Lifestyle / Family

Tasha-Leigh Williams
5 minute read
25 May 2020
9:00 am

8 everyday ways to encourage speech & language in toddlers (1-4 Years)

Tasha-Leigh Williams

Teaching and increasing your child's vocabulary requires patience, consistency and simplicity. Here's how

Learning to read with flash cards

Little M just turned 15 months earlier this week and it’s been amazing and so much fun watching him start to express himself a little more through a recognisable vocabulary. I decided to share my few favourite everyday things that you could do with your little one to encourage development of speech and language. It is simply an opportunity for bonding, and best of all no real prep required. They can be done in your everyday routine, but most importantly, a time to have fun with your little one!

When does speech & language develop?

Language is such an important part of development – It can cause so many frustrations when a child has no idea how to express their needs or when the adult is unable to understand their ways of communication as they get older.

Simple language development starts from birth through baby’s cries, coos, responding to sounds, etc and develops to peekaboo games and eventually first words around 7-12 months. Between 12-18 months first words /phrases with meaning start to emerge, with some bilingual kids starting a bit later. Research however shows that bilingual children do quickly catch up with monolingual children.

I have included a few pointers to look out for a speech and language developmental delay at the end of this post.

Ways to encourage speech & language

Use flash cards

This has been so much fun to do and really simple. Write out simple and complex everyday words that your child uses daily. Use white or yellow paper with clear black marker in order to easily track the words visually. I started my little one off with 4 or five words from about 9 months old.  After breakfast and during playtime, I’d read the words out loud to him and show him.

Around 9-10 months, our little ones usually understand more associations and will try and categorise words and things around them. I associated the written word with the actual object, for example, when reading the word cup, I’d show him his actual cup and give him a chance to respond, even if it was random babbles.

  • Start off with a few words as to not overwhelm them
  • Be consistent with repetitions and soon they’ll catch on

General pointing and encouraging using words to make requests

Using gestures like pointing or waving encourages simple communication as the adult names and describes the object being pointed to or the action being done. Your child will see an action produces an outcome that they may desire (cause an effect).

How would you get your child to start pointing?

  • Follow their lead and interests and model this gesture during songs, reading books and everyday routines, eg, “We’re going outside now” and point to ‘outside’ area.

Action songs

Songs are a great way to teach the rythm and context of language amongst so many other things! With the tunes and words staying the same, and lots of participation and joint attention involved, it is just a matter of time before vocabulary starts to burst forth.

We love taking our favourite songs to encourage first word vocab and body parts (familiarity is key). I’d stop and pause before the next word in the song and M (15months) happily tries to sing the next word. For example, “Twinkle, Twinkle Little…[I pause and he says:]…star!” Encourage participation as much as possible, even if their first tries are babbles of some sort.

Another fun thing is to associate a specific song with cleaning up time or another routine time of day, which gets them going without having to enforce it. This totally works miracles! While cleaning up may be a chore for us, it’s just another challenge for your little one to complete.

Reading books and picture schedules

  • Reading aloud, pointing and describing the objects in the book as well as trying to relate them to your little one’s world are all great aids…and lots of fun. Encourage participation by pausing and allowing your child to respond. Get you little one involved by picking his favourite book, and learning to associate where the books belong. They will start to point to this spot, which provides an opportunity for you to label: ‘bookshelf, books, read, etc’
  • Model actions in the book and get them involved in pretend play using objects from the book.
  • Encourage as much imitation as possible.
  • Engage and capture your child’s imagination by creating your own stories and using your tone.

Introduce signing

This can be a great way to speed up language and communication generally. I chose a handful of signs most commonly used in our day-to-day (including ‘more’, ‘milk’, ‘hungry’, etc) and introduced 2 or 3 signs with lots of repetition. I started around 10 -11 months and even though I became consistent with this, M still caught on (these first years really allow for amazing receptive abilities).  A few weeks later he started signing for his milk feeds.

Signing has lots of benefits – aside from language development, it also encourages fine motor skills, bonding and decreases frustration of not knowing how to communicate their needs when words fail them, even after vocabulary has developed.

If you choose to start baby sign language, be consistent with the signs you choose. Babies are usually able to start learning signing around 6 months of age. Be Realistic with your expectations (consider your child’s readiness and amount of signs you’re teaching, etc). Be patient, consistent and keep it simple.

Tasha-Leigh Williams.



Tasha-Leigh Williams is a registered Occupational Therapist, first time single mom, and micro-blogger sharing her story with the hopes to encourage, educate and inspire. You can follow her on Instagram.





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