In the last twelve weeks, I have received many questions and queries about specific areas of interest for different parents/teachers and Early Years workers. None greater though, than the area of talk! I’m often asked, how can I encourage my child to talk more? This then, aims to give you some ideas about encouraging talk through the way we talk to our children, toys we buy and activities we do together in everyday life. I hope it helps! Remember though, EVERY child is different and develops at different rates! So, try hard not to compare your child to siblings or Johnny next door! I know it’s difficult but we are all unique!
Children learn language from hearing it, and they start this process from birth (or even BEFORE birth, as we know that babies can hear us in the womb.) Children learn language all day, every day; whether it be through every day routine or play. This means that it is a good idea to buy the correct kind of toys and model talk correctly.
I personally feel that the brightly coloured, plastic toys that light up, talk, and play music look inviting to begin with but after twenty minutes, all the possibilities have been exhausted and the child loses interest rapidly. Not only do these toys offer very little in terms of developing the child in any way; the toys ‘do’ a lot on their own rather than allowing our children to do!
Our favourite kind of toys are those that that allow for many open-ended play opportunities and the language opportunities this provides are far greater than the flashing, talking toys.
It goes without saying though that even these open-ended toys can be tossed aside and discarded by their fickle owners! After all, they are young children. This is why I find presenting the toys in different ways; whether it is a small world, role play, activity or game, gives the toys a new lease of life. For example,’ A Builder’s workshop’ gave the construction toys a ‘new toy’ feel for J. At the end of this post, I list the kind of toys which are more open-ended.
HOW CAN WE ENCOURAGE MORE TALK?
· As you make a drink/change a nappy say, “Mummy/Daddy is making some tea/changing your bottom!’ Describe what you are doing as you go along. I have noticed myself, as I’m changing G’s nappy, counting as I remove each leg from her clothes and talk constantly about what I’m doing! There’s never a quiet moment!
· I’ve been writing this post for a few weeks now and I noticed that as I walked around the shop yesterday, I was talking to G constantly! To others, I probably look like I’m talking to myself but G and I know the truth!
· When your baby is playing with a rattle you could say “Wow! You are shaking the rattle very hard! Ooops, you dropped it! Clever girl, you picked it up!’ By doing this, you are modelling language and your baby will pick it all up and store it for later use!
· Nursery Rhymes on REPEAT!! There is no easier way to get children beginning to talk, even if they just kind of babble along to begin with, than sharing a nursery rhyme. Choose a nursery rhyme to start with e.g. ‘Twinkle Twinkle’ and repeat it several times a day for a week. By the end of a week (or two) of the same rhyme on repeat, that rhythm and pattern will be so embedded in your child’s head they will be able to hum/babble or even say a few words of the rhyme. When I thought back to how J began to talk, apart from words like Mama and Dada, it was definitely rhymes and songs that got him babbling/talking. It is the rhythm and pattern that children find so easy to remember.
· Repeat words your child says back to them using/modelling more adult language. By doing this, you are developing your child’s language without directly correcting them e.g. If your child sees a cat and says ‘miaow’ you could say, ‘Yes, I can see the black cat too!’ The last thing you want to do is put them off trying altogether. However, by repeating your child’s words let’s them know that what they said was worth repeating and therefore can encourage your child to say it yet again (either immediately or later.)
· For children who are speaking at least in single words or maybe small sentences, modelling articulation is an important step. You simply repeat back the word he/she said incorrectly, the correct way. For example if your child says, ‘wed’ you can repeat the word back saying, ‘yes, Red’ and over emphasize the ‘r’ sound without saying ‘no it’s red!’ Don’t do this for EVERY word they mispronounce, just when it feels right to do so and in an unforced/natural way. If your child gets upset by it or it puts them off talking, you are doing it too much.
ACTIVITIES TO ENCOURAGE MORE TALK:
· If you already have those flashing/talking/noisy toys and your child enjoys playing with them, maybe you could remove the batteries and see if your child is able to make the noises/sounds themselves! I bet you’ll be surprised to see that they automatically make more sounds when the toy no longer is!
· When playing with your child, like tickling them, playing on the swings, blowing bubbles you can encourage them to talk by suddenly stopping. This gives them an opportunity to ask for more fun! I would steer away from them just saying ‘more’ though as they may limit your child to only ever say ‘more’ for lots of things! ‘More’ for food, ‘more’ for play, ‘more’ for cuddles. It would be more beneficial to encourage them to say ‘swing,’ ‘bubble,’ or ‘apple!’ for example.
· When your child is hungry or thirsty, rather than accepting a point or gesture as a signal they want something, try and wait for them to say, ‘cup’ or ‘snack.’ Obviously, don’t let them starve/thirst but if they are beginning to request things by pointing, just saying ‘cup’ and offering it to them and encouraging them to say ‘cup’ before you hand it over is one way to encourage the odd word.
· Put some of their favourite toys out of reach but in sight, maybe in a transparent box. If they start pointing, model the language you want your child to use e.g. ‘car please’ or ‘I want the car please’ for older children.
OPEN-ENDED TOYS TO ENCOURAGE TALK:
By playing with the following toys, your child will be exposed to and encouraged to use vocabulary related to:
· Prepositions (over/under/next to/in/on)
· Problem solving skills
· Cause and effect
· Social Skills (taking turns and sharing)
· Role play (getting into character)
· Imaginative play (getting into character)
· Body parts/Food/ Household items/Animals names and sounds
· Everyday language
· Verbs (describing what they are doing)
· Following and giving directions and instructions
SO WHAT KIND OF OPEN-ENDED TOYS ARE GOOD?
· Stacking/Nesting Toys
· Wooden Blocks
· Shape Sorter
· Small world toys (people & animals, buildings like farms/castles/ houses etc) These can be home – made too and look far more inviting when they are home-made. See here for ideas.
· Dolls house
· Doctors/Vet set
· Sand/Water Play Table and Toys or large boxes/bowls Really doesn’t need a big, expensive table, boxes are just as good.
· Ride on Toy/Car
· Art and Craft (paints/pencils/crayons/glue/paper/pompoms/glitter/tape etc)
· Play-dough (you can make your own!)
· Construction toys (Lego, Sticklebricks, Wedgits)
There are MANY more items I feel are necessary to have but they aren’t really toys as such!
Things like; tweezers, tongs, pots, pompoms and much more but I will write a post closer to Christmas with the items I think are crucial for Early Years play.