The Word Search

Sometime around that important first birthday, a few months before or after perhaps, your child says her first word, and everything changes. Finally, a direct line to her thoughts and perspective! Though the process unfolds over a span of years, your child’s language skills are growing fast, and this foundation for learning will impact her for the rest of her life.

When your baby learns her first word, it's a window into her growing mind! Tweet this!

The skills she gains in the first years of life will become a key part of the skill set that enables her to succeed in school, enter into a profession, and navigate her social environment. It’s a rich period of development, and there are many fun ways you can make the most of it.

Language is a Game for Two or More

The more she hears language used, the faster she’ll join the conversation. Don’t use baby talk, use real language, and use a lot of it. When she tries out a new word, use it like crazy, and teach her the context for it.

She finds the boat in the bathtub and says the word. Now it’s your turn. “Look at this cool blue and red boat. Look at how it floats and spins in the bubbly water. This boat can go under the water, too, and when the boat comes out, the water spills into the bubbles.” The repetition and the links to other words and sentence structures is a big deal, and your kid loves hearing it.

Try a New Voice

This can be a fun experiment with your little one. Find an article in a magazine or on your phone, or a passage in a novel and read it to your child in the same voice you’d use to your mother or a coworker. Notice his reaction, which will likely be less than fascinated. Then, read the same passage in your goofiest Mom or Dad voice.

Watch the difference; he’ll grin and clap, and most importantly, hang on every word. Remember that learning can be fun, and engage him with your goofy side regularly. Language and communicating can be a great source of joy, so share the fun early. Positive interactions like these help your baby or toddler grow into an emotionally secure, socially adjusted, and intellectually curious child and adult.

Narrate Everything

Explain what’s happening, all the time. See an airplane in the Memphis sky? Talk about how it’s purple, orange, and white, and probably flying a load of packages across the ocean. Headed to the post office? Talk about the stamps you’re going to buy, the clerk you’ll be doing business with, the eagle on the mailbox. Talk about the food you’re sharing, the temperature outside, the color of the flowers you’re watering.

Practice What We Preach

Who doesn’t love books? Here’s a tip: Your kid is crazy about them. Read the words to him, but don’t stop there. Describe the pictures in the book and encourage questions.
It’s never too early to start. A young infant is learning important lessons just seeing you hold the book, turn the pages, and follow the text from left to right. When he gets older, you can keep things interesting by using the images on the page to invent your own story together. “Look at that ridiculous Cat in his silly Hat. Why did he think he could put that goldfish on a cake and not make a mess?”

Remember that books are not the only way to teach language skills. Your daily routine provides plenty of other kinds of learning opportunities. With a little creativity, product labels and grocery lists can add variety and show your child that books are not the only reason that language learning is important.

Above all, language is about communication. Beginning at birth, engage your child in warm and positive conversations—they’re the best learning experiences of all.