Language consists of what we say (the meaning or definition of words) how we change those words to alter meaning (e.g., fly, flying, flew) and how we string those words together (e.g., "John drove his truck to the lake." vs. "John drive truck lake").
As kids develop, we observe skills in the areas of receptive language and expressive language. Receptive language is the "input" - it's what we hear and understand. For example, kids use receptive language when they follow directions to "come here" or "put your shoes in your bedroom." They continue using receptive skills as they interpret questions (e.g., "What would you like for dinner? or "Who did you play with at the park?"), and to differentiate subtle changes in information, such as "the ball is in the box" vs. "the ball is on the box."
Expressive language is the "output" - it's what we say to others and the way we express our wants and needs. Kids develop expressive language skills as they say, "go bye-bye" as a 2-year old and "Mom, can we go to the water-slide today?" as a 6-year old.
Just as we discussed last month, our kids learn speech and language skills through what they see, hear and experience around them. We (the adults) - and the environment and experiences we create for our kids - become the model for their development. As the opportunities for modeling language skills could literally fill an entire book, I've chosen just a few examples of ways you can positively impact your child's language development each day.
Infants (Birth-1 year)
1. Talk, talk, talk! Talk about what you're doing in front of your infant. For example, when cooking dinner, "Fill the pot with water. Put the pot on the stove. Water is boiling. Put pasta in the water. Cut vegetables. Yellow peppers. Red peppers. Green cucumbers. Put vegetables in the bowl." And so on. (Yes, you may think you sound silly, however your baby is listening and learning vocabulary and the structure of language.)
2. Talk about what your infant is doing, seeing, hearing, or feeling. For example, "Teddy bear wants to say hello to Abby. Abby is grabbing the teddy bear. Touch the fur. So soft. The teddy bear's fur is so soft. Abby is squeezing the teddy bear." And so on. Avoid repetitions, such as "Here is a dog. Here is a cow. Here is a pig." Instead, while playing with a farm set or looking at a book, you might say, "Look at this dog. Dogs say ruff, ruff, ruff. Where is the dog's house? I see it. Dog's house is behind the cow. Cows say "moo.""
3. READ to your infant. It's never too early to read with your baby. Parent involvement is a significant predictor in early literacy success and future academic achievement. Start with simple board books. Many board books teach basic concepts that help build a foundation for higher-level language skills.
Emerging Talkers (1-3 years)
1. KEEP READING with your child.
2. Expand your child's verbal utterances. For example, when your child sees a dog and exclaims, "dog" - you can expand that utterance by saying, "big dog" or "dog is jumping." If he says, "Johnny, up" - you can expand by saying "Johnny wants up." (Remember, you are expanding and not correcting. Providing models will result in imitation and learned behavior over time.)
Preschoolers (3-5 years)
1. KEEP READING with your child. Picture books are an excellent way to introduce new vocabulary, teach social skills, provide a model of written language and are visually exciting for kids. Visit your local library or bookstore for suggestions.
2. Enjoy music with your child. Children typically love music and movement, and children's songs teach them about their world around them and the rhythm of language.
3. Explore. Go on field trips (this doesn't have to be expensive or elaborate). A walk around the block can turn into a treasure hunt. A trip to a local library, museum or kid-friendly community event can expose your child to new vocabulary and concepts and even spark new interests for him/her.
Emerging & Early Readers (5-8 years)
1. Ask good questions. This encourages creative thought processes and allows practice in formulating verbal expressions of ideas and thoughts. Instead of the typical "What did you do at school?" or "What did you do at the park" - think of how you can use all of the "wh" questions (who, what, where, when, how, why). For example, "Who did you see at the [park/party/zoo]?" or "When should you start getting ready for the party?" or "How can we help Grandpa this weekend?"
Be fearless and try at least one of these suggestions. You'll find that modeling good language skills becomes easy as you practice!
Many parents want to know when their child should be talking and what they should be saying. Click HERE for a great reference on language developmental milestones.
And please join me next month as we discuss Part 3 of Making An Impact on Your Child's Communication.