Language development is a magical time when babies learn to communicate with the world around them, make sense of their experiences, and express their thoughts and feelings.
Concerningly, statistics show that over 50% of toddlers entering reception, have below the expected level of language for their age .
This has only worsened since the Covid pandemic.
The importance of language development in early childhood cannot be overstated, as it lays the foundation for an individual’s future - not only in school and education but for the big wider world.
In this article, we will explore games and activities for young children that can play a vital role in shaping a child's language development, along with other developmental areas.
What is Language Development?
Language development starts from birth and continues throughout a child's early years. It is a complex process that involves the acquisition of sounds, words, and sentence structure, as well as body language and expressions.
One of the key aspects of language development is the ability to use language to communicate with others. This includes learning how to express oneself verbally, as well as how to listen and respond to others.
Children who develop strong language skills early on are better equipped to communicate effectively with others, build relationships, and navigate social situations.
Benefits of Language Development
The benefits of language development are numerous and far-reaching. We’ve included a small snippet of examples:
Language development helps to improve memory, attention, and problem-solving skills as well as literacy skills.
Children who can communicate effectively with others are better equipped to build relationships, make friends, and navigate social situations.
Children who can express their thoughts and emotions effectively are better equipped to regulate their emotions, cope with stress, and build resilience.
Activities to Promote Language Development
There are many activities that parents, educators and caregivers can do to promote language development in early childhood. Some of these include:
Reading to children is one of the most effective ways to promote language development. It exposes children to a rich and varied language environment, helps them identify different tones of voice and facial expression, and develops a love of reading.
Storytelling (without a book) can also promote language development, along with creative thought and imagination. The adult and the child could build the story together, the adult starting the story and asking the child ‘What should happen next?’ - this results in having fun together and creating a strong bond.
Talking to children - sounds easy. However, adults tend to talk to children rather than with children. Engage children in conversation, ask them questions, and encourage them to express themselves verbally.
In addition, modelling how to talk in full sentences rather than words will help build a child’s vocabulary, e.g. “Would you like a cup of tea?” has 6 more words than “tea?”
Explaining to children, with enthusiasm and excitement, about what you are doing, and what you can see or hear will support them not only with vocabulary but understanding of the world. E.g. “Wow, look at how the water is pouring out of the watering can. I wonder what will happen if I tip it quickly/slowly? Oh, it’s empty, what shall we do now?”
It may sound as if you are talking to yourself - but someone important is hanging on to your every word and processing everything you are saying.
Singing is another effective way to promote language development. Songs often use repetitive language patterns, which can help children to learn new words and phrases that they will repeat.
No doubt your child sings their favourite song on repeat - and it’s now stuck in your head too. This is a good thing, they are learning so many new words, rhyme, tune etc.
There are a plethora of old and new nursery rhymes and songs available. Many of which are on channels such as YouTube Kids.
Playing with children is also important for language development. Engage children in imaginative play and encourage them to use their language skills to create stories and scenarios.
Games such as ‘I Spy’ is a fun and engaging way to enhance language. In the early years, it may be beneficial to say ‘I spy with my little eye, something that starts with the sound…’ Young children learn sounds before letters.
Scavenger hunts are another great way of promoting language development through play. Scavenger hunts can be for anything - not only searching for things that start with … For example, coloured hunts, textile hunts (spikey, soft, rough etc), bug hunts, numbers, and shapes. The list goes on.
The Role of Parents and Caregivers in Language Development
Parents and caregivers play a crucial role in promoting language development in early childhood. They can do this by providing a rich and varied language environment, engaging children in conversation, and reading to them regularly.
It is also important for parents, educators and caregivers to be responsive to their children's communication needs and to provide support and encouragement as they develop their language skills.
Language development is a process that starts from birth and continues throughout a child's early years. It plays a crucial role in a child's cognitive, social, and emotional development and lays the foundation for future success in school and beyond.
If you are concerned about your child’s language development, please speak to a healthcare provider such as your health visitor or doctor. In addition, childcare and school settings can offer support, as well as many organisations - many of which have a checklist of the child’s developmental stages.