Tips for Building Toddlers’ Language
- Expand a toddler’s one- or two-word utterances into sentences. Then add a bit more to keep the conversation going.
- Follow a toddler’s lead, even if he changes the subject.
- Talk with a toddler about what just happened or what is going to happen.
- Toddlers love to learn new words! Use some specific, interesting words – even if they are hard to say. Give a toddler a chance to repeat a new word. Don’t worry if she can’t pronounce it right. She’ll get it with practice.
- Be silly together! Join in toddler jokes like walking like a duck or elephant, drinking from an upside-down cup, or putting a sock on your nose or your elbow instead of on your foot. Talk about the silly things you do together.
- Help a toddler find words to express her feelings.
- Name and describe things that a toddler notices or points to. Talk about what they do or what you can do with them.
- Toddlers are full of questions, but they may not ask them with words. Give them words for what they seem to be asking or investigating. Wonder aloud to model question-asking. Extend the conversation through several exchanges as you seek answers together.
- Follow children’s conversational leads, but don’t just repeat what they say. Add interesting information, fun ideas, and questions that encourage thinking. Be playful, silly, upbeat, reassuring, empathetic, informative, or curious in tune with the child’s mood.
- As you take toddlers out in rainy, snowy. cold, or suddenly warmer weather, talk with them about how it feels and what they can do. Do they walk carefully, run, slip and slide, skate, jump, plop, splash, tromp, kick, or lean as they make their way on a sunny, wet, or windy day?
- Look at pictures together, and tell stories about what you see. What can the toddler remember about an event she experienced? What does she remember about a person or place?
- Many toddlers fall in love with words! Teach them long words, silly words, loud words, and soft words, words that fit together in rhymes or tongue twisters, and words that sound like their names. Introduce songs, poems, nursery rhymes, and storybooks that will give them lots of fun words to say.
- Include “math talk” in your conversations with toddlers. Talking about time, sequence, and consequences gives children a sense of security and predictability, and helps build both language and logical thinking. Talking about number, size, amount, shape, direction, pattern, order, and how many more or less builds vocabulary and prepares children to understand math concepts. Use concrete experiences to help children understand what you mean.
- Get down to a toddler’s level and play along side. Make a comment or ask a question, and wait to see if he responds (with words or actions). Respond to his response with a comment or question that invites further conversation.
- Give a toddler an unfamiliar object or collection to play with, such as a wind-up toy, some pine cones, a fuzzy leaf, a shoe with a buckle, water pourers and squirters, an egg beater, a kaleidoscope or flashlight, or a toy she can take apart and put together. Talk about all the things she discovers – then show her some more.
- Be silly together. Sing silly songs — and add some verses. Give puppets funny names, voices, and actions. Avert power struggles with playful routines: “I think this sock goes on your elbow.” (Let the child correct your ridiculous idea.)
- Play games of moving like animals and making their sounds, using words and sound effects in all of the languages you, the children, and their families know.
- Introduce toddlers to puppet play with hand or finger puppets, stuffed animals, or toy animals, vehicles, and action figures. Make your “puppet” talk to the child’s, and give her a chance to make her “puppet” respond by moving and talking. Encourage older toddlers to play together with their puppets.
- Help toddlers put small collections of toys into baskets or shoeboxes to make sets for replaying favorite stories and for pretend themes like farm, zoo, beach, picnic, shopping, cooking, home repair, party, garbage collection, and construction zone. You will naturally use theme-related words as you pretend together.
- Save diaper boxes, cardboard tubes, oatmeal cartons, and other food packaging. Talk about all of things you can do with them: build, carry, empty and fill; make hats, musical instruments, doll beds, telescopes, rockets, tunnels, and garages; create props and platforms for re-enacting favorite songs, stories, and daily routines. What new words can toddlers learn as you play together?
- Did you know that reading aloud with one-year olds is one of the best ways to build their language? When you point at and name pictures for them, they point, too — and learn what the words mean. When they babble along, or label a picture with their babbling, the natural response is often to expand the babbles into words — and give them a chance to respond or repeat. A 2016 study by Dr. Julie Gros-Louis found that toddlers vocalized more – and parents responded more – when sharing books than when playing with toys or puppets.
- Read at regular times, like before bed, bath, or nap time. Keep books handy so you can also read whenever you or a toddler feels like it.
- Toddlers love to read books over and over and over. Choose sturdy books that you both enjoy.
- Toddlers like simple stories about characters like themselves – who get lost and are found, run away and come back, and make mistakes and are forgiven.
- Look for books for lots of things for toddlers to do: actions and sounds to imitate, pictures to name and describe, details to find, and lots of interesting things to talk, ask, and learn about.
- Stop frequently as you read to let toddlers participate. Ask questions that help toddlers connect things in the story with their own experiences.