Vocabulary In The Early Years: Facts And Myths All Parents Should Know

Vocabulary Development

As my youngest son prepares to enter school my attention has been brought back to the idea of vocabulary. Truthfully, this topic is never far from my thoughts as a speech and language pathologist, but recently I have been examining my son’s vocabulary more closely. That’s because I know that when he goes to school full-time he will be entering a new phase in his life. He will enter a world where the demand will be higher. More specifically, the demand on his language abilities. He will be required to follow multi-step directions without many cues, learn from a variety of different adults during group and individual contexts, engage in social situations with new peers (some who may be older), as well as prepare to master the academic concepts that are required learning for his year. I know! It seems like a lot for kindergarten! But this is the reality of what is happening in the classroom and having a strong vocabulary is one of the best ways I can prepare him to meet these new challenges.

As I watch my son play with his friends and chat with us at dinner, using diverse and richly descriptive words, I am not worried. He has had the lucky benefit of having a speechy mom who has been preparing him for this day since the moment he was born. However this time in my life brought to my attention the need to share this knowledge with other parents. The critical importance of helping all children develop a wide and rich vocabulary in the early years so each one can take that step into kindergarten with a little more confidence, and set the stage for growing success!

Let’s start off with some basic truths about vocabulary development in the early years that all parents should know and put to rest some common misconceptions.

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25 New Language Boosting Toy Ideas For Your Christmas List: Birth to 5 Yrs

language-toys-for-christmas

Can you believe it? Another year has come and past and with the chill in the air you know that the holidays are just around the corner! It is only November and already I have seen many toy lists posted online with suggestions for what to get kids this Christmas season. There are lots of lists out there that look great but I feel like I keep seeing the same ideas over and over again. So this holiday, I am inspired to do a post about all the new, fantastic toys out there that may not be found on the typical Christmas list, but should be!

I love all these items listed below because I have found they are fun for both boys and girls, they stand the test of time so kids will play with them for years to come, and of course, they encourage the development of strong speech, language and literacy skills.

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“Helping”: My Favourite Real Life Language Boosting Activity

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Picture this. You are playing happily with your child, enjoying each other’s company. You look at the clock and realize you need to… (fill in your chore of choice here) so you tell your child “You keep playing. I’ll be back in a minute”. You have barely started into whatever task requires your attention (dinner, dishes, laundry, etc.) and you turn to find your kiddie still glued to your side; either pawing to get picked up or asking you to do something for them that requires your immediate attention. Then for the remainder of the evening you ping-pong back and forth between your child and all the other tasks you need to get done until you fall into bed.

Does this scenario sound familiar? Well, it happens to me EVERY SINGLE DAY! There are countless comic strips out there about the perils of trying to get things done with kids around (which can be maddening!), but what I’ve come to realize is that if you take a step back you begin to see that most of the tasks you are trying to accomplish can actually be very child-friendly if given a few tweaks. This is great because with child-friendly tasks kids can be included as “helpers” and in doing so a parent can achieve 3 important goals:

1) Give kids the attention they are seeking at that moment

2) Accomplish the task that needs to get done

3) Help develop a child’s vocabulary and language comprehension skills

It may seem so basic, and some of you may already be letting your kids help out every now and then.  But if you can include your kiddies as “helpers” during basic activities of daily living, at least once a day for 10-15 minutes, you will be offering a major language boosting opportunity for them. Studies have shown that young children develop language in the back-and-forth interactions they have with adults during daily activities. Of course this includes when we play with our kids, but mostly it involves the language they are exposed to during the common, repetitious daily living activities we do all the time.

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10 Language Boosting Board Games For The Cottage: Ages 2 – 10

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Summer is in full swing and I love it! It’s the season to take a little time off and enjoy yourself with family and friends. To take a break from the every day and make some special memories with the ones you love the most.

Personally, I remember heading to the cottage and spending lazy afternoons playing board games and cards with my friends and family. For me, these memories bring back wonderful feelings of togetherness and the pleasure of simplicity. In addition, although I wasn’t aware of it at the time, playing these games also had the amazing side benefit of helping boost my language skills!

Did you know board games help build:

  • Expressive language skills
  • New vocabulary
  • Social language skills such as turn taking, eye contact and following rules
  • Critical thinking and problem solving skills
  • Pre-literacy and literacy skills
  • Attention, memory and cognitive skills
  • And much more!!!

Whether you are heading out of town or enjoying a stay-cation, consider picking up some of my favourite games for speech and language development (listed below) to bring with you. Not only will you be creating special memories for your child to cherish, but you will be helping to boost their language skills without them even realizing! Remember, the more fun you have, the more fun your child will have! Enjoy!

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Pretend Play & Language Development: A ‘How To’ Guide For 1-6yrs

With Halloween right around the corner my kiddos are already in extreme dress-up mode! There are clothes, hats, toy food and trucks all over my floors….and I love it! It is priceless to watch their imaginations flourish as they create their own unique play scenarios or recreate something they have watched me do at home.

As a speech-language pathologist, I know that pretend play goes with language development like peanut butter goes with jam! I also know that pretend play is a skill that develops, just like gross or fine motor skills, and children need the opportunity to ‘practice’ this skill each day.

Although it is wonderful (and healthy even) to let kids pretend on their own, allowing us parents a chance to get a few things done, it is very important that we engage in these pretend play schemes with them too.

Research tells us that:

  • There is a relationship between play skills and word use in young children
  • Play skills typically lag behind in children with language disorders
  • Play contains a variety of elements that stimulate the kinds of conditions that grow language
  • Children who engage in play with attentive and responsive adults will improve their language skills
  • Children become more able to take advantage of opportunities to learn through play as they become more advanced learners and social partners

Most parents I meet are really eager to engage in pretend play with their kids, however in my practice I have heard many express that they don’t know exactly how or what to do.

So let’s begin with the ‘what’ and learn the developmental milestones your child should be meeting for pretend play from ages 1-6 years.

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Helping Kids Wait With Language: Taking (Some) Struggles Away

One of the most difficult things for a child to do is wait.  There are two big reasons why this is really hard for kids. First, young children have a limited understanding of time concepts (e.g., before, after, until, soon, etc.) until around age 5, which means they have a difficult time understanding when things are going to actually happen. Second, children have difficulty regulating their behaviour. So even if they understand when certain things will happen, it can be hard to be patient, quiet and still until the waiting period is over.

In my therapy sessions I use pictures, schedules, timers and other tools to help kids understand what is going to happen and then to wait. These visual tools are always really helpful but it’s not realistic for me to have these kinds of things on hand for every situation.  And it’s certainly not realistic for the average parent to use  these kinds of things during typical daily life. So what do we do? Well, here are few tricks I have come up with that I use both in my therapy sessions and with my own kids.  These are the ones I have found to be the most successful and take a lot of the ‘pain’ out of waiting.

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Learning Language With Bubbles: 6 Months – 5 Years

All parents will tell you there is nothing more heart warming than watching the joy on their child’s face as they play happily. As a professional who has worked with children for over a decade, and a mother of two, I can tell you that it is always the simplest things that young children love the most, and what could be more simple than bubbles!

Both in my speech therapy sessions and at home, I use bubbles CONSTANTLY.  We always keep bubbles on-hand in the house, there are large bubble wands for outdoor play and I even keep small bubbles in my purse! I don’t know one child (or adult for that matter) who doesn’t love bubbles.

You usually don’t need a lot of bells and whistles in regards to toys, even toys for learning.  All you really need is a child’s interest and you have a language learning opportunity.  As many speech-language pathologists will tell you, there are hundreds of ways to use bubbles to teach language skills.  I have chosen a few that I think would be pretty easy for parents to do at home with their little-ones. However, before I get into the actual activity ideas, here are a few basic definitions of some ‘clinical terms’ just so we are all on the same page.

Expressive Language – This is the use of gestures, sounds, words and sentences to communicate.

Receptive Language – This is the ability to understand language, including words and grammar.  Babies start learning vocabulary as early as 7 months of age. Vocabulary grows consistently as children get older.

Joint Attention – This is a pre-linguistic skill that is critical to language development.  Joint attention means to have two people looking at the same object, at the same time, and being aware that the other person is looking too.

Pragmatics (Social Language) – This is understanding and using verbal, but also non-verbal forms, to communicate effectively. For example using tone of voice, facial expressions and body language to convey different meanings, making eye contact and turn taking.  It also includes using language to behave appropriately in different situations.

Now for the activities!

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