Language Development: Supporting children ages zero to three

Supporting Language Development

They may not sound like they’re speaking any language you’ve ever heard before, but your child is listening to and communicating with you from their very first days. Children are building the foundation of their language skills through their sounds, cries, and gestures and by observing those communicating with them. It is through this observation that they begin to understand language, engagement, and even relationships.

What is Language Development

Language development is the ability to understand and use language and, just as with the other domains we’ve covered, it happens in phases and is interconnected with social-emotional, cognitive, and physical development. It is also the foundation for emerging literacy. Below are what to watch for in your child’s development and easy ways to encourage their growth. Thank you to Lauren Olivas, a Cal State San Bernardino Masters in Child Development student for this vital information.

Language Development in infants and babies

Even the youngest infants actively communicate with their families in an exciting variety of ways, including:

  • Coos
  • Gurgling sounds
  • Babbling
  • Head turns in the direction of a sound
  • Crying in different ways to express different needs or emotions like hunger, tiredness
  • Responding to their own name
  • Beginning to express vowel sounds (ah, eh, oh) and consonant sounds
  • Basic understanding of the word no
  • Using their finger to point at things

Activities to support babies:

  • Cuddle, talk, sing and play every day during caretaking routines like feeding, dressing and bath time
  • Smile and act excited when your baby makes sounds
  • Practice reciprocal play, smile at your baby when they smile, and repeat the sounds they make
  • Copy you baby’s sounds and say simple, clear words back to them
  • Point to new things and name them
  • Name your baby’s emotions
    • Example: if they cry because they’ve been told no and redirected, identify that emotion for them, “you wanted to go there, and I said no. That makes you mad.”

Language Development in Toddlers

You may notice that your child’s language is growing by leaps and bounds as they find new words to communicate their needs and interests. Example of language for 1-3 year olds includes:

  • Ability to respond to simple requests and instructions
  • Uses simple gestures like shaking their head no or waving
  • Tries to copy words they hear
  • Progress from saying individual words, to several single words, to two-to-four word sentences

Activities to Support Toddlers

  • Talk with your child about what you’re doing in detail
  • Use simple phrases and speak clearly
  • Read together every day and have your child turn the pages
  • Let them name what they see in the books you read together
  • Sing songs and repeat nursery rhymes with hand motions you can do together
  • Name everything- body parts, animals, commonly seen things
  • If your child incorrectly identifies something, simply say the word for them and encourage them to repeat it
  • Encourage your child to use words instead of pointing
  • Expand on what your child says or points to with more detail
    • Example: If they point to a car and say “car” or a variation thereof, say “Yes, a car. That’s a big red car.”

Knowing what to watch for and how to engage can make the simplest moments skills-building moments for your little one. Happy conversing!

Other important resources:

What we know about early literacy and language development from Zero to Three

Read this article Little Milestones That Are Secretly A Big Deal for Little Kids” for more “small” milestones.

Learn about Reading is Fundamental for resources for language and literacy skills.

Join Vroom for every day ways to support your child’s development with tips delivered right through their free app.

If you have questions of concerns about your child’s development or behavior, check out Help Me Grow Inland Empire for developmental screening information.

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