put language at the top of the list of things to do with your child

With Nicole Day, Early Childhood Teacher


One of the most striking accomplishments of the preschool years is a child’s development of speech and language. As children enter school, they are expected to use these newly developed language skills as tools for learning and social negotiation. The importance of the role of spoken and written for school-aged children can’t be overestimated – and the early years really count!


“Language development in children is amazing,” says Nicole Day, Kindergarten Teacher at Skippy’s Frenchville. “It’s a development that many parents really look forward to, and are very keen to support.”


“The secret to helping children learn language is very simple,” says Nicole. “Talk together lots, and listen lots.”


At Skippy’s, we use the Abecedarian Approach in all our interactions with our children. The overriding element of the approach is called “Language Priority.” This element encourages educators, parents and carers to put language at the top of our list of things to do with your child. Language Priority can turn every ordinary event into a chance for learning. In Language Priority we use the 3N Strategy: Notice, Nudge, Narrate.


Here is an example of how this might work:

  • Notice (Notice what the child is interested in or trying to do): “I see that you’d like to zip up your own jacket today.”

  • Nudge (prompt the child with cues or ask for more information): Can you pull the zip with one hand, and hold the jacket with the other?

  • Narrate (Put the experience into a story, or describe what is happening): You’re making that zipper go up, up, up! Nice Work


This strategy can be used in almost any situation, and encourages back-and -forth communication between the adult and the child. The child does not need to answer in words, as their actions and reactions form part of the communication.


Language development in children – what you need to know:


Language development is a critical part of child development. It supports your child’s ability to communicate, and express and understand feelings. It also supports thinking and problem-solving, and developing and maintaining relationships. Learning to understand, use and enjoy language is the critical first step in literacy, and the basis for learning to read and write.

In their first 12 months, babies develop many of the foundations that underpin speech and language development. And they keep developing language skills at an amazing rate in the first three years of life. “Make language a priority right from the start, like we do at Skippy’s,” says Nicole.


How to encourage early language development in children


The best way to encourage your child’s speech and language development is to do lots of talking together about things that interest your child. It’s all about following your child’s lead as they show you what they’re interested in by waving, pointing, babbling, or using words.


Talking with your child


Talk to your child and treat them as a talker, beginning in the first 12 months. Talk face-to-face with your baby so she can see your lips move and hear your voice. All the little sounds your child makes will later turn into language. When you finish talking, give your child a turn and wait for them to respond. And when your child starts babbling, copy your child and babble back. You’ll probably find that your child babbles back to you again. This keeps the talking going and is great fun.


Everyday talking


Talking about what’s happening in your daily life together is a great way to increase the number of words your child hears. You can talk about things that make sense to your child, like what you’re seeing or doing together – the key is to use lots of different words and in different contexts. For example, you can talk to your child about an orange tree and about cutting up an orange for lunch. This helps your child learn the meaning and function of words in their world. It doesn’t matter if your child doesn’t understand, because understanding will grow as your child develops.

From the time your child starts telling stories, encourage them to talk about things in the past and in the future. For example, at the end of the day, you could talk about plans for the next day, by making a shopping list together or deciding what to take on a visit to grandma. Or when you come home from an outing together, you could talk about it.


Use rich, interesting language with children of every age


Don’t hold back, or wait until children are “old enough” to use interesting and descriptive words – they are already old enough.


Responding to your child


As your child grows up and starts to use gestures, you can respond to your child’s attempts to communicate. For example, if your child shakes their head, respond as if your child is saying ‘No’. If your child points to a toy, respond as if your child is saying, ‘Can I have that?’ or ‘I like that’.

When your child starts using words, you can repeat and build on what your child says. For example, if your child says, ‘Apple,’ you can say, ‘You want a red apple?’


When you tune in and respond to your child, it encourages your child to communicate. You’ll be amazed at how much your child has to say, even before words develop.


Some techniques you can use every day:


  • Show what words mean: Put your arms around him, reach through something to grab a toy, hide an object under something.

  • Give him words for how he’s feeling: “I think that loud noise made you feel a little scared.”

  • Use numbers when you talk and when you play: “How many wheels does your toy car have? One, two, three, four!”

  • Tell your child that you notice what she is doing, using descriptive words: “I notice that you have found daddy’s scratchy beard!” “I can see you looking at the green stem on the red strawberry.”

  • Nudge by ask questions that the child does not need to answer in words: “Can you high-five?”

  • Nudge by doing something with the toys that the child is already playing with, adding something to his play. After you nudge, pause, and observe, then nudge again.

  • Narrate by describing what the child is doing: tell the story of what is happening as it happens.

  • Use constructs of time: Describe the order of events. “First, we will go to the shops, then we will unpack. Later we will make dinner, and at 6 o’clock we will eat. After supper, we will bath.”

  • Have longer, back-and-forth conversations with older children: make sure there are several turns for each speaker.

  • Read with your baby: Read and share lots of books with your child, and read more complex books as your child grows.