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Techniques For Encouraging Verbal Skills At Different Age Levels

There is much that you as a caregiver can do to promote speech and language development. What follows are activities suited for young children of various ages that help maximize verbal development.

Birth to 2 Years

  • Encourage babies to make vowel-like and consonant-vowel combination   sounds such as "ma," "da," and    "ba."
  • Reinforce the child's attempts by maintaining eye contact, responding    with speech, and imitating vocalizations using different    patterns and emphasis. For example, raise the pitch of your    voice to indicate a question.
  • Imitate baby's laughter and facial    expressions.
  • Teach the infant to imitate your actions, including clapping    you hands, throwing kisses, and playing finger games such as    pat-a-cake, peek-a-boo, and the itsy-bitsy-spider.
  • Talk as you bathe, feed, and dress the baby. Talk about    what you are doing, where you are going, what you will do when    you arrive, and who and what you will see.
  • Talk as you bathe, feed, and dress your baby. Talk about    what you are doing, where you are going, what you will do when    you arrive, and who and what you will see.
  • Identify colors.
  • Count items.
  • Use gestures (such as waving goodbye) to help convey    meaning.
  • Introduce animal sounds to associate a sound with a    specific meaning: "The kitty says meow."
  • Acknowledge the child's attempt to communicate.
  • Expand on single words the baby uses by using them in simple sentences. "Yes, your mama loves you." "Where is baby? Here is baby."
  • Read to the child. Sometimes "reading" is simply    describing the pictures in a book without following the written    words. Choose books that are sturdy and have large colorful    pictures that are not too detailed. Ask the child questions like,    "What's this?" and encourage naming and pointing to familiar objects in the book.

2 to 4 Years

  • Use good speech that is clear and simple for the child to    model.
  • Repeat what the child says to indicate that you understand.    Build and expand on what was said. "Want juice? I have    juice. I have apple juice. Do you want apple juice?"
  • Use baby talk only if needed to convey the message and when    accompanied by the adult word. "It is time for din-din. We    will have dinner now."
  • Make a scrapbook of favorite or familiar things by cutting    out pictures. Group them into categories, such as things to    ride on, things to eat, things for dessert, fruits, things to    play with. Create silly pictures by mixing and matching    pictures. Glue a picture of a dog behind the wheel of a car.    Talk about what is wrong with the picture and ways to    "fix" it. Count items pictured in the book.
  • Help the child understand and ask questions. Play the    yes-no game. Ask questions such as "Are you a boy?"    "Are you Mary?" "Can a dog fly?" Encourage the child to make up questions and try to fool you.
  • Ask questions that require a choice. "Do you want an    apple or an orange?" "Do you want to color this red or    blue?"
  • Expand vocabulary. Name body parts, and identify what you    do with them. "This is my nose. I can smell flowers,    brownies, popcorn, and soap."
  • Sing simple songs and recite nursery rhymes to show the    rhythm and pattern of speech.
  • Place familiar objects in a container. Have the child    remove the object and tell you what it is called and how to use    it. "This is my ball. I bounce it. I play with    it."
  • Use photographs of familiar people and places, and retell    what happened or make up a new story.

4 to 6 Years

  • When the child starts a conversation, give your full    attention whenever possible.
  • Make sure that you have the child's attention before    you speak.
  • Acknowledge, encourage, and praise all attempts to speak.    Show that you understand the word or phrase by fulfilling the    request, if appropriate.
  • Pause after speaking. This gives the child a chance to    continue the conversation.
  • Continue to build vocabulary. Introduce a new word and    offer its definition, or use it in a context that is easily    understood. This may be done in an exaggerated, humorous    manner. "I think I will drive the vehicle to the store. I    am too tired to walk."
  • Talk about spatial relationships (first, middle, and last;    right and left) and opposites (up and down; on and off).
  • Offer a description or clues, and have the child identify    what you are describing: "We use it to sweep the    floor" (a broom). "It is cold, sweet, and good for    dessert. I like strawberry" (ice cream).
  • Work on forming and explaining categories. Identify the    thing that does not belong in a group of similar objects:    "A shoe does not belong with an apple and an orange    because you can't eat it; it is not round; it is not a    fruit."
  • Help the child follow two- and three-step directions:    "Go to your desk, and bring me your book."
  • Encourage the child to give directions. Follow his or her    directions as he or she explains how to build a tower of    blocks.
  • Play games with the child such as "house."    Exchange roles, with you pretending to be the    child. Talk about the different things adults and children do.
  • The television also can serve as a valuable tool. Talk    about what the child is watching. Have him or her guess what    might happen next. Talk about the characters. Are they happy or    sad? Ask the child to tell you what has happened in the story.    Act out scenes and/or make up a different ending.
  • Take advantage of daily activities. For example, at lunch, encourage the child to name the utensils needed.    Discuss the foods on the menu, their color, texture, and taste.    Where does the food come from? Which foods do you like? Which    do you dislike? Who will clean up? Emphasize the use of    prepositions by asking him or her to put the napkin on the    table, in your lap, or under the spoon. Identify who the napkin    belongs to: "It is my napkin." "It is yours." "It is John's."

You're certain to create many of your own activities to further children's verbal skills. The key is to keep talking, asking questions, listening and providing information. The greater the interactivity between you and the children, the faster and better they will develop.

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