Activities to Boost Language Development: An Age-by-Age Approach (Birth to 5)

The following activities are simple, effective ways to boost your child’s language development from birth to age 5.

Birth to 2 Years

Beginning from birth, talk to your child as much as possible. Read stories, narrate your actions (“Now I’m putting on your socks”), or simply talk to her about your day. The more you expose your child to language, the faster she’ll learn.

You can also use gestures to help convey meaning, such as waving goodbye or pointing. Around age one, toddlers begin using gestures to communicate. When your child begins to do this, supply the words that go along with her gestures. If she waves, for example, say, “Bye-bye!” to help your child make this connection.

When your baby tries to communicate, acknowledge these attempts. Make eye contact, mimic your baby’s sounds, make some kind of verbal response, etc. If your child uses a single word, such as, “Daddy,” expand on this language use (“Where’s Daddy? Daddy’s at work. Do you want to see your Daddy? He’ll be home soon”).

Try to avoid excessive baby talk, and use real words instead. Additionally, signal meaning with tone and inflection, such as raising the pitch of your voice when asking a question.

2 to 4 Years

By age two, your child will likely be able to understand simple questions, follow basic commands, and point to pictures or certain body parts when you name them. Continue talking to your child, avoiding baby talk, and reading books. When you read, ask your child questions about the story and talk about what’s depicted in the pictures.

Your child will enjoy rhymes and songs at this age, and will likely request the same ones repeatedly. Continue helping her develop language by asking yes or no questions, asking questions that require a choice (“Do you want to wear your blue shirt or your red shirt?”), naming objects and talking about what these objects do, etc. Try not to correct your child’s speech; encourage her by responding to the content of what she says instead.

4 to 5 Years

Continue encouraging your child to speak by acknowledging, responding to, and giving your full attention when she starts a conversation.

As you introduce new words to your child, offer a definition or use them in an easily understood context.

Begin giving multi-step directions to your child and encouraging your child to give directions as well. Ask your child questions related to categorizing objects (what doesn’t belong and why), and talk about spatial relationships (first, middle, and last) and opposites (up and down). Supply clues and see if your child can guess the word, or play rhyming games.

As you conduct your daily activities, keep up a steady stream of conversation with your child. At the grocery store, discuss what items you need, what sizes you need, which items your child likes and dislikes, etc. Continue encouraging your child to expand her vocabulary and use language in increasingly complex ways.

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