This guide contains ten key practices that help early childhood educators enhance the language and communication development of infants and toddlers. Using these practices, early childhood educators can increase the amount and complexity of the language they speak to children, be more responsive to children’s vocalizations and speech, and engage in more conversations with children. These practices can be adapted to working with children of different language and cultural backgrounds to support the language and communication development of all children.

#10 Sign It

Long before children say their first words, they use their hands and bodies to let adults know what they want and need. Children often start using gestures between 8 and 12 months old. They typically begin by pointing to things to get an adult’s attention. Later, children use gestures as if they were words. For example, when a child flaps his or her arms, he or she may be communicating the idea “bird.”

#9 Make Music

Adults can help children develop strong language skills by incorporating music into everyday routines and activities. Musical activities can help children develop an awareness of sounds that may help with phonological awareness, or awareness of sounds found in speech. Singing and listening to songs can give children an opportunity to practice using and listening to words. Musical activities may also enhance children’s language development since they can provide an opportunity for dialogue between teachers and children.

#8 Props, Please!

Toys are the tools of children’s work. Yet certain toys, and other materials, can also be helpful in providing children with opportunities to practice their communication skills. By choosing materials that can encourage children to talk or listen to an adult or a peer, teachers can supply children with “props” to help support children’s language development. These props are objects that may stimulate conversations and include old phones, cell phones, puppets, dolls, wordless books, familiar books, pictures, play dough, and felt board cutouts.

#6 Read Interactively

Reading books to children is one of the most effective ways to provide children with opportunities to develop their language skills. Books often contain words that children may not commonly hear in everyday conversations, along with pictures that help illustrate their meanings. Adults can use books to start discussions with children about the stories and pictures presented and connect the stories and pictures to children’s lives.

#4 Label It

Labeling an object or activity is one way of helping children learn the names of objects and actions in their world. When children hear adults use labels for objects or actions, they have an opportunity to learn about how words are used and may be more likely to use the same words when trying to communicate with others. Adults can help children learn the names of objects or activities by focusing on one object or activity at a time.

#3 Mix It Up

Talking to children is one of the most important ways adults can help them learn to communicate and develop strong language skills. By talking with them, adults provide children with language “input” that children can then use as models for how to talk. The more types of language input that children receive, the more their language skills can develop and grow over time. When adults “mix it up” by using lots of different types of words and grammar in their speech to children, children benefit by learning to use more complex and varied language.

#2 Be a Commentator

Commenting on actions or events for children is a great way to give children examples of how to use language in everyday routines and activities. Commenting involves an adult talking about what he or she is doing, seeing, or thinking about in the presence of the child. An adult may also describe what children are doing or seeing. This kind of talk provides children with examples of the kind of language that is used in everyday activities. Commenting on actions or events may also help children learn and understand which words go with which actions.


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