Language development not only affects how a child will communicate, but will also support various areas of a child’s development, such as their social skills and literacy skills.
Early language is typically developed through interaction with others and the environment. Parents and guardians play a critical role in the development of their little one’s language in the early years. They are the primary source for learning vocabulary and developing their first words. Childcare educators also play an important role in language development, as children can spend up to 50 hours per week at childcare.
As a childcare educator, what can I do to support a child’s language development?
It can be difficult for childcare educators to know how to best support a child’s language development, especially considering the long waitlists for children to access Speech Pathology services. There are a few things you can do:
Repetition. Remember, that repetition is key as a child must hear a word 4-12 times, in a variety of different contexts, to add it to their vocabulary.
Talk to children as you’re playing, setting up activities, cleaning up, and feeding them. Tell them what you’re doing as you perform each action.
Point out colours, shapes, and descriptors of objects while playing.
Expand on what the child says. For example, if the child says “horse up”, you could say “the horse goes up”, or “the brown horse goes up.”
Repeat what the child says to show that you’ve understood. For example, if a child says “up”, you could say “do you want to go up?”
Ask questions with a choice, such as “do you want the green one or the red one?”
Acknowledge when a child tells you something and show that you understand what they are saying.
Pause after speaking to allow the child to think about their response.
Ideas for activities within childcare centres
We know that it’s difficult to engage children in language activities, or drills, so why not incorporate their practice and development of language in play? A child’s language development can be supported in any setting, and in any activity, by using the techniques mentioned above. The more a child is exposed to language, the easier it is for them to expand their vocabulary. Some examples of activities that could be used at childcare are:
Sand play and sensory trays
Create a sensory tray that’s filled with items that will be enticing for the children to touch. This can encourage the child to talk about what they’re touching, or to simply listen to you describe what you are touching or doing.
Playing with toys of interest to the child
Playing with toys that are chosen by the child will increase their engagement and encourage them to speak and listen. Use the toys to develop certain areas of language, such as colours, verbs, or prepositions (up, down, in, on, next to, etc.). For example, if a child wants to play with a train set, use the train set to teach prepositions by putting the train under a bridge and saying “under the bridge.”
Painting is a great activity for teaching children shapes and colours. You could also ask the child to explain the picture they have painted, and explain your own picture to them.
Story-time is a non-fuss, easy-prep activity for teaching or re-enforcing vocabulary to children. The pictures in the story-books also assist the children in understanding the vocabulary, particularly if they are a visual learner. You can also ask the child what they think is happening in the picture before you read it out, or allow the child to create their own story using the pictures.
Follow the child’s lead and begin a role-play game or finger puppets role-play.
Nursery rhymes and singing
The repetitive nature of rhymes and songs encourages good listening skills and vocabulary development. It can be an engaging way for children to learn new words. Add a visual cue or hand gesture for challenging words to promote the children’s understanding.
Play a guessing game
Describe an object and get the child to guess what it is, and vice versa.
Time to get creative
There are endless activities that can be used to facilitate a child’s language development. Get creative and find ways that work best for each child. If in doubt, follow the child’s lead in their choice of activity to increase their exposure to new vocabulary.
If you’re concerned about a child’s language development, speak to the parents to establish if they have any concerns. Don’t forget to work as a team with the child’s parents. Have a discussion with the parents about what they and you think works best for their child’s language development, and share any useful activities you have both used to support the child’s language development. If you believe a child requires more support in their language development, speak to the parents about referring them to a Speech Pathologist.
For more tips to help with language development to incorporate into your daily routines at home and within care, RSVP to our free webinar in March 2024.
We can all work together to support children in their early language development!