Supporting Language Development In Early Childhood – Quality Start

What is Language Development in Early Childhood

Language development in early childhood is the process of detecting, comprehending and expressing language. There are a variety of stages in language development, and these phases are interconnected with social-emotional, cognitive, and physical development. It is also the foundation for emerging literacy.

Supporting Language Development

They may not sound like they’re speaking any language you’ve ever heard before, but your child is listening to and communicating with you from their very first days. Children are building the foundation of their language skills through their sounds, cries, and gestures and by observing those communicating with them. It is through this observation that they begin to understand language, engagement, and even relationships.

The first three years of a child’s life is the most critical stage of speech and language development, as a child’s brain is best able to absorb language during this time.

Below are what to watch for in your child’s speech and language development in early childhood and easy ways to encourage their growth. For more guidance on early language development, don’t miss out on our blog posts and resources for parents to help you further develop language skills at home.

Language Development in Infants and Babies

Even the youngest infants actively communicate with their families in an exciting variety of ways. Between 3-12 months, babies will practice the following:

  • Coos
  • Gurgling sounds
  • Babbling
  • Head turns in the direction of a sound
  • Crying in different ways to express different needs or emotions like hunger, tiredness
  • Responding to their own name
  • Beginning to express vowel sounds (ah, eh, oh) and consonant sounds
  • Basic understanding of the word no
  • Using their finger to point at things

Strategies for Language Development in Babies:

  • Cuddle, talk, sing and play every day during caretaking routines like feeding, dressing and bath time
  • Smile and act excited when your baby makes sounds
  • Practice reciprocal play, smile at your baby when they smile, and repeat the sounds they make
  • Copy you baby’s sounds and say simple, clear words back to them
  • Point to new things and name them
  • Name your baby’s emotions
    • Example: if they cry because they’ve been told no and redirected, identify that emotion for them, “you wanted to go there, and I said no. That makes you mad.”

Language Development in Toddlers

You may notice that your child’s language is growing by leaps and bounds from ages 1-3, as they find new words to communicate their needs and interests. Examples of language development in toddlers include:

  • Ability to respond to simple requests and instructions
  • Uses simple gestures like shaking their head no or waving
  • Tries to copy words they hear
  • Progress from saying individual words, to several single words, to two-to-four word sentences

Strategies for Language Development in Toddlers

  • Talk with your child about what you’re doing in detail
  • Use simple phrases and speak clearly
  • Read together every day and have your child turn the pages
  • Let them name what they see in the books you read together
  • Sing songs and repeat nursery rhymes with hand motions you can do together
  • Name everything- body parts, animals, commonly seen things
  • If your child incorrectly identifies something, simply say the word for them and encourage them to repeat it
  • Encourage your child to use words instead of pointing
  • Expand on what your child says or points to with more detail
    • Example: If they point to a car and say “car” or a variation thereof, say “Yes, a car. That’s a big red car.”

When to Get Help with Your Child’s Language Development

Knowing what to watch for and how to engage can turn the simplest moments into skills-building moments for your little one.  If you have questions or concerns about your child’s development or behavior, call your pediatrician for a professional assessment or check out Help Me Grow Inland Empire (HMGIE) for developmental screening information. HMGIE can connect you to resources and even offer free screenings. Find them online or call 1-888-464-4316.

Other important tools for language development in early childhood:

Try this communicative development checklist on speech and language development milestones to track your child’s language development journey.

Visit this resources page for tools on promoting multilingual children’s language development.

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