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A huge and notably wonderful milestone for parents is when their toddler begins to talk! Your toddler can communicate their needs with you even more now and life is going to get easier (or so they say). While many of us long for the day where our toddler uses their “big boy/girl” words to communicate with us, they cannot reach this language development on their own. As Margaret from Speak.Play.Love says, “It’s all about creating opportunities.“
Recently, I took my son to his 18 month check-up with his pediatrician. Prior to his appointment, the doctor’s office sent me a questionnaire about my son’s development. This questionnaire had me stressed out trying to figure out the right answers to put on the form. Does he know five body parts? Can he walk, run, and jump? Does he recognize familiar faces? Can he respond to his own name? Is he ready for college? (Joking, obviously!)
However, many of the questions I needed to answer were related to my son’s language development. I want to share with you how you can easily expand on your child’s language development without any fancy, expensive, or unnecessary purchases.
Why is it Important to Expand on my Toddler’s Language Development?
While developing a way to help others understand the importance and significance of expansion, I consulted an expert in the field of Speech-Language Pathology, Alexandra Lodwig, MS, CCC-SLP. Ms. Lodwig is a Speech-Language Pathologist who specializes in Early Intervention (Birth to 3 Years Old).
“Language, play, and cognition do not exist alone- they are interdependent on each other. By expanding and targeting language, we are helping toddlers grow their play, imitation, attention, and engagement skills as well as their understanding of how the world around them works.”-Alexandra Lodwig, MS, CCC-SLP
Expansion starts with the parents! You are your child’s first teacher. Therefore, who better to model language and further develop their skills? It may sound complicated to do. However, I assure you the tips in this post will help you make expansion become part of your daily life and therefore help your toddler’s language development!
1. Taking a Neighborhood Stroll
This is an activity that you do with a toddler anyways, right? There is no greater classroom than that of the outdoors! There are a variety of sounds to hear and connect with an object. Various shades of colors are available to notice. In addition, you can feel the wind or smell what’s in the air and discuss those observations.
“Extension or the ‘Plus One Rule’: When your little one says something, repeat it back and add one more piece of information. If they point to a bird and say ‘bird,’ you could repeat back ‘blue bird’ or ‘little bird.'”-Alexandra Lodwig, MS, CCC-SLP
Taking that walk in your neighborhood or even going to the park will add such rich experiences while being able to expand on your toddler’s vocabulary. Imagine all the things you can see and hear with them simply by stepping outside!
2. Talk About the Activity
Toddlers are constantly engaged in some kind of activity from art to reading to running to laughing. There is always something happening in a toddler’s world!
While noticing what your toddler is engaged in, try using these opportunities to expand on their language development. A simple activity can be filled with vocabulary building opportunities that you may not have noticed.
Simple queues like your child playing with building blocks could lead to you expanding on their observations. These observations include talking about the colors of the blocks, the size of the blocks, or even what the blocks are making.
Examples: “I see you have the blue and yellow blocks.” “This block is big and this block is small.” “Wow! That is a tall tower of blocks.” Simple, yet effective expansion!
3. Discuss Daily Routines
You are already going through the motions of your daily routine so why not make that a learning opportunity?
When you think about the steps you take in just making a simple bowl of cereal for breakfast: taking out a bowl, pouring the cereal into the bowl, pouring milk into the bowl, and using a spoon to eat the cereal. These steps could be used in expansion methods and gets your toddler thinking about what they are seeing and tasting. “I am grabbing the blue bowl for your cereal. Let’s pour some yummy cheerios into the bowl. Don’t forget to pour the milk in the bowl! How does the cereal taste?”
This kind of expansion can go on for all meals of the day and even snacks. To further your discussions, talk about what you have planned for the day. “We are going to get into the car and go to the library. After the library, we are going to the grocery store.”
Sometimes, it may seem like you are bombarding your toddler with unnecessary information. However, they are soaking it all in and if you implement these areas of expansion enough, their language skills will develop much quicker!
4. Try New Experiences
When you take a toddler to a new place or show them a new activity, watch their little face as they take time to absorb and process this new information!
“New/novel experiences help us strengthen and create new synaptic connections in our brains and helps new words ‘stick’ better. Try going to the zoo and practice the names of the animals!”-Alexandra Lodwig, MS, CCC-SLP
When I took my son to the zoo for the first time, he was amazed at all these wandering beings that he was seeing. He would point to each one that caught his eye and then I would name the animal. To further this experience, I would incorporate the color or the size of the animal. Examples: “That is a brown bear!” Or “That is a big tiger!”
The zoo is a wonderful place to build on your toddler’s learning. However, you can find other places or experiences that fit your child’s interest better if needed and include these expansion techniques.
5. Discuss Their Feelings
We all know that toddlers have BIG feelings! Whether they are excited, upset, or somewhere in between, they are typically not shy about expressing how they feel.
If there is something that makes your toddler happy or excited, talk about it! My toddler gets excited about having yogurt for a snack. I take this opportunity to talk about his excited feeling. “I see you smiling at your yogurt! Are you excited to eat your yogurt for snack time?”
Even if my toddler gets upset or angry (which happens often #toddlerlife), I still make that a learning opportunity for him. “I see that you are crying. I know you are upset. But you can’t eat the dog’s food. It is okay to be sad about it.” Here, you are not only expanding on their feelings and connecting their feelings to a name. You are also acknowledging that you understand them and accept that they have feelings, too.
Why Should I Care About Expansion?
While there are so many pressures on parents these days to make sure your toddler is within a certain percentile for weight/size, is getting enough exercise, is social, is sleeping through the night, and is getting some kind of pre-academics, it is understandable that adding yet another thing to your list is exhausting.
However, the basis of your toddler’s learning and development stems from their ability to communicate and imitate. Therefore, their language development is crucial to their success. Utilizing these simple tips everyday to incorporate expansion of your toddler’s language development will assist in getting your toddler on the right path to success!
Tell Me More!
Check out these 3 Simple Language Games that you can use to improve your toddler’s language! AND here are 11 Simple Ways to Teach Your Toddler Communication Skills.
What activities do you use to expand on your toddler’s language development? Did any of these tips help you? How else could I help you incorporate expansion into your daily life? I’d love to hear your experience with expansion in the comments below!