May 17, 2023

How to create a language rich environment for young children

Jane Magnani
Jane Magnani
How to create a language rich environment for young children

Creating a rich language environment for growing children

Every child is different. As a parent, you’ll hear this phrase endlessly. And it’s true! Regarding speech and language skills, although most children develop effortlessly, they grow all at different rates, and some may need extra support.

The first few years of a child’s life, and the communication environment they develop in, are critical for later success in school.

When language and communication skills are lacking at an early age, children may struggle to keep up with their peers in literacy and other academic subjects throughout their primary school education.


The first 1,001 days of life

As odd as it may seem, you should talk to your beautifully growing bump as much as possible. Communication genuinely does start in the womb. Parents and carers who communicate with their unborn child at the antenatal stage can make a big difference in the way their baby is developing.

Whether you choose to sing, share your thoughts on the day or fill your unborn child in on the wonders of life on the outside, your baby is learning to differentiate the sound of your voice and the world around them.

Once your baby is born, they will begin to communicate themselves. Crying to attract attention and get exactly what they need. Parents soon learn that their baby has different crying tones for different purposes. And before long, they are experts at differentiating these cries to figure out whether their little one is hungry, uncomfortable, or in pain.


Response and reciprocation

Language is formed by a back and forth of communication, response, and reciprocation. As adults, we respond to our babies by talking to them and meeting their needs, gently introducing them to language and how it can be used.

Babies then reciprocate with eye contact, gestures, and sounds. They are communicators at a very early age, beginning to participate in conversations.

Through watching, listening, and participating, young children subconsciously learn that when adults hold conversations, they take it in turns to speak.

As babies get older, they begin to cleverly recognise this pattern of turn-taking and understand how intonation, pitch, speed, volume, and body language all play a part in how you express your thoughts and feelings. 

Parent and baby

Parent and baby

Babbu’s top tips for creating a rich language environment

Talk to your baby

Babies simply love to hear their parent's and carers' voices. When your baby hears your voice, they learn to differentiate the most important people in their life and understand the world around them. You can help by:

  • Ensuring your tone is always happy or soothing.

  • Adding more emotion to your speech.

  • Changing the tone of your voice - using high pitch sounds, elongating vowel sounds, or speaking more slowly to allow your baby to tune into what you are saying and give you their full attention.


Follow their lead

Follow your baby's lead and encourage them to hold a conversation with you by repeating their vocalisations and mirroring their movements. This will help them learn the concept of turn-taking and know that you are listening to what they have to say – reinforcing that their words and sounds are important. By following their lead and encouraging your child's language, you are creating a stimulating environment for your little one. You can try: 

  • Give your baby time to make links and respond.

  • Constantly giving specific praise e.g. "Wow, what lovely talking, well done" or "You have so much to say today!"

  • By praising your baby, no matter how small their sounds or vocalisations, you are allowing them to become confident learners.


Sing Nursery rhymes

Nursery rhymes can have a powerful influence on your baby's development; the repetition of words, sounds, and rhythm is very good for the brain.

You are teaching your child how language works and supporting the development of memory skills. Brush up on the lyrics, and you’ll find it is fun for baby and you too!


Prompt, model, and describe

Throughout the early years, parents and carers can support their baby's attempts at sounds and words through prompting and repeating, modelling, using appropriate language, providing keywords, extending the baby's contributions, and offering them back in enhanced full sentences.

As they get older, your baby will gain more control over the muscles in their mouth, tongue, throat, lips, and pharynx. The speech begins with vowel sounds, moving to babbling, gurgling, and imitating language.

You will build their vocabulary and introduce them to new words by providing your baby with key language and sounds. As your baby grows, you can try the tips below:

  • Describing and naming everyday objects - "This is a hairbrush, a hairbrush to brush my hair like this"

  • Give your baby time to explore activities, objects, and books at their own pace.

  • Use key language and sounds to explore and describe what your baby is doing.

  • Exploring descriptive sounds such as smooth, wet, cold, splat, dot, and squirt – the sillier, the better!

  • Providing listening opportunities with open-ended questions like: "I wonder what happens when I do this?"

  • Encouraging your child to talk about what they see, feel, and look like.

Newborn laying down

Don’t correct

When your child begins to use words, it is important to try not to correct any mistakes in their words or sentences. Remember, certain vowel sounds develop later, and confidence is key to active learning. Instead of "that's not how you say it”, simply repeat what they say correctly.

For example:

  • Child: "Ah-dear". Adult: "Oh Dear"

  • Child: "Car. Want". Adult: "You want the car”. You could even extend this sentence to "You want the red car".

As cries turn into gurgles, gurgles into words, and words into sentences, you’ll experience the thrill of communicating with your child and the knowledge that you’ve been a fundamental part of this incredible process.


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