Tips and tools for early language development from a speech-language pathologist

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Parents and caregivers play a considerable role in the development of early language skills. There are many things that you can do to help your child increase their language and communication abilities. These strategies can be used with children who have typical or delayed language development.


Your child’s job for the first few years of their life is to play. Learning happens through active play and interacting with others. What can you do to help foster language development? Play with your child!

  • Let your child take the lead. Play with whatever toys they find interesting and let them interact with the toy however they want. Remember, it may not be how you think the toy should be played with. Only after your child has explored the toy should you show them how you would use it.
  • Comment on what your child is doing. Label toys. Use simple verbs to describe what they are doing. Keep it simple. For example, “cow says moo”, “car fast”, “bounce ball”.Child_doing puzzle with mom to improve Speech Language
  • If your child labels a toy or an action, use one to two extra descriptive words to expand on what they said. For example, “car” becomes “big red car”, or “moo” becomes “cow says moo”.
  • Encourage turn-taking. Take turns rolling a ball back and forth, pressing a button on a toy, or pushing a car down a ramp. You can even label the turns (i.e., “my turn, your turn”). This is a precursor to conversation skills.
  • Use symbolic play. A block or rock can become many different things! You can use it to pretend to talk on the phone, drive it around to turn it into a car, brush a doll’s hair with it, or turn it into food for a toy horse.


Take the time to explore different books.

  • Look at the front cover and talk about what you think will happen in the book.
  • Spend time looking at and describing what is happening in the pictures.
  • Say something silly that doesn’t happen in the book and see how your child reacts.
  • Trace your finger over the words to show that you are reading from left to right.
  • Make up your own story based on what you see in the pictures. This can be especially useful if the book is a little long for your child’s attention span.


Doing simple, predictable activities allows your child to learn the routine. Once your child becomes familiar with it, they can fill in the blanks when you pause. Routines include:

  • Singing songs. For example, while singing Old MacDonald, you can pause to see if they fill in the sound the animals make.
    Child and father reading together after seeing a Speech Language Pathologist
  • Play predictable games such as Peek a Boo, or This Little Piggy.
  • Reading books with repetitive phrases. Examples include Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What do you see? By Bill Martin Jr., and Five Little Monkeys by Eileen Christelow. Pause at the last word of the predictable phrase and see if they fill in the blank.





Life gets busy, and it can be hard to find time to work on language development with your child. Cutting out just 5 minutes of your day to get on the floor and play, or read together before bed is all that you need to help foster your child’s language skills.

By: Lisa Beasley

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