into the play as it is happening. So the takeaway here is not to feel you have to fill in any gaps of silence, just watch and listen and add language.


Having a shared focus

The above examples show the importance of having a shared focus.  This is important because not only are you giving the child a point of reference when you talk about things, but the child is learning listening and using attention skills.  These skills are vitally important for the child when they attend school and the early years are key years for developing these skills.  Studies are showing that too much passive television viewing in the early years of life can affect the listening and attention skills of children when they reach school age.  The best ways to develop skills is to spend time with your child, talk and play with child, and have a shared focus.


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