Communication takes many forms such as looking at someone (eye contact), making sounds, using actions or gestures, facial expressions and of course speaking and writing. Very young babies begin to communicate by looking at you, smiling and crying. As infants develop, they add sounds and gestures (e.g. pointing) before they learn to use words.
Developing a wide vocabulary can help set children up for academic success. While vocabulary is not the only skill children need for school, it can support them in many ways such as helping them understand stories and instructions and express their thoughts and ideas creatively. Below are 5 tips for you to help your child’s language grow!
Tip # 1 Talking All Day Every Day!
Frequent interactions between parents and children are important for building your child’s language and social skills. The quality of the conversation is just as important as the quantity (if not more!) This means using a wide variety of words and responding to your child immediately when they interact with you. To create meaningful and frequent talking opportunities with your child you could:
- Talk to your child when they are playing, reading books, doing craft etc.
- Talk during everyday activities such as bath and meal times, tidying up or doing the shopping.
- Encourage turn taking during interactions with your child i.e. your child says/does something
then you do/say something. This could be with gestures (e.g. nodding, pointing), words or
sentences. Turn Turn taking is very important for social and conversation skills.
Below is an example of how you could add language during an everyday activity such as bath
|Children Learning to Talk||Children Speaking in Sentences|
|Example||You could ask your child, “Where should we
put the boat?” Your child may respond with
words or gestures (e.g. pointing), or they
may not respond, however it is important to
give them a chance to by waiting. You can
then continue the interaction by making a
comment such as, “Let’s put the boat next
to the duck.”
|Try to encourage interactions by
commenting and asking questions
about things they are doing. While
in the bath you could say, “Look,
the ducks are waddling away. They
must be going on an adventure!
Where do you think they will go?”
Again, it is important to your child
the chance to respond by waiting
for them to say or do something.
this will vary
|Nouns: soap; shampoo; bubbles; bath tub;
ship; feet; face; hands
Action words: wash; brush; scrub; splash;
Concepts: full/empty; wet/dry; clean/dirty;
|Nouns: lather, scent, elbow; knee;
ankle; drain; tanker;
Action words: gushing (water);
paddling swiftly; dodge; clamber;
Concepts: lukewarm; overflow;
A good way to gain your child’s attention is by being face to face with them. This will also help your child to get the most out of the interaction! A note about questions. Too many questions can be a conversation stopper! If children do not know the answer or understand a question they often do not respond or they walk away. Therefore it is important not to ask too many questions, particularly if your child has difficulty answering them. Try to make sure you are commenting more often than asking questions e.g. “I can see a plane! The plane is way up in the sky. Can you see the plane?”
Tip # 2 Let your child lead the conversation
Have you ever been to a class or seminar about a topic that you were not interested in? How much did you learn? Did you find it hard to focus and keep listening? Now think of a time when you were interested in the topic. Did you learn and participate this time? Like adults, children learn best when they are interested in the subject. For children the subject may be food, trains, blocks, craft or climbing! Following your child’s lead in conversation (and play!) can help them to have a positive experience and can keep the interaction going. This means giving them opportunities to start a conversation by waiting, observing and listening. You can then respond with interest to what they have communicated e.g. by commenting about what they said or did. Children may communicate in different ways at different stages e.g. by looking at you, showing you something or it may be with words. You don’t always have to respond to your child using words; sounds and gestures are important too! But you can also ask questions and make comments on things your child is interested in so that they’ll want to respond. Try to encourage lots of back and forth conversation. Remember to give your child enough time to respond before jumping in.
|Activity||Children Learning to
|Children Speaking in Sentences|
|Pick up a toy of your own
and try to follow your
child’s lead. Follow by
observing, waiting and
Observe: You see your
child stack some blocks.
Wait: Count to ten and
keep watching before
saying anything. Listen: Your child may say
a word or make a sound,
or they may just look at
You: :You stacked the
blocks! I’m going to stack
my blocks too.” [wait] Child: “Stack”
|Children tend to learn common words like ‘build’ and ‘run’
more easily than less common words such as ‘construct’
and ‘sprint’. Research indicates that these are the words
we need to teach. Again it is good to observe, wait and
listen so that we are actually following their lead.
Observe: You child stacks some blocks.
Wait: Count to ten before speaking and keep watching.
Listen: Listen to what your child says and respond by
Child says: “I built a tower.”
You: “Wow! You constructed a gigantic sky scraper”.
|Nouns: blocks; bricks;
truck; tower; house;
tunnel; car etc.
Action words: build;
drive; fall; drop; stack.
|Nouns: skyscraper; structure; property; transportation;
Action words: construct, gather; tumble; collapse;
Describing: massive; colossal; textured; rectangular.
Tip # 3 Expand your child’s message
While interacting with your child, you can help to grow their language skills by adding to what they have communicated. Listen to what your child has communicated, and respond using their words, while adding some of your own. It is best to speak in adult-like sentences, rather than breaking your sentences down into simpler speech. This way you are introducing your child to more complex sentence structures by expanding on their message, as well as adding to their vocabulary. Below are some examples of how to expand what your child has communicated.
|What Your Child Said||What You Could Say|
|Truck.||That’s right, Sam has a big truck.|
|It broked.||Oh no! It broke. The chair broke. We will have to fix it.|
|Kate goed to the shops.||Yes, Kate went to the shops with her mum and her sister.|
Tip # 4 Continue to build your child’s everyday vocabulary
In order for us to build a sentence, we need to use many different types of words. Try to introduce your child to different types of words to build a wide vocabulary which will help them to put sentences together. When you use a new word, try to repeat it often and with slight emphasis. It is also important to expose your child to less common words as they continue to learn. For example, while playing with toy animals you could say “my cat is prowling”, and show your child what that means (you could pretend to “prowl” together!). Think about other opportunities and environments where you can use that same word.
|Types of words||Examples of everyday
|Examples of more advanced vocabulary|
|action words (doing
|run, play, jump, eat, talk, sit||sprinted, galloped, chatted,
|descriptive words||round, small, soft, slippery,
|circular, tiny, petite, jagged, freezing|
|location words||in, on, up, down, under, next
|beside, underneath, against, behind,
|words about feelings||happy, sad, angry, scared, sick||excited, ecstatic, miserable, furious,
|bed, car, cat, bath, book, lion||insect, marsupial, transport, liquid, novel,
Tip # 5 Encourage storytelling
Storytelling is a great way to introduce the concept of time, and how things we talk about may ot always be “here and now”. Throughout the day, discuss things that have already happened or will happen (in the near future). Encourage your child to tell you about things they have done in the past. Also try to talk about things in order i.e. what happened first, what happened next etc? This is important for development of sequencing skills which are needed for many language and mathematical activities.
|Activity||Children Learning to Talk||Children Speaking in Sentences|
|For children who are still learning to talk,
this could be as simple as telling them
what you’ve already done that day. Try to
use “sequencing words” in your stories.
These are words that help us to organise a
story and understand when events are
taking place (e.g. “first”, “next”, “later”,
“before”, “last”). For example, “First we
went to the shops, then we came home to
|Encourage your child to tell you a story
from their day. Ask them questions that
show you are interested such as, “what
was your favourite part of preschool?”
If your child doesn’t respond or says, “I
don’t know”, try to prompt them with
more specific questions such as, “Did you
do craft?”; “What activity did you do after
morning tea?”; “Who did you sit with at
|Talk to your child about the parts of the
story the characters, and events. Show
your child how stories have a beginning
(first), a middle (next, then) and an end
(last). Introducing words such as “first”
“next” and “then” can also help your child
when they are telling stories of their own.
You could say, “This story is about Jack’s
birthday party. In the beginning, Jack is
helping his mum clean up the house. Next,
Jack helps his dad make the party food. At
the end, all of Jack’s friends come to his
|Ask your child questions about things that
are happening in the book. We can ask
questions about things that are
happening in the “here and now”, e.g.
“What is the boy in the blue hat doing?”
We can also ask questions that encourage
our child to think about things that aren’t
immediately noticeable on the page.
These questions are more complex and
may require your child to use predict and
reason in order to answer. Here are some