Town Campus Learning Center
Developing Language Skills in Preschoolers
Children develop language skills by hearing, seeing, doing, and repeating. Here are some suggestions for home.
- Read together every day. Talk about the pictures and ask your child to tell you what’s happening. You can ask them to find certain items in on the page (builds receptive vocabulary). You can point to pictures and ask them to label them (builds expressive vocabulary). When reading you can also track the words on the page with your finger to expose them that print goes from left to right. READ, READ, READ!
- Sing simple songs or recite nursery rhymes. Once your child knows a song or a rhyme well, surprise them with funny changes. For example the cow says “oink”. This will make them laugh, but then they can correct it.
- Enjoy music together. Young children love music and movement. When they listen to lively songs, like "Old McDonald Had a Farm," they learn about the world around them and the rhythm of language.
- Make up a story. Be creative and fun and make up or act out common tasks with your child. For example cooking a meal or going to the doctor. You can use puppets, dolls, and toys for props. You can use items not how they are intended as well. For example use a banana as a phone (this builds play skills and flexible thinking). You can record the story and film it like a movie and then they can narrate it back to you.
- Talk about your daily activities. Do this while they are occurring. Talk, talk, talk! Narrate the day as it evolves. For example talking through the steps of making breakfast, “first I get the milk out, then I need a bowl.” You can do this at home, in the car, or in the community. You can also use descriptor words to enhance vocabulary exposure and growth. Describe the sounds, smells, people, colors, etc. that you see. Tell your child, for instance, "Now we're going to take a bath. Can you feel the warm water on your belly? When we dry off, we'll get dressed and take a walk with Daddy."
- Expand on your child’s language. It is important to not talk to your children as if they were toddlers. Avoid using “baby talk” with your child. You can use mature forms of words with preschoolers such as “Santa Claus” instead of “Ho-Ho.” Also try to talk about things in detail to expose them to more vocabulary. For example when asking them, “how is your apple?” and they say, “good.” As a parent you can take this teaching moment and expand on it. You can say, “It looks good. It looks big, round, juicy, and very red.” Also expand on their sentences. For example if they say “toy broke,” you could respond and say, “The toy is broken. It needs a new wheel.”
- Play games with sounds and words. You can clap out syllables in words, find as many objects in the room that start with a certain sound, or play opposite word games such as “soup is hot but ice cream is __.”
- Have fun with letters. You can use foam letters in the bath or magnetic letters on the refrigerator. They can pick a letter and make up words with that letter or practice spelling their name.
- Use television and computers sparingly. Put the phone down and be present. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children younger than 2 not watch television at all, and children 2 and older view no more than two hours of quality programming a day. While some educational programs can be beneficial to kids, TV shows don't interact with or respond to children, which are the two catalysts kids need to learn language. Computer games are interactive, but they aren't responsive to a child's ideas.
- Provide choices. Always give choices during meal and play time when possible to encourage your child to use a gesture/vocalization to communicate his wants/needs. For example if your child points toward the kitchen when he is hungry, give him a choice by holding up his cup and then showing him the milk & juice and asking “Are you thirsty? Do you want milk or juice?”
- Prompting . You can prompt by using sounds, gestures or choices. For example, if you want your child to tell you “more” you can first show him the sign for “more” as a prompt. You can also prompt by saying an initial sound of a word to give your child a boost, for example if you have heard your child previously say “milk” you can say “Mmmmm” as a prompt.
- Waiting/withholding . This is best to do when you know your child already has a word/sign and is not using it. First always give your child time to respond before giving him the desired object/food. He may just need extra time to respond. Or, withhold the child’s desired object/food until he uses the word/sign for it.
- Questioning. Ask open ended questions instead of always yes/no questions. Open ended questions are used to start a conversation with your child. For example “Where is Daddy?” or “What do you want for lunch?” or “Who is coming home soon?” etc. If your child doesn’t answer you can answer for him “Daddy is at work” or “Grandma is coming home soon!”
- Place things out of the child’s reach. Instead of always having your child’s sippy cup on the coffee table, put it within your child’s sight, but out of his reach so he needs to gesture or verbalize that he wants it. You can do the same with favorite toys.
Modeling Articulation Skills in Preschoolers
Children need good articulation models to continue to develop sounds.
- Be a good model. Model good articulation of all speech sounds, but if your child is working on a specific sound, try to emphasis that sound. For example if their sound is F, try to be mindful of that sound in words and model or stress that sound. Model good speech for your child using an understandable rate of speech and audible level of volume. This is particularly important if your child typically uses a very fast rate or low volume which decreases their intelligibility.
- Pick a word of the day. If your child is working on K, pick a word a day that starts with that sound. For example Cat, Kite, Car. In the morning maybe you have K words in a hat and they pick one out and that is your word of the day. You can randomly practice that word throughout the day.
- Do not correct errors. Do not correct their errors or point them out all day long. You may pick 5 minutes a day to practice speech work or a word of the day and that is appropriate, but do not point out or correct their speech all day. This can make a child feel discouraged which could lead to them shutting down or not wanting to talk. This is the opposite of what we want. Conversationally repeat your child’s articulation errors correctly. For example, if your child says, “I hear the darbage truck,” you can repeat their utterance correctly by saying, “Oh, yes! I hear the garbage truck, too
- How to model and correct. If you cannot understand your child’s full utterance, repeat back to them conversationally the part that was intelligible. If your child says, “My brother’s coming down the dreet,” you can respond “Oh, your brother’s coming down the …?” with a rising intonation or “Your brother’s coming down the what?”. This way, your child can attempt to fill in the misunderstood word and also realize that most of their message was successful.
- Positive feedback. Even if they mispronounce a word give positive feedback such as: “Nice try,” “I know it’s hard but you are working so hard,” or “I love the way you are trying.”
- Initial and final sounds. Some children may drop the final or initial sound in a word. If this is true for your child, encourage them to practice putting those sounds in words. For example while playing with a toy farm and the child says, “I have the go (instead of goat).” Say to your child, “you said go, let’s say goat with the T sound at the end.” This makes them aware as well as having them practice saying those final sounds.
Speech and Language Resources:
ASHA How Does Your Child Hear and Talk?
ASHA Activities to Encourage Speech and Language Development
The American Speech-Language Hearing Association offers information representing, on average, the age by which most children speaking one language will be able to do certain things. The website provides a chart of what your child should be able to do and activities to improve those skills.
The Family Education Network shares activities and ideas for preschool-aged children to build learning skills.
Speech and Language Kids Resources, activities and more for parents
- Articulation Station- This app is a comprehensive tool for children with speech sound delays.
- My PlayHome- Dollhouse themed app that is fun and creative.
- Splingo- Offers children a way to learn listening and language skills by playing a fun, interactive game with aliens and spaceships.
Every school has posted learning opportunities for students during the school closure. If your child is not able to access grade level materials due to requiring accommodations or modifications in their Individual Education Plan (IEP) or 504 Plan, please contact Dr. Liz Battaglia to ensure your child has equal access to the general education materials during the closure.