Language learning comes naturally, and children are born with all they require to develop their language skills. Therefore, as long as we expose children to language in early childhood, they will learn to speak. Furthermore, we also know that they quickly soak up words for communication and language development early. I am sure you recall a time your toddler or preschooler repeated something you said, and you wished they hadn't?
Even though language development in children begins at birth and occurs naturally, it does not mean that we, as parents, can not enrich their language learning and development environments.
Our role is to interact, listen, read, sing, talk, and play with them to build communication and language skills. By making eye contact, speaking directly and clearly, introducing and repeating new words, and using complete sentences, we model and encourage strong communication skills.
The Importance Of Language Development
The importance of language development in early childhood is vital to a child's social-emotional development as well as brain and cognitive development. Language and communication skills are an essential developmental task and support overall growth in your child's early years.
Our language skills determine how we communicate, relate to others, and experience life. Envision a world where you could not learn, express yourself, build relationships, or communicate your needs and wants. Admittedly, that is not what we want for our children.
Furthermore, as your child begins to watch, listen, and explore the world around them, they learn how to express their ideas and emotions.
Play And Language Development
Ah! Play, is it really that important to language development in preschoolers and toddlers? The answer is YES! If you have been around Discovery Building Sets much, you will see that we believe all children need more time to play (adults too!)
So, how do you encourage language development in toddlers and preschoolers? Language development through play, includes reading, singing, talking, playing games, block play, and more.
How To Include Language Learning Into Daily Play:
- Create a space for language activities to occur naturally—a welcoming environment where children can explore, play together, and play on their own.
- Provide open-ended materials, like arts and crafts, playdough, pretend play, and block play area props. The larger the variety of materials offered increases the exploration opportunities. Just look around the house, and you will be amazed at what kids can use to play. Through play, your child can ask questions, increase vocabulary, and you can model language, boosting their language skills.
- Build on what interests your child. As an illustration, if your child is curious about penguins, read books about penguins. Talk and sing songs about them. Enjoy other activities like a field trip to the aquarium or zoo to see the penguins. Use these opportunities to develop language skills and increase their vocabulary all through play and exploration.
This is not a time for worksheets and memorization, but instead, let them wonder and ask questions. Then together, find the answers.
What To Remember When Incorporating Language Activities For Preschoolers Into Play:
- Actively listen to your child.
- Talk, talk, and talk some more about what you are doing throughout the day. For example, "Let's go have some breakfast. After breakfast, we can get dressed and go to the park."
- Gently correct mistakes by repeating the sentence back with the proper word usage and pronunciation.
- Encourage and praise proper language and communication skills.
- Repeat new words to develop vocabulary.
- Ask open-ended questions that require more than one-word answers. Such as asking, "What are you doing?" will provide a more extended response than "Are you playing with your blocks?"
- Use follow up questions for more details. For example, if your child said "blocks" to the above question, you could ask, "What are you building with your blocks?"
- Model more elaborate sentences and phrases. For instance, if your child answered "house," you could respond with, "Oh, you are building a house with your blocks." You could further the conversation by asking more questions like, "Why are you building a house?" or "Who will live in the house?"
- Keep screen time to a minimum. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends, "For children 2-5 years, limit screen use to one hour a day of high-quality programming and co-view with children."
Language Activities For Preschoolers
When deciding what language activities for preschoolers to provide, remember the focus is on encouraging your child's verbal development. Create opportunities to engage in group games that foster conversation. Build language skills for preschoolers with listening activities. Try recording your child talking with you and play it back. They love to hear themselves!
Each of these preschool language development activities is simple, playful, and fun! While also building your child's language and confidence.
Who doesn't love a good story? Well, storytelling is also one of the best language development activities for preschoolers. There are several methods to create storytelling activities, but they all follow the same principle. Get your child talking by encouraging them to tell or retell stories.
Create A Story Basket Or Bag
Again, there are multiple ways to build a storytelling basket, bag, box, or bin. Ideally, you want to collect things from around the house based on a theme that will inspire a story. It can be any combination of loose parts and characters, either based on a book you are reading or not.
For example, you may have spent the day at the beach previously, and you want your child to tell a story about that day. You could include a small bottle of sand, shells, small pieces of fabric, little paper umbrellas, tiny pretend food, and small figurines.
Now open the top of the container and encourage your child to tell a story with the objects. You could create a little rhyme to use each time, like, "What story will we tell today?" "Open the top and see who has come to play!"
You may also want to have available paper, crayons, markers, or colored pencils to expand the story potential with a background or landscape.
Use Photos Or Wordless Picture Books
In this method, you use wordless picture books or photos to prompt storytelling. Try some of these variations based on your child's language skills.
- If your child is not yet using their expressive language skills, you can have them point out items in the book or pictures as you tell the story. Connecting the story they hear with the photographs is helpful if your child is not yet talking.
- If your child has some expressive language ability, they can start by describing what they see in the photos or books. For example, "What is the character doing?"
- Finally, if your child has well developed expressive language skills, you could ask them to describe not only "What the character is doing," but also "What they are thinking?"
Tell Your Child Stories
Create stories based on your child's interests with characters, adventure, and a happily ever after ending. Make it playful, maybe something from your childhood, or entirely make-believe.
We had a camping tradition when our kids were small. When it was time to quiet down for the night, dad would tell them a story. They got to choose the subject of the story, and he would make it up on the fly. Sometimes they would chime in and build on the plot, but mostly, they just loved to listen. Why not create a storytelling tradition of your own?
Block play is one of those activities that is easy to add to your daily routine and fosters communication and early language development. Have you ever noticed how the block play area is a magical place for toddlers and preschoolers?
When playing with wooden building blocks, your child learns new words that describe the block's colors, shapes, and sizes. Or perhaps they might name the parts of their fort or tower, like the "window," "door," or "gate."
Furthermore, block play inspires imaginative play, and this is where communication and language skills really develop. Pretend, or fantasy play invites dramatic adventures and storytelling. Preschoolers love to narrate what they are doing. As their story develops, so does their language and communication skills.
Also, building with blocks provides opportunities for social interaction. This time is when children learn to interact with others, communicate, figure out how things work, collaborate, and work through their problems. During block activities, you can engage with your child by asking interesting questions about what they are building.
Building sets and blocks for toddlers are available in various materials, shapes, sizes, and colors. So, select one that is age-appropriate and sparks your child's interests.
What child doesn't love a good rhyming or silly song? They love to sing, dance, and move to the music. So, what better way than to develop language skills with music. By memorizing and repeating the words, they build vocabulary and thereby develop their language skills.
A win-win way to engage them is while driving in a car. Put on a favorite CD and together sing some silly songs and rhymes. This might even make them forget the age-old question, "Are we there yet?"
Sing Songs Or Rhymes Like One Of These:
- "Humpty Dumpty"
- "Old McDonald Had A Farm"
- "Wheels On The Bus"
- "Itsy Bitsy Spider"
- "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star" (my niece's favorite)
- "Row, Row Row Your Boat"
- "5 Little Monkeys Jumping On The Bed"
Engage In One Of These Favorite Musical Circle Games
- "Here We Go Round The Mulberry Bush"
- "Ring Around The Rosie"
- "The Farmer In The Dell"
As a bonus, use instruments purchased or homemade (pots and pans with wooden spoons) to play along.
Arts & Crafts, Painting, And Playdough
These open-ended materials are wonderful for vocabulary building and conversation-starting preschool language development activities. They can describe what they are making. Or express their feelings about the picture they painted.
Language Development Games
Games, like board games, card games, or outdoor games, encourage social interaction and build vocabulary related to the game. You will want to be sure the game is age-appropriate, and your child has the vocabulary necessary to enjoy playing the game.
Describe Me Bags
This activity focuses on getting your child to describe things.
- You need some type of bag (cloth works well) to place the objects so they can not be seen.
- Next, collect everyday items from around the house, such as a crayon, a small magnetic wooden block, a spoon, and more. Place all the pieces into the bag.
- Lastly, your child is going to put their hand into the bag, feel one of the items without looking, and then describe it to you until you can guess what it is.
Sensory activities are about getting your child to use all of their senses—while building receptive and expressive language skills. Look for items with a variety of textures and sizes like magnetic blocks, pasta, corks, pebbles, buttons, and so on. You can also use things like finger-paints, shaving cream or dried beans, rice, or oats.
Focus On These Activities For Language Development In Preschoolers
- Ask Questions - Such as, "What color is the square block?"
- Follow Directions - For instance, "Bang two blocks together."
- Inference - For example, "If we mix red and yellow playdough, what will we get?"
- Expand Vocabulary (plurals, verbs, prepositions, and adjectives) - For instance, "Roll the yellow playdough into a ball and put it on top of the blue."
Use Their Senses To Introduce New Vocabulary Words
- Sight - colorful, shiny, dull
- Smell - smelly, fishy, fruity
- Sound - loud, whisper, scratchy
- Taste - sweet, salty, sour
- Touch - bumpy, sticky, slimy
A sand play area is terrific for sensory activities or constructive play that includes digging, building, and playing.
Receptive Language Activities
Receptive language skills are the ability to comprehend words, sentences, what is read, and what others say. Typically developed first, these skills are essential for successful communication. Without the ability to hear and understand language, it is difficult for a child to learn, express themselves, or to build relationships.
Explore the receptive language activities for preschoolers to develop your child's receptive language skills.
Play Every Day
Language learning should be fun! It is something that can easily be included in your everyday play and activities. During play, it is simple to use and model position words such as "over," "under," "top," or "bottom." Or action words like "hopping," "running," "swinging," or "jumping."
Let your child lead, be creative, and encourage their imagination and creativity while playing.
Read, Read, And Read Some More!
Do you see a common theme here? It is never too early to begin reading to your child. Reading is crucial to their language development, including both receptive communication skills and expressive communication skills.
In this case, we are focusing on receptive language activities. While reading, expand their vocabulary by pointing to and labeling pictures in the book. Encourage them to find and identify things. Recap what is happening in the story. Ask questions about the main parts of the adventure to boost comprehension.
Furthermore, you can encourage a love of books by reading daily. Start simple with picture books and graduate to longer ones as the child's language skills develop. Visit the library or bookstore for storytimes to foster a lifelong love of reading.
Puzzles are another fantastic way to focus on receptive language skills. The aim is to engage in conversation while putting together the puzzle. For example, have your preschooler or toddler find a specific piece. You can ask, "Find the duck." and "What sound does the duck make?" If the puzzle is about animals on the farm, you can talk about "What else do you find on the farm?" Keep the conversation going as long as your child is engaged and enjoying themselves!
Scavenger hunts of any kind are brilliant for building language skills as well as gross motor development. Just think about all the running around and finding things the kids do. What a blast!
However, to focus on the language development aspects, let's create a list and hunt for the items. It is easy to incorporate this into another activity like cooking, painting, or gardening. Let's say you want to bake cookies. You create the list (include pictures) for your preschooler to "shop" for the items around the house.
Help them complete the list with questions or directions, such as "Where do we keep the butter?" or "You can find the flour in the pantry." Follow up by baking the cookies together, which further develops their expressive language skills.
Games That Stimulate Language Development
Activities and games that target active listening and following directions are perfect for receptive language development. These skills are vital to building effective communication.
Do you remember any of these classics?
- Simon Says
- Red Light, Green Light
- Follow The Leader
For more games and activities to build communication skills, see this post on Social Activities For Toddlers And Preschoolers.
Expressive Language Activities
Expressive language skills are the ability to use gestures, words, sentences, and signs to express meaning to others. Therefore, the following expressive language activities for preschoolers support expressive language development.
When engaging your child's expressive language skills through block play or activities, it helps to remember the following tips:
- Engage in conversation.
- Ask open-ended questions.
- Talk about what you are doing.
- Have your child narrate their actions.
- Use language to take turns, request items, and give instructions.
Read, Read And Still Read More!
We previously discussed receptive language activities for preschoolers; however, here, we will focus on expressive language activities.
Books are amazing! They provide so many ways to explore and develop language skills. As we said earlier, it is never too early to start reading to your child.
Read age-appropriate books and ask lots of open-end questions. Questions that require them to respond with more than one word. For instance, "How do you think she is feeling?" "What do you think the dog will do next?" or "Tell me what is going on in this picture?" All of these questions will require your child to process the question and then use their words to express the answer.
Picture books are excellent for introducing younger toddlers to expressive language skills. In this case, your questions can be more direct, like "What color is this?" and "What is this?" These will be one-word answers which are age-appropriate. You can help model language by expanding on your child's responses and reply, "Yes, that is a whale. He is a blue whale."
Select books that relate to your child's interests. For example, looking at a book about the ocean presents various vocabulary words associated with the sea. Encourage your child to identify and name items in the pictures.
Pretend play, fantasy play, or imaginative play are like language development on steroids. Children tend to focus and develop more complex, expressive language skills during this time. There is so much language flying around that it is like being in the front row seat of the theater. We wrote a post on the benefits of imaginative play that you can read.
Pretend play is magical and requires your child to use their creativity. Encourage your child to elaborate their storytelling by asking questions such as "Where should we go?" "Who would you like to come with us?" and "What shall we take with us?"
These open-ended questions help build the sequence of events and storyline, helping your child develop language skills and confidence. Most important, be a part of the fantasy play and language learning experience.
Use These Ideas To Boost Your Child's Imaginative Play:
- Dress up and have a tea party.
- Set up a pretend kitchen and cook something delicious.
- Build a make-believe hospital and take care of their dolls or stuffed animals.
- Create a corner store and go "shopping."
- Play "house," "go to a party," or "get married."
- Assemble a racetrack for their cars.
- Construct a repair shop for their toy cars.
Additional Ways To Expand Your Symbolic Play And Language Development:
Collect old shoes, hats, and accessories from garage sales, thrift stores, or party stores. Add former Halloween costumes when the event is finished. Dress up is such a fun way to increase their vocabulary and language skills.
It can't be repeated too often, engage in conversation, and ask those questions. Talk about "Who are we going to be?" "What are we going to wear?" and "Where will go once we are dressed up?" Be part of the fun and dress up!
Add A Telephone
This is something every toddler and preschooler should have in their play area. Even the quietest child will engage in conversation with a pretend phone.
Adding props, like dolls, cars, trains, toy animals, play food, and other household items to both your pretend play and block play areas, adds additional vocabulary and language opportunities.
Puppets are a playful way to interact and create dialog. Children love playing with puppets and creating a show for the family. They can recreate a favorite story or ultimately make up a new one. The possibilities are endless.
Furthermore, puppets are a way for children to feel comfortable expressing themselves. Your child can speak through the puppet or even have a conversation between two puppets.
Remember the scavenger hunt previously where you "shopped" for the cookie baking items? Well, here is where you can continue that activity focusing on expressive language development through the sequence of events. In this activity, you both will describe the recipe ingredients and steps.
Begin by looking over and reviewing the ingredients they collected. Read through the recipe, talking about each of the steps. Next, have them describe what you are doing, or what they are doing, what you have done, and what they think comes next. Continue the dialog throughout the process by asking them, "What do I need to do next?"
Whether you tell stories, sing, or build a repair shop with magnetic blocks, you want to get your kids engaged in conversation and using their language skills. Simple but powerful things like puzzles, games, or pretend play, all increase your child's language development.
Which language activities for preschoolers will you try next?