Ways to Develop Speech & Language Skills

As adults, we have opportunities to help children each and every day in developing their speech and language skills. Much of it is through natural opportunities and everyday routines.

The first recommendation I always make to parents is to talk. This sounds obvious, I know, but frequently in this age of high-tech gadgets, the art of conversation is lost. I joke to never stop talking. In all honesty, however, engaging in conversation and talking about everything and everyone in your environment is one of the easiest and best ways to help your child develop speech and language. An example: Talk about where you are going while running errands, what you will do at each location, why you need to do it, who will be at the location and what you see while there. Not only does this build context for your child, it builds vocabulary, familiarity with community and provides them with a good model of speech sounds and grammatical structure. Start this when children are babies (the earlier the better).

Engage in conversation with your child. When they ask a question, offer expanded information about the topic. Repeat their phrases and add more to it. This is a strategy of expansion and extension in which children learn the structure of language as well as context and vocabulary. Make sure to take turns and provide non-verbal participation as well, such as good eye-contact, facial expressions and intonation/tone. This helps children learn how to interpret and react to the non-verbal elements of communication, such as body language. Allow your child time to respond and to ask questions. Starting this early helps children develop critical thinking skills. 

Read to your child every single day. Establish a routine early and stick to it. Of course there will be days when this is not an option but make those the exception rather than the norm. Reading to children from an early age targets many skills that will be required of them when they reach and progress through school. Picture books provide a context and tangible reference for children to the language that is being shared in the story. As children begin reading themselves, continue reading aloud daily. This continues to help build vocabulary and enhance their knowledge and understanding of the language being used in the story. Allow them to read to you as well—this helps children continually improve their reading fluency as they encounter lengthier and more complicated words. Additionally, reading aloud helps children improve and build their joint attention, learning/understanding story structure, sequences, inferencing and more. All of that AND it’s fun!

Introduce a variety of vocabulary during conversation and reading. Explain the different shades of meaning between words that have similar meanings but have a different impact when used. The more words children hear, learn and digest, the stronger their vocabulary and reading skills in school and beyond. — “A world-famous study by researchers Betty Hart and Todd Risley (1995) found that some children heard thirty million fewer words by their 4th birthdays than others. The children who heard more words were better prepared when they entered school. These same kids, when followed into third grade, had bigger vocabularies, were stronger readers, and got higher test scores. The bottom line: the kids who started out ahead, stayed ahead; the kids who started out behind, stayed behind. This disparity in learning is referred to as the achievement gap.” Information from: http://thirtymillionwords.org/tmw-initiative/

Play with your child. When they are young, engage in pretend play. Be the customer at their restaurant or grocery store. This teaches reciprocal and social communication skills for routine daily interactions everyone experiences throughout life. Play dolls or superheros together. Build a tower and knock it down together. Incorporate conversation into all of these activities. As they age, play games together. This continually supports vocabulary development. It also helps children learn the routine of game-playing, when to compromise or when to remain steadfast in their position, how to be a gracious winner or loser, how to be supportive to other players, etc. Board and/or card games allow for conversation, development of attending skills/patience, the ability to develop strategy and planning skills, and more.