Your child hears their first sounds in the womb, which means that even before they are born into the world, they have begun to develop their communication and language skills. Progress is made through planned developmental opportunities and as a product of everyday life activities. Juggling the busy every day and portioning time to actively create learning opportunities for your child (or children) can be a handful.
This parents’ guide explains the typical timeline for communication milestones, and gives you easy activities to develop your child’s communication, interaction, and language skills.
Why is parental interaction important at home?
Language development is shaped by interactions at nursery and home. Discussions, reading opportunities, and encouraging curiosity when they interact with the world all are key factors in creating a learning-rich environment.
The largest influencer in creating such an environment is the level of interactions from a caregiver. Studies have found, if parents are warm and nurturing when encouraging their child to ask questions, fostering a curious approach to the world around them, the child’s future school achievements can be dramatically increased. The quality and regularity of these interactions are key for developing their vocabulary understanding, and ultimately conversational skills.
What are the benefits to increased parental interaction at home?
There are commonly two conscious drivers for parents to go ‘above and beyond’ when organising additional interaction time with their children at home:
The benefits of purposeful engagement with your child, specific to their developmental stage, are infinite. You will be increasing their vocabulary knowledge and understanding, modelling effective social skills, alongside giving them practical experience to help them anchor down the meanings of words. Purposeful interactions with caregivers ultimately lead to better life, employment, and friendship outcomes.
The key pillars to successful home engagement
There are endless learning opportunities available through daily routines.Positive engagement doesn’t necessarily mean grand trips out and new, often costly, environments. The most effective interaction activities incorporate the 3 pillars:
This can be from birth and further evolve into reciprocal discussions and conversations with your child- the weather, food, slugs – whether slugs are food? All discussions are important and are slowly building your child’s vocabulary skills, language, and even understanding of healthy eating habits!
Involving play with both adults and peers helps to develop a host of personal, social, and emotional skills as well as progressing an understanding of learning-to-learn skills (executive functioning).
Engagement with books and other stimuli to promote language-rich discussions are vital in the understanding of vocabulary. Children who are read to regularly have a more developed imagination, and are likely to engage in a variety of make-believe games with peers.
What to do and when to do it: activities to help their progression
So, how do we know what is ‘enough’ when engaging with our children? We don’t want our home lives to become a formal classroom, right?
The truth is, for your child to reach their full early learning potential, they need a strong foundation. Your discussions at home should be an extension of their learning in their nursery settings. Talk, play and talk some more!
We have broken down the expected developmental milestones for chat, play and reading from birth to 5 years, to guide you from the beginning all the way through to school-starting age. It is worth remembering that we all learn at different rates and fostering a curiosity for discussion and learning is the best skill with which you can equip your child.
At this age you can expect your child to begin to make pre-speech lip and tongue movements. They are able to appear to focus on large objects and they show a preference to look at human faces.
Lots of face-to-face copying with your tongue out and even try making lip noises and sounds to tie visual and auditory information together. Although you think they might not hear you- talk constantly, with changes of intonation and facial expressions.
During this developmental stage, your child will begin to find their voice as well as giving clues of which interactions they find enjoyable and possibly those they might not! Your child will be figuring out their senses- touch, taste, smell, sight, and sound.
To build on those senses being developed, tactile and sensory play is great to start at this age. Try building in opportunities for different textures with toys, and even massages for tactile movement. At this stage try a tuneful, sing-song voice to gain their attention and mimic the noises they make. Songs with plenty of repetition are perfect here- guaranteed to be stuck in your head indefinitely! Find 60-minutes of nursery rhymes here.
Your child may now know their name as well as show a range of emotions. They will be beginning to strengthen their likes and dislikes, demonstrating this with acceptance or rejection of interaction experiences. This is the dawn of the babbler!
Keep introducing them to a range of experiences to involve their senses. Visits to new environments like the forest, the beach or experiencing sounds from these settings are all beneficial for the expansion of their world. Supervised messy play is a great addition to their experiences at this stage: check out this Oobleck recipe here!
Routines are now beginning to be understood, not necessarily accepted! Your child will be able to respond to conversations through reciprocal and repetitive babble. They may have a favourite song which is on constant replay, and engage with actions which are predictably frequent throughout the song.
Songs with actions are perfect to be included regularly in their daily routine, with predictable and simple movements such as clapping to engage their developing understanding of senses as well as their own body movements. Now is also a perfect time to introduce actions to simple words, waving bye-bye. Find a 10-minute medley of nursery rhymes with actions here.
Now your child is beginning to follow gestures for attention; “Look, there’s a bird!” They are able to show an interest in object play, not yet knowing their functions. Playing games may be able to involve give-and-take aspects. Commonly, this may be the time where your child’s babbling becomes their first words.
When you are reading regularly with your child, now is a perfect time to start letting them begin to develop their motor skills. For example, encourage them to turn the page when reading a book. For their language development, name objects when they point to them. This works to secure object-word meaning.
At this stage your child will know roughly 50 words with 20 of them spoken. This is the time where they will begin to use sounds for meanings: moo, woof, brum. They may begin to combine simple words to make short phrases: woof gone.
Picture books can stimulate fantastic vocabulary development at this age. Highlighting the objects in simple picture books is an excellent way to grow their vocabulary. Repetition of these books are key for sending this important information to their long-term memory.
The jump in language understanding is large from the previous age bracket, as here your child will know roughly 200-500 words as well as understand the functions of objects. They may be able to expand their understanding of words to include basic descriptions: big dog. Events that will happen in the near future can be understood, and distinguished emotions and feelings are demonstrated.
Further development of their understanding of routines can be introduced here, picture examples of bedtime routines and structures of the day may help some children to feel settled. Your child’s favourite songs can be extended to tapping out the beats, developing body percussion skills. Try to talk through your child’s feelings and emotions when you notice a display of them, see more advice here.
Your child will now demonstrate narrative skills, showing make-believe imagination and curiosity for play. When reading their favourite books, they may be able to predict the ending, joining in with the story. Reverse- role play is common at this age, where you may be given strict instructions on how to play the game- properly!
Join in with their play and try to foster curiosity-based interactions. You can find more information on how to encourage loose parts play here. Allow for creativity in all activities, with minimal guidance a stick can become a wand, a rock a dangerous beast, and a piece of material a magic cape. Continue to name the objects they play with, encouraging a language-rich environment.
Your child will now understand past, present, and future tense, looking forward to future events- birthday parties, visits to friends or family, and Christmas of course! There will be more peer interactions present where they may begin to choose their own friendship choices and play mates, and show a clear preference for specific activities and interests.
As most speech sounds may be clear at this age, you will be able to progress to simple reading books. Focus on vocabulary discussions higher than their reading level. Continue to discuss the objects, storylines, characters’ feelings, predictions, and then encourage your child to channel this into a game or creative activity.
The early years are a magical time for development. Enjoy engaging your child in as many new experiences as possible!
If you have any concerns about your child’s progression rate, speak to your nursery staff for further support and advice.