Family Place™ Libraries acknowledge the role of parents and other caregivers as a child’s first true teacher, providing them with the information they need to be the best teacher they can be. By providing a dedicated Parenting Collection and an extensive collection of children’s materials that families can explore, our libraries help your child get an early start gaining important literacy skills.
Speech, Hearing and Language
Speech, hearing and language are all tools we use to communicate with each other. During the first three years, a child’s brain rapidly develops and acquires new skills, and activities in later years help reinforce that learning. Even before saying their first words, your baby’s communication skills are already developing.
Your child is learning:
- Speech skills or the sounds we make to talk to and with others. Your child is learning to make identifiable sounds that have specific meanings.
- Hearing skills or the ability to perceive different noises and sounds. Your child is learning to recognize the unique sounds that make up language and understand their meaning.
- Language skills or the shared rules we use to communicate ideas and information to each other. Your child is learning how to use words to share his or her needs and ideas.
Language and literacy skills help us communicate our needs and also understand the needs of others. These skills help your child get along with others, think and solve problems, and express their feelings and ideas. Knowing and understanding many different words and concepts also helps prepare your child to read. The more words a child knows, the more he or she understands what happens in stories and how to share his or her own.
Talking, reading and singing with your child are all important ways to develop hearing, understanding and speech skills. The more words you share with your child, the better equipped he or she is to learn. As your child’s language skills develop, keep encouraging them to improve. Be an active listener and work together with your child to encourage learning, because the more your child communicates and shares with you, the better his or her skills become.
Click here for some common questions and answers about early literacy and general parenting.
While each child learns at their own pace, the sections below share some common developmental milestones to look for as your child grows.
Infants: Birth to One Year
Your baby’s first year is full of speech and language milestones. Your baby will progress from simply startling at sounds to actively searching for and engaging with their source. You can introduce communication skills through changes in your tone of voice and through interactive games like peek-a-boo. As your baby grows, his or her cry will change to tell you about specific needs with different sounds, gradually adding gestures and even simple words. You’ll also start to see more identifiable moods and emotions.
Here are some fun ideas to try with your baby:
- Imitate your baby’s sounds and expressions. Look at your baby, speak directly to him or her, and imitate his or her communication. This encourages your baby to keep trying to engage with you.
- Play games like peek-a-boo and pat-a-cake. These games give you and your baby clear turns. This helps your baby understand that taking turns is a natural part of conversation and communication.
- Talk, talk, talk! Narrating your activities and what’s going to happen is a natural way to add words to your baby’s day. As your baby grows, you can start introducing simple concepts like colors, counting and animal sounds.
For more information, check out this resource.
Toddlers: One to Three Years
As your child grows, he or she will begin exploring more words and communication. Your child is absorbing every word that you share, and you’ll see these words in action as he or she starts identifying common objects, responding to simple requests, and enjoying more stories, songs, and rhymes. Between one and two years old, you’ll also notice your child adding more words and combining those words to form simple requests and questions.
As a toddler, your child is learning more about different words and how to use those words together to share his or her needs. He or she is learning that the words we use represent different things. You can also start introducing simple, multi-step directions. Your child’s vocabulary will keep growing, and he or she will keep adding those words to sentences and ideas to improve communication. You’ll also notice that it’s easier for others to understand what your child is saying.
Here are some fun ideas to try with your toddler:
- Use a lot of short sentences and simple words. This helps your child understand what you’re talking about and makes it easier for him or her to imitate your speech.
- Expand on words when your child shares them. What color is it? How big is it? You’re introducing new words and vocabulary but also showing your child what he or she talks about is important to you. This also demonstrates how to describe things, an important storytelling skill.
- Read, sing songs, recite nursery rhymes and share fingerplays. You can start by sharing simple stories with easy sentences or simple, repeated phrases. Take time to talk about what you see in the pictures and let your child name what he or she sees. You are introducing your child to stories and to the natural rhythms and sounds that make up our language.
- Ask more questions. If you don’t understand what your child is trying to tell you, ask him or her to tell you again. You can share the words or ideas you did understand, which lets your child know you are listening. Taking time to make sure you understand lets your child know his or her communication is important. It also encourages your child to do the same with others.
- Encourage your child to make choices with open-ended questions. This lets your child think about more complicated concepts, practice communicating his or her needs and desires, and actively participate in decision making. These are all important skills in communicating.
Preschoolers: Three to Five Years
As a preschooler, your child’s communication skills continue expanding. You’ll see your child engaging more and more in conversation and sharing more of his or her own thoughts and ideas. Asking questions like who, what, where and why encourages your child to develop these ideas. Remember, it may take your child longer to process questions and respond, so allow extra time and patience in conversations. Your child will start sharing more about his or her life with you and others, using more words to describe and share details.
You may also notice that your child’s attention span is improving, making it easier to share longer and more complicated stories or activities. The foundation for learning you’ve built with your child also lets you share more complex ideas. Details and more specific language help build storytelling skills and focus on his or her message, and your child will also get better with grammar and communication.
Here are some fun ideas to try with your preschooler:
- Practice sorting and categorizing toys or pictures. Ask your child to tell you what is the same or different about each one. For an added challenge, add things that clearly don’t belong and ask your child to identify those too. You’re encouraging conversation skills and awareness of details.
- Encourage your child to act out stories or real-life scenarios. You can act out stories with props, make up your own story, or even just play pretend. These games let your child explore imagination, storytelling and social communication.
- Play games like “I Spy” to encourage your child to explain concepts. This also builds comprehension. The more detailed you are in describing an object, the more words and concepts you introduce. Ask questions to encourage your child to do the same.
- Add more multi-step directions to your day. Tell your child to do two things, like find his or her shoes and put them on. You can also encourage your child to provide his or her own directions or explanations. These skills also help get your child ready for school.
Here are just a few resources for additional information about speech, language and hearing available at the Plano Public Library.
- The Gift of Gab: 65 Fun Games & Activities to Help Encourage Speech Development in Your Child by Francine Davids
- Time to Talk: What You Need to Know About Your Child’s Speech and Language Development by Michelle MacRoy-Higgins and Carlyn Kolker
- Talking with Your Toddler: 75 Fun Activities and Interactive Games That Teach Your Child to Talk by Teresa Laikko and Laura Laikko
- Connecting Through Talk: Nurturing Children’s Development with Language by David K. Dickinson and Ann B. Morse
- Thirty Million Words: Building a Child’s Brain by Dana Suskind
- The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Baby Sign Language by Diane Ryan
Other speech, language and hearing resources are available online.
- Talking Is Teaching
- Stanford Children’s Health Age-Appropriate Speech and Language Milestones
- National Institutes of Health (NIH) Speech and Language Developmental Milestones