Children are constantly observing, learning, and absorbing information about the world around them. Toddlers start developing speech, language, and cognitive skills within the first few years of their lives and it is important for parents and caregivers to help give them a good start. Even with our stressful work lives and busy schedules, there are plenty of ways we can create opportunities for learning through play and daily interactions. We’ve put together a list of simple activities that are fun for your toddler and will also help set a solid foundation to build on their vocabulary, grammar, and literacy skills!
1. READING ALOUD
Turn off the TV and take out the pacifier, it’s time to pick up a book! Not only book a great way to build vocabulary and teach kids (even toddlers!) about the world around them, evidence also shows that children with more exposure to books before they begin schooling, often develop literacy skills earlier. Using visual aids like toys, puppets and flashcards can make storytime fun and engage. Even using picture books can be incredibly helpful as well by allowing you to talk about what you see in a way your child understands. Create a quiet space free from distractions for reading time and remember to use simple words and phrases when you’re talking to a baby, explaining any new words as their vocabulary grows.
Even before babies can produce language, they can begin to count! Start small by counting the things around you and singing fun counting songs like “The Ants Go Marching” and “One Potato, Two Potatoes”. There are plenty of counting-based development toys that can also help toddlers make a connection between the numbers and the quantity they represent. Letting your child take the lead during play is another great technique to help them count and learn new words. Don’t feel obligated to direct conversations or fill silences and instead take a step back to just observe their play. This gives you the opportunity to offer comments on the things they are already engaged in, so they can hear and learn new words.
The ability to mimic others is not something children develop right away, but they learn to do so quickly as others mimic them. Mirroring their gestures helps them learn to copy your mouth shapes and movements as you speak and make sounds. Try mimicking the next time your toddler laughs or makes a funny face and you will soon find them mimicking back at you. As this skill develops, make basic sounds like “ba”, “da” or “ma” and encourage them to mimic it. Repeat back to them whatever sounds they respond with, even if it’s babbling. Keep the interaction positive and lively by acting like you’re having a conversation – this will encourage them to keep vocalizing and get closer to forming words and speaking! Animal sounds like “Baa”, “Moo” and “Neigh”, while not words, are a great way to help kids learn to associate a sound or word with an object.
4. SINGING & RHYMES
Language is a lot like a song in many ways. You just have to listen to the gurgles and screeches of a baby to know that they sound a lot more like they’re singing than trying to speak. As explained by Sally Goddard Blythe, a neuro-developmental education consultant, “Song is a special type of speech. Lullabies, songs, and rhymes of every culture carry the ‘signature’ melodies and inflections of a mother tongue, preparing a child’s ear, voice, and brain for language.”. Some great songs to start off with are the traditional English classics like Itsy Bitsy Spider and Wheels on the Bus. If English is your second language you could try singing the traditional songs from your native tongue. Sites like YouTube also offer a whole selection of modern nursery rhymes for you to choose from for learning about different things.
5. PUPPETS & PROPS
Using props that mimic real life, like animal figurines and puppets, can help a child develop word associations and confidence in vocalizing. In fact, some children might feel more comfortable interacting with puppets rather than with adults or other children. Using props is a great way to encourage interaction and build their self-esteem. Reading books and singing songs can be done with the aid of puppets and props, making activities fun and interactive. When toddlers are old enough, you can help them make their own puppets and guide them through conversations with their new friends. Socks are a safe and inexpensive way to make hand puppets at home. Simply slip on a sock and form the shape of a mouth with your hand. Finish off the puppet by drawing on facial features with a marker or use stickers.
There is no special training required to give your kids a positive start in life – just time, patience, and dedication. As parents, sometimes we forget how important it is to give our kids time to interact with us in their own way. Speech and language skills don’t develop on their own – they involve an intricate meld of social interaction, observing, listening, playing, and manipulating the objects around you. It is all these elements working together that help develop our skills, and without one, it is often difficult to develop another. This is true not just for children but for adults as well, and the best thing we can do for our kids is to be good role models for the skills and behaviors we want them to learn.
What kind of activities do you and your toddler enjoy doing together? Share your stories in the comments below.