Humans have an innate gift for language rules and growing our vocabularies. Our ability to communicate complex and abstract ideas is a ‘talent’ specific to us. This is why language development in children is a vital skill, enabling children to make sense of the world around them. As with all childhood development skills, parents and caregivers can help children progress in their language development.
Why is language development so important?
“The importance of the language development cannot be understated. Language development is important for communicating and building relationships,” says Kerry Picotti, registered Speech and Language Therapist and Clamber Club Expert. “It is also crucial to learning as language skills form the basis of later reading and writing skills.” At school all academic content is taught through spoken or written language. Even a subject that you wouldn’t think is very reliant on language development, such as mathematics, requires the understanding of basic concepts such as more/less, add/subtract and before/after.
When and how language is learned
Almost all children begin to learn the rules of their language from an early age without formal instruction. “Learning to talk requires time for development and practice in everyday situations. But as with other aspects of development, language acquisition is not predictable,” comments Liz Senior, Occupational Therapist and founder of Clamber Club.
How to help develop your little one’s language skills:
Make every opportunity a language learning activity – if it’s a trip to the shops, or bath-time, you can make every activity a language learning activity. Point to things, name them, sing a nursery rhyme, or ask a question. You don’t have to set aside a specific time of day to learn language, every activity is a language learning activity.
Let your child lead – let your child lead the play, let them be the boss of play. This can build self-confidence and does not put pressure on them to talk and respond to the adult all the time. Talk about what they are interested in. When you are playing with your child, take a step back, do not feel that you have to fill the silences, just comment on the things your child is doing so they can hear (and learn) the new vocabulary.
Books, books, books – books can be used in many ways to develop language and early literacy skills. Evidence shows that children that have more exposure to books prior to schooling often develop early literacy skills sooner.
Sing songs and nursery rhymes – songs and rhymes contain rhythm and rhyme, skills that help with speech and literacy development.
Feed language in, don’t force it out – comment and expand on your child’s words and sentences, rather than asking them to repeat words. If your child says “car”, respond with “big car” or “yellow car” or “fast car”. This is how children learn words, by hearing new vocabulary and linking it to the items or events they are focusing on. If your child says a word or sentence incorrectly, rather than correct them or ask them to repeat it, just say the word / sentence back to them correctly to show you have understood. This way your child always hears the correct version. This is how children learn language.
When should you be worried?
If you are concerned that your child shows any of the following signs of language delay, Senior recommends consulting a speech therapist.
By 12 months, does not:
• babble with changes in tone
• use gestures
• respond to her/his name
• communicate when s/he needs help
By 15 months, does not:
• understand and respond to words like “no” and “up”
• point to objects or pictures when asked “Where’s the…?”
• point to things of interest as if to say “Look at that!” and then look right at you
By 18 months, does not:
• understand simple commands
• use at least 20 single words
• point to two or three major body parts
By 24 months:
• says fewer than 100 words
• isn’t consistently joining two words together
• doesn’t imitate actions or words
• doesn’t pretend with toys
By 30 months
• says fewer than 300 words
• isn’t using action words like “run”, “eat”, “fall”
• isn’t using some adult grammar
• Cannot be understood by strangers.
If you are concerned that your child presents with any of these signs of language delay it is recommended that you consult a speech therapist. Often children only require a little specific stimulation to encourage language development. Research has found that changes to the developing brain are most easily achieved before the age of three years. Therefore, if you are at all worried about your child’s development, in any area, the earlier you seek support the better.
About Clamber Club
Clamber Club is an extensive and exciting sensory and perceptual motor learning and development program that encourages the joy of movement, play and exercise in babies, toddlers and young children. To learn more about Clamber Club please visit www.clamberclub.com.