Some families are just not ready to return to their pre-pandemic routine and may be worried that their child will fall behind with their language skills. Here are some creative ways to set up a language rich home to prevent that from happening.

By Samantha Lynch
May 27, 2021
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During the peak of the pandemic, the most common question asked during my speech therapy sessions was: "If we aren't going anywhere, how do I continue to help my child with their language skills at home?" Parent concerns sky-rocketed as preschools and daycares closed their doors, playdates were canceled, and they were left to juggle working from home, virtual schooling, and many other roles.

But even now that the pandemic fog is lifting, this continues to be a primary concern of parents, as many are just not ready to return to group classes and play dates. And that's OK! The key to increasing your child's language skills while continuing to stay at home is quite simple: limit technology, model language, and get messy. Children learn best through play-based interactions and many language opportunities can be created with items you already have in your home.

An image of a child playing with blocks.
Credit: Getty Images.

Here are some different tips and tricks for parents to use to help build their child's language skills.

Model for Them

The number one tip I give parents is to verbally model everything! When playing with your toddler, narrating their actions helps them understand their environment. It is important to use short direct phrases that they can easily process like "go car," "blue car," "car up." Simple and concise phrases, though sometimes grammatically incomplete, will help your child understand the fundamentals of language.

The finer concepts of language can be learned later, once the child has a better understanding of communicating their desires. Avoid using the phrase, "Say [plug in any word here]" and model the exact word or phrase you want them to produce. It is OK if your child does not imitate you right away; they are soaking up all the rich language you are providing them.

Put Technology Away

Research shows spending two hours or more a day on screens can have negative effects on a toddler's cognition which may delay language acquisition. Technology is a great tool for education, but in moderation. Set aside time each day for technology, but also encourage parent and child play throughout the day with tangible toys and objects. Also, be present with your child when they are using technology by interacting with them, asking questions, and continuing to model language.

Don't Make Everything Accessible

When I ask parents how their child makes their wants and needs known at home, I am often told that, "They just get it themselves." Making everything accessible to your child throughout the day leaves limited opportunities for purposeful communication with you. Placing your child's favorite toy on a shelf out of reach or giving them a cup without juice forces these purposeful interactions. If your child is still at the pointing phase with no words, verbally model for them what they are pointing to.

Include Kids in Daily Routines

Children love to be involved in "grown-up" activities. Having your child help you with chores around the house like laundry and cooking are great activity examples to increase language skills. Give your child simple directions to follow like, "flour in" or "give me sock." Continue to label your child's actions throughout these activities such as, "you are mixing" and "we are folding."

Give Them Open-Ended Toys

Another big question I am often asked is, "What types of toys are appropriate for my child?" and my answer is always open-ended toys. Open-ended toys are ones that can be used in a variety of different ways across age ranges. For example, blocks can be used to build a tower or castle, as a telephone, or a car to drive around the carpet. Open-ended toys promote creative thinking and increase pretend play skills, while close-ended toys, like puzzles and bubbles, only serve one purpose.

Get Creative

While these tips and tricks for increasing language skills seem simple, parents often struggle deciding which activities to do at home. There's no need to run out and buy new toys—some of the best language interactions are exhibited doing activities with items already in the home.

Sensory bins

Sensory bins are small containers which hold items of various textures, shapes, and sizes, mixed together to encourage child engagement. These must-haves not only promote speech and language skills, but they also ignite various other aspects of the brain, including emotional regulation and fine motor skills. You and your little one can fill these with all different kinds of items, such as their favorite trucks and cars, water beads, Easter grass, and sand. Of course, the fillers will vary by age (avoid choking hazard items for younger kids) and a child's ability.

Arts and crafts

Simple arts and crafts, especially around a holiday, is a great activity to promote speech and language skills. It helps with learning to follow directions, talking about items needed for each step, and requesting. Pinterest is a great resource for great arts and crafts ideas!

Cooking together

Allowing your child to help cook a meal is great for following directions, requesting, labeling verbs, and so much more. Some great cooking activities can include having the child prepare their own lunch, cook playdough to play with later, or making a sweet treat to enjoy after dinner. Cooking with children is also a great activity if you have a child who is a picky eater. Involving them in the meal preparation may result in better consumption at the dinner table.

Turn-taking games

Board games and other turn taking games (like catching a ball) are great for working on patience and requesting. Even a simple board game like, Pop the Pig, can be simplified to fit your child's needs. Turn-taking games can be utilized to promote social language skills as children often need to ask for a turn, wait their turn, follow rules of a game, and engage in good sportsmanship.

Tub time

Another great routine, that is often viewed as a hassle, can be turned into an opportunity to elicit a plethora of language skills. Bringing toys into the bath, adding bubbles, singing familiar sing-along songs, or making tub paint are perfect additions to tub time.

The Bottom Line

Even if you don't want to jump back into a pre-pandemic schedule, you can still provide enough stimulation for your language learning child right at home. You just have to get a little creative!

Samantha Lynch is a certified speech-language pathologist and owner of Light the Way Pediatric Therapy in Bardstown, Kentucky. She has a passion for play-based therapy as well as augmentative and alternative communication and working with children with speech sound disorders.