Our children’s development of language is one of the most thrilling journeys we experience as parents. Witnessing our baby or toddler’s frustration as they try to communicate their feelings or needs can be difficult, and it’s no coincidence that life gets easier as their vocabulary grows and they begin to put together words and sentences to describe their wants and desires.
According to Stanford Children’s Health, all children reach their speech milestones at different times, but language development can be broken down into three broad phases: recognising and reproducing sounds (the first year), understanding and assigning meaning to words (12 to 18 months), putting together sentences (from 18 months, and increasing in complexity as they grow through early childhood).
As parents we want to do everything we can to assist our children in developing their language skills and becoming more efficient communicators. This is all part of the fun! We’ve come up with a few simple ways to help them on their language development journey.
Babies, toddlers and children love to play, so get down on the floor with them and make learning fun. Use blocks to build towers, describing each action as you go - they will learn about colours, space and dimensions, and have great fun imitating you when you say (with hand actions), “Oh no! They all fell down!”
Use toy animals to teach new animal names, the sounds they make, their colours, and their relationships with one another. You could even throw in little fun facts as you go (“The giraffe is the tallest animal!”), teaching concepts and giving toddlers little tidbits to repeat to their friends or teachers.
Sitting together to do a simple puzzle teaches them to ask for different pieces and helps them learn patience as they try the pieces at different angles (as you say, “Try the other way! Try turning the piece around! How about upside down?”). Try hiding a puzzle piece and asking them to find it - and revel in their delight as they learn to say, “Found it!”
Besides the great audio and rhythmic stimulation they will gain from musical instruments, we can start to teach them order comprehension (“Tap that note three times”) or ask them to give us instructions on what note to play.
Use your everyday environment
As lovely - and important - as playing with our children is we sometimes just need to get things down around the house. Don’t feel bad that you’re not sitting on the rug playing - instead, include your child in the household chores. Because to them, if they’re with you, everything can be fun.
Let them put the washing in the machine and give them instructions about which button to press, testing and developing their comprehension, ability to follow instructions and understanding of numbers. Let them help you hang the washing out (you may need to take a deep breath and have some patience for this!). Make it a game by asking them to name each item of clothing as they hang it, or you name an item and make them find it.
In the kitchen
Ask them to name the ingredients as you cook, and let them help you (again, patience will be required - all in the name of learning!). For older children, give them some simple instructions and let them follow a recipe on their own. With little ones, introduce a toy kitchen to the kitchen at home and let them imitate you as you cook - describing everything you're both doing as you go.
In the bath
Encourage them to articulate what they want - “Do you want more water from the tap? Do you want to wash yourself with the soap? Shall we play with your rubber ducks?” You can also work on asking them to name different body parts as you soap them, or sing songs together.
Help them through repetition and actions
You can help your child with certain words they might struggle with by repeating them (correctly if they have said them incorrectly), and then asking them to repeat back to you. Try adding a movement to match the word to make it memorable to your child (“flashing” with your fingers to indicate a “star” for example). After you say it and they repeat it back to you, give them positive reinforcement for trying their best. Remember that all things come in their own time and one day you will miss the way they used to say “hostible” instead of “hospital” or “blaceret” instead of “bracelet”.
A word on bilingualism
Many of our Good People families speak two or more languages in the home, and with Geneva and its surroundings being so international it is normal here for children to be exposed to multiple languages from very early on. It can be easy to feel discouraged in the beginning, especially if a child finds it difficult or less preferable to speak one language or the other. But take heart! There is a lot of research to suggest that learning a second or even third language at an early age can have many cognitive benefits - leading to better concentration, more creativity and better problem solving skills, a decrease in the effects of ageing on the brain later on, and greater access to different people, cultures and resources in their life to come. Hurrah for bilingualism!
Although studies show that bilingual children may in some instances say their first words slightly later than monolingual children, it is a myth that being bilingual leads to a speech delay. The sooner children are exposed to their second language the better, as language begets language - the more they are exposed to both, the more each language benefits the other.
Consult an expert
Of course, if you do suspect a delay or language impediment in your child, you should always consult a medical professional, and they can guide you - even if only to put your mind at rest.
Good People is a domestic staffing agency specialising in introducing high quality household assistance. We provide a simple, fast and professional service to recruit trained and vetted staff who match your family values. To discuss what we can do for you, or to join the Good People Club, get in touch today.