Learning

A way with words

Discover new ways to introduce your child to the magical land of language

Published

Children are exploring language long before they start school. From the moment they are born, babies are learning to talk and communicate through their daily interactions with their parents and other caregivers. Tracy Jackson, head of early years at the National Literacy Trust, and Dr Kirsten Asmussen, head of child development at the Early Intervention Foundation have some top tips on how you can help your child express themselves in their earliest years.

BABIES

Follow the leader

Make the most of the times your baby is keen to copy your facial expressions – try sticking your tongue out, blinking or making lip sounds for added engagement. Copy the sounds your baby makes and say back to them what they are trying to tell you through their noises.

It’s good to talk

Back-and-forth conversation between parents and children increases vocabulary skills and language development. Before babies have any words, respond to their babbling and facial expressions as if they are starting a conversation. A good place to start is to notice what your baby is looking at and talk about that.

Songs, poems and rhymes are popular with children from a very early age. The repetition, language, sounds and rhythm help children to predict what’s coming next.

Everyone loves a surprise

Following predictable routines is important when playing with your baby, but so is an element of surprise. ‘Body’ or ‘lap’ games that include tickling or touch, such as Incy Wincy Spider or Round and Round the Garden, are exciting and stimulating for babies.

A gesture speaks a thousand words

As babies grow, they start to develop gesturing and joint engagement – where they look to where you point. To encourage this key developmental stage, respond to your baby’s gestures making lots of your own actions when you speak. Use gestures and actions to help your child understand what you are saying, such as waving.

The face is an open book

From a very early age, a baby can recognise the difference between happy and sad faces and can copy simple facial movements. By six months, they can typically express a range of emotions such as pleasure, fear and excitement through facial expressions, vocalisation and body language. You can encourage them to express themselves by describing your baby’s emotions as you speak to them.

YOUNG CHILDREN

Book-sharing and reading

This helps you and your child to develop a closer connection and encourages imagination to grow by introducing children to new words. Look at the pages together, talk about the pictures, and follow your child’s focus. Try reading to them first, and as they get older encourage them to be more involved, turning the pages and discussing the story together.

Make daily routines fun

A trip to the supermarket is a whole new world to explore, and a chance to point new things out and name them. If you notice your child looking or pointing at something, reinforce language skills by talking about it before their attention moves on to something else – that might be within a couple of seconds for little ones.

Time to rhyme

Songs, poems and rhymes are popular with children from a very early age. The repetition, language, sounds and rhythm help children to predict what’s coming next. From the earliest days, sing songs and rhymes to your baby with actions and lots of repetition. As your child grows, play rhyming games– can your child come up with a word that rhymes with ‘cat’?

Make-believe games and conversations about feelings and memories encourage children’s vocabulary development and expressive language use.

It’s all make-believe

As babies become toddlers, they begin to understand what they can’t see – to be able to pretend and think about the future. Make-believe games and conversations about feelings and memories encourage children’s vocabulary development and expressive language use. Play make-believe together or games which use opposites such as on or off, big or little. Also encourage your child to talk about the future and anticipate events.

Ask a question or two

We are all familiar with the ‘why’ questions from curious toddlers, but parents can ask the questions, too. Use open questions with lots of possible answers. ‘What are you going to play with today?’ or ‘How do you think the character will solve the problem?’ Ask your child to give possible solutions to problems, for example if their favourite hat is missing. All this helps their understanding of past, present and future and uses their memory skills.

For more information visit Start for Life – chat, play, read where you can find activities to encourage your child's development and find support in your local area.

Sharing a story is one of the most delightful experiences you can share with your child. But like many of the best things in life, it doesn’t always come easy, especially if you are making it up as you go along. Master storyteller Jennifer David is a mum-of-three, professional drama teacher and a franchisee at award-winning franchise Debutots. She has some great tips to get you on your storytelling journeys.

Getting started

Don’t worry if you are feeling tentative as children are forgiving listeners and will simply be excited that you are giving then undivided attention. Natural storytellers will be able to pull a story out of the air, but for many people that’s not so easy so preparation is key.

Prepare

Before you begin, think about how long you want the story to be. You’ll also need to consider the tone of the story. If it’s bedtime, a relaxing and less dramatic story might work better. But if you have more time, a longer and more interactive story could be fun. You could even tell it over consecutive days, but it might be worth making a note of what you’ve covered each time: you may not remember, but your child almost certainly will!

Setting the scene

Set the scene from your very opening words and remember that children love getting lost in the magical world of stories so let your inner magician loose. Consider if there’s going to be a ‘problem’ in the story, something that needs to be solved.

Dilemma

What’s the dilemma? Perhaps your main character attempts several times and in different ways to solve a problem, before finding a solution at the end.

Repetition

Children love repetition and it can make it easier to structure your story too.

Make it familiar

Choose a subject or characters that you know you and your children will enjoy. If you are engaged with what you are describing, it will make it easier to bring passion to it. Consider making your child the main character in the story.

Enjoy the experience

Most of all, have fun with it. Explore the idea of using different voices and body language for the characters ­ for instance, a bear will have a deep, growly voice and a puffed-up chest, while a mouse might have a squeaky voice and you can screw up your eyes and nose to signify its little face. The more fun you have with the story, the more your child will enjoy listening to it.

Songs/rhymes

You could even think about introducing a simple and catchy rhyme or song as part of your story.

Story questions

A useful exercise as a follow-up to the story, perhaps the next day, is to introduce ‘story questions’ : for instance, ‘How do you think the bear felt when the mouse tickled him?’ ‘How big do you think the bear was?’ and ‘What colour was the mouse?’ Not only does this help you understand your child’s comprehension of the story, but it gives you a chance to explore feelings together and helps your child’s understanding of the world.

If you are interested in attending one of Jennifer’s storytelling workshops visit debutots.co.uk

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