Child language development happens best in a language-rich environment where you talk to children frequently using a wide vocabulary.

Children learn speech and language through listening, watching, exploring, copying, initiating, responding, playing and interacting with others. By spending time with your child and having a shared focus is very important if you want to help them to develop their speech, language and social skills.

Language and communication is vital in a child’s healthy development.

There are 5 stages of language, with each stage acting as a building block.

Social Communication is paramount in developing communication, building secure relationships from birth and supporting children’s confidence and self esteem. With social bonds secure, Listening and Attentions skills can be developed, enabling the child to concentrate for a period of time and correctly hear sounds. Once this skill is perfected children will be able to gain an understanding of words, following requests and linking words to objects or actions. With a clear understanding of basic language, babble and sounds can be refined into words, and words built into sentences.

Children aged up to 3 years old can sometimes be difficult to understand, this is where the final building block emerges. Speech sound development refers to pronunciation of words, with many children missing sounds in a word such as “nana” for “banana” or replacing sounds such as “boon” for “spoon.” By 3 and a half years old children generally have refined speech sound development and can be understood by strangers, yet this stage of development varies.

Social Communication

Turn taking is vital in developing social communication, children must learn about taking turns to develop conversation skills. At a young age babies can develop this skill whilst babbling in response to hearing an adult’s voice. This can then be extended into play opportunities as the child grows. Blowing bubbles is a great way to teach children about turn taking. Adults should blow some bubbles and wait for the child to request more, through eye contact, using gestures or words. This teaches the child to give responses through communication.

Singing songs together also helps build social communication. Babies and small children can be cradled or sat on your knee, using face to face to develop strong bonds. Older children should be given the opportunity to access plenty of eye contact with an adult, this helps the child to know that the adult is interested in what they have to say and available for the child to interact with.

Listening and Attention

Listening and Attention skills can be developed through sound activities. Young children can be encouraged through a “ready, steady, go” game, using a range of resources such as blocks, balloons, balls. The object of the game is getting the child to listen and wait. The child should hold the toy ready to let it go, the adult then says “ready…steady….”, then pause and let them wait for the adult to say “GO.” This encourages the child’s attention skills through anticipation.

As children get older try group activities especially ones using musical instruments. Children can take it in turns to hide a set of bells behind their back, with a child in the middle having to guess who has the bells by listening to where the sound is coming from. A child’s attention varies but activities should last no longer than two minutes per year of the child’s age; for example a 2 year old can only give full attention for around 4 minutes, whereas a 5 year old could last up to 10 minutes.


Developing understanding in children can be supported through lots of narrative play. In young children adults should use play opportunities to label objects, actions or feelings. This will help children to attach words to their play and routine. Instructions should be kept simple and short for children that are developing their understanding. Games such as “Simon says” help children to follow instructions in play, also developing their expressive language. “Feely bag” games can further develop understanding through talking about the use of objects and where they are used.

Building Language

Strategies such as slowing down speech and adding a word can help children to build vocabulary. Young children will first use single words to communicate with others, moving on to two word utterances. During this period it is important for the adult to model language, speaking clearly and finding opportunities to label objects. Picture books are a great way to teach children single words. Reading stories can be adjusted according to the development of a child. Stories should match a child’s ability; for example a child with only single words should not be encouraged to listen to long sentences in a story, instead just key points such as “dog” or “big cake.”

Speech Sounds

Lack of refined speech sounds can be caused by many factors such as ear infections; however sometimes children can just replace or miss sounds out of a word. Rhyming games can help children to head the difference between sounds, adults can support children in making up silly rhymes such as “the frog goes for a jog”. Clapping out syllables, for example “di-no-saur”, can also help a child to hear and repeat the whole word. Using mirrors to looks at the way our mouths move when saying tricky words can support a child in strengthening mouth muscles.

Parents play a critical role in a child’s language development. Studies have shown that children who are read to and spoken with a great deal during early childhood will have larger vocabularies and better grammar than those who aren’t. Here are some simple ways to nurture your baby’s language development.

  1. Talk, talk, talk.Narrate the day as it evolves. 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.”

2.Read, read, read.It’s never too early to read to your baby. One good predictor of future reading success is the amount of time parents spend reading with their child. Parents can start with simple board books and graduate to picture books and longer stories as their child gets older. Story times at the local library or bookstore can also help a preschooler develop a love of books.

3. 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.

4. Tell stories.Make up elaborate stories with characters, conflict, adventure, and a happy ending. Be sure that the stories fit your child’s interests and aren’t too scary for their liking.

5. Follow your child’s lead.If your little one seems interested in a particular picture in a book, keep talking about it. If they seem intrigued by a boat, show them more boats and talk about them, too. Repeat their babbles back to them, ask questions, and interact with them. You can even try recording your child on a tape recorder and playing it back.

6. Never criticise your child’s articulation or speech patterns.Instead, repeat their statements back to him with the correct pronunciation or word usage. Give your child lots of praise for his efforts.

7. Use television and computers sparingly.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.

8. Treat ear infections thoroughly.Children in group child-care situations are more prone to ear infections, which can put them at risk for hearing loss and, consequently, language delays. If your doctor prescribes an antibiotic to treat an infection, make sure your child takes the correct dosage each day and uses it for the full prescribed time. When your child finishes the prescription, schedule a follow-up visit with your doctor to make sure the infection has cleared.

9. Go on field trips.A trip to the zoo, the aquarium, or a children’s museum will open up a whole new world for your child. As an added bonus, they will want to learn the names of all thosefascinating creatures and fun activities she experienced.

Using everyday activities as a language learning opportunity

Using everyday activities can be a great way to practice and develop speech, language and literacy skills. These activities can also change a mundane event into a pleasurable one. The child may also not realise that you are practicing speech and language skills because the activity will be fun.
Using everyday tasks to promote speech and language is relatively easy, you just have to use your imagination:

Bathtime – Use lots of vocabulary during bath-time, talk to your children, and model the words for them. Introduce vocabulary: Verbs: wash, scrub, rinse, clean, brush, dry, splash, sink, float. Nouns: soup, towel, water, tap, flannel, bath, sink, body parts. Sing songs in the bath.

Cleaning the bedroom – Play “I-spy” to practice initial sound awareness (good for speech and language development).

Talk about what the people on the street are doing (e.g. walking, working, riding etc) to focus on verbs, or name as many different occupations that you can see (driver, policeman, road-worker, shopkeeper etc). These are just simple ways to use everyday opportunities to find entertaining and simple ways to focus on speech and language.

Remember, if you make speech and language sessions into games your child enjoys it more, is more motivated and may not even see it as speech and language practice, but as a game. Children like games and are motivated when it becomes competitive. This means you can create ideal situations away from the table-top activities to work on speech and language. Just use your imagination because almost any daily event can be turned into an educational game.

10 activities to support language development outside

The outdoor environment is a great opportunity to extend and support language development

The outside environment is a great way to develop and encourage language development. Exploring the world around them allows children to learn and practise using a wide vocabulary and develops a range of communication and language skills. Research has shown the regular outside play can support brain development and understanding skills. It is important that children are offered outdoor play at least once a day, to help them run off energy and experience the world outside.

1.Listening walks

Listening walks are a great way to support children with language skills. This activity involves taking children out into the outdoor environment and using their listening skills to see what sounds they can hear. Listening walks can be enhanced by creating some ‘listening ears’ with card for the children to wear. This will help remind them what they are doing and focus their attention. The adult can talk about the different sounds they hear and allow the children to guess what is making the sound.

2.Role play

Imaginative activities enable the children to extend their vocabulary, creating a range of scenarios in the outside environment. Mud kitchens encourage and enhance children’s role play experiences, offering them to use a variety of nouns and verbs to describe what they are doing. Open ended resources allow children to create areas and props to support their language development.

3.Creating dens

Building dens is a great way for to support children with language and communication skills. This encourages children to work as a team to create a den for them to use. Lots of open ended resources such as blankets, cardboard boxes and tunnels provides children with the materials to create a structure, using their problem solving skills to think of different ways to use resource.

4. Bug hotels

Bug hotels offer the opportunity for children to use their investigation skills. Providing tools such as magnifying glasses and clear plastic pots, allows children to explore the environment and the creatures that may live inside. This activity encourages question asking and discussions to happen about what is observed. Adults can support this experience by offering fact books about mini beasts, giving the children something to refer back to.

5. Mark making

Mark making activities in the outdoor environment can offer children a large scale to work on. Paintbrushes in water or chunky chalks can be used on surfaces such as walls or concrete floors to create art work and make marks. These can be easily washed away once the children have finished, offering the opportunity over and over again. Children can extend their language skills by talking about what they are drawing, and how different surfaces impact the marks they make.

6. Experimenting with volume

Volume and pitch of a voice changes dramatically in the outdoor environment. Sound can be adapted indoors, due to factors such as high ceilings or wood flooring, enabling sound to be absorbed or bounce off of objects. When outside sounds can change and volumes seem quieter due to the open environment. Game that experiment with volume such as “what’s the time, Mr Wolf”, can offer children the opportunity to use a range of volumes and observe the effects. Children can practise whispering and shouting to the wolf, to see how far away their voices can be heard.

7. Cup phones

The outside environment is a great opportunity to create cup phones using plastic cups and string. This is an old game that still encourages language today. The environment creates a large area allowing children to move far away from each other and communicate through the cups, learning about how sound travels. This activity supports children with language delay due to shyness, as it enables the children to join in with interaction without the pressure of speaking to someone face to face.

8. Letter treasure hunt

This is an alternative way to create a treasure hunt, yet encourage letter and sound recognition. Print off some letters on A4 paper and display around the garden. The children will be encouraged to find a letter, with each one leading them to find a new letter. Children should be encouraged to sound out the letter whilst looking for it. It is a great idea to display the letter in an area that matches the letter, such as the letter ‘S’ being displayed on the slide.

9. Writing materials

Offering writing materials outside is a great way for the children to note down their feelings and thoughts. They can draw pictures of things they have observed in the environment or use crayons and paper to make rubbing of different texture or materials. This is turn encourages them to comment on what they are doing and interact with nature.

10. Races

Allowing children to take part in races by either running or using bikes, can support their understanding and language skills. Children will learn vocabulary such as slow, fact, stop and go. Using traffic signs and symbols can extend children’s knowledge of their environment, whilst supporting them to use words learnt in context.

Please check out for more activity ideas.