Supporting Preschooler’s Language Development

Supporting and Expanding Emerging Language Skills

When children are learning how to use language, parents/caregivers are in a prime position to help them expand their efforts by reinforcing and expanding their attempts to communicate.  Early language acquisition is instinctive and, for most children, tends to happen quite naturally.  But how parents/caregivers respond to their attempts to communicate can have an impact on accelerating or decelerating their language development.

There are several strategies and techniques that can assist young children who are in the process of acquiring and developing language.  Here are a few of the basics that parents/caregivers can use during daily interactions with children—those who are acquiring language typically and those who may be having a little more trouble.

Self-Talk:  Talk out loud about what you are doing.

Parallel Talk:  Talk out loud about what your child is doing

Repetition:  Repeat words or short phrases over and over.

Increase Opportunities:  Select a daily word and use that word numerous times throughout the day.

Add One  Word:  Repeat what your child said and add one word to their utterance (e.g., “I see a dog” à “I see a big dog”).

Model:  Tell them what you want them to say.  Accept their approximation don’t make them repeat until it is totally correct.

Imitation:  Teach them to copy you.  Make a game of this with physical movements or funny sounds.

Visuals:  Show objects, gestures, or pictures when talking.

Sign Language:  Teach early sign language; some highly functional words include “more” and “all done”

One At A Time: Give only one item at a time to encourage the child to ask for more (e.g., instead of giving the child a bowl of crackers, give only one and wait until they ask for another).

Give Two Choices:  “Do you want _____ or _____?”

Sabotage:  Set up the environment so they need your help (e.g., put the child’s favorite toy on a high shelf so the child needs to ask for help to get the toy).

Be Forgetful:  Pretend you forgot how to do something and ask for them to help you by giving you directions.

Follow Their Lead:  Talk about their interests.

Verbal Routines:  Use the same words or phrases in daily routines.

Sing:  Teach language using songs.  YouTube has many learning songs that children can listen or sing along.

Wait:  Pause and give your child time to think about what to say, and then respond.

Make Comments:  Use more statements than questions when talking with your child.

Open-Ended Questions:  Use “wh” questions instead of “yes/no” questions.

Pacing Boards:  Tap or clap to model the number of words in a sentence, or to prompt the child to add more words to a sentence.

Say It Back:  Repeat back with stress on the correct way to say a word.

Shared Book Reading:  Read predicatable or repeating books (i.e., Brown Bear Brown Bear, Chika Chika Boom Boom) and talk to the child about the book.   While reading the book ask questions basic questions (e.g., “who is eating”), ask the child to make predictions (e.g., “what do you think will happen when ___?”), teach new vocabulary, make connections from the book to your child’s life experiences and environment.

Marian A. Lowther, M.S., CCC-SLP