One of the first things that people notice about my daughter is her vocabulary. At 2.5 years old, she knows hundreds of words and meets the speech milestones of a 5+ year old.
Some of her speaking ability may be genetic. Her father and I are both very talkative! But I also used tips from experts to build her language skills from birth.
The first three years of a child’s life are crucial to language development. I’ve spent a lot of time since she was born developing her speech through the following methods.
Talking to her and narrating our day
I cannot stress how much I talk to my daughter. For the first three months of her life, I wore her in a sling for most of the day. I took her for walks in the park, did chores with her attached to me, and generally went about my life with her against my chest. Whenever she was awake, I spent a lot of time talking to her.
I would walk around the house and tell her the name of everything. I’d say “here’s our couch, here’s the lights, this is a remote control.” I would describe what I was doing “Mommy is making dinner. We’re having chicken with salsa and rice.”
I don’t think what I was saying mattered as much as how frequently I was talking. I exposed her to thousands of words before she was six months old because I was constantly talking to her.
If I waited for her to hear language when her father and I were home, she wouldn’t have heard much. We are often discussing the same things each night – what needs to get done, what’s on the schedule for tomorrow, and how our days were.
Since I work from home, I rarely see anyone throughout the day. Occasionally, I make phone calls, but those are often me saying “Yes, I can do that. Sure, no problem. OK, thanks, bye.” She wouldn’t get much from those calls either.
Making an effort to talk to her throughout the day exposed her to much more conversation than she would have heard otherwise.
Singing to her and making up rhymes
If I wasn’t talking to her, I was singing to her. I sang kid’s songs, top 40 music, made-up songs, and whatever earworm popped into my head. She would always smile and coo while I was signing so it made me want to keep doing it for her. If she started crying, I would sing and she would usually get quiet and stare at me.
I would make up little tunes for the activities we were doing. I actually did this before I had any children too, it’s one of my annoying or lovable (depends on who you ask!) traits.
I often played music in the house and car for Norah to listen to. Sometimes this was children’s music, but most of the time it was the music that I like.
It’s no surprise that Norah’s quite a little singer today. She also makes up her own songs. One of my favorites goes “It rains on your head, it rains on your shoulders”. She goes through all of the body parts she knows as she sings this song.
Reading to her every day
From a few months old, I took Norah to library every week to borrow children’s books. We would then spend 30 minutes to 1 hour each day reading. This did not include her bedtime routine with daddy where they read 3-5 books.
By 15 months, she was turning pages in books and spending at least 20 minutes a day looking at them. At 2.5, she “reads” her stories to herself for at least an hour per day.
I’ve always spent extra time with each book asking her questions about the story. For example, if a book has a character who loves cake, I’ll ask her if she likes cake, when we usually eat cake, who makes cake, etc.
She also loves the library and looks forward to our weekly trip. She is great at memorizing the lines in stories and knows the authors of her favorite series (Marc Brown, Norman Bridwell, Mo Willems, and Beatrix Potter).
Engage her in conversation
Both Michael and I make it a point to involve Norah in our conversations especially during meals. We talk with each other, but we ask her questions about her day and let her interrupt with questions about what we’re talking about.
Every day during lunch I talk to Norah about what’s coming up later in the week. I tell her if we have any appointments or playdates. I let her know about relatives visiting or things we’re going to do on the weekend.
As she gets older, she is better and better at picking up context from our conversations. She will often know who or what we are talking about after a few minutes of talking. She likes asking “Are you talking about me?”
It may feel silly to try to have a conversation with a small child, but children are little people. They need social interaction and engagement just like adults do. They want to have their thoughts and opinions heard.
There are many ways you can help build your child’s language skills, but the biggest one is being a present parent. If you are interacting with your child throughout the day, you will help their brain build connections. Investing your time and energy into your child’s language development will set them up for success in the future.