Let’s face it. It seems like there is never enough time in the day. Lately for me, whether my “to do” list is short or long, I always end up going to bed thinking about the things I did not get done. So with all the every day things that busy parents need to accomplish, how do we fit in time to help our kids develop strong language skills? The good news is you actually don’t need to set aside any extra time (which no one has anyways!). All you need to do is find simple ways to tweak routines you are already doing and make them more language rich!
Recently our schedule has been so busy that I have been spending a lot more time in the car with my kids, which was the inspiration for this post. However these activities can be done while walking, pushing little ones in the stroller or pulling them in the wagon. Whatever works for you!
Adding just one of these games into your routine, for 10 mins/day, goes a long way to enriching a child’s language skills. Just remember, the more fun you have with the game, the more fun your child will have!
1. Singing Songs (birth – 5 yrs)
Songs are a fantastically language rich activity! They help little ones learn the sounds in their own language and are a fun way to stimulate both understanding and use of vocabulary. Encourage your child to do the actions with the songs and remember not to do all the singing yourself. Leave some pauses to let your child fill in the words!
2. Nursery Rhymes (birth – 5 yrs)
Nursery rhymes are my top fave language rich activity because they can be done anywhere, anytime! These are super for developing pre-literacy skills in older kids by playing with rhymes and sounds. They also help young children hear patterns in language so they can learn where words start and where words stop. Don’t know any nursery rhymes? Google Mother Goose and it will all come back to you!
3. What do you see? (1 – 5 yrs)
Look outside the window and take turns describing the fun and interesting things you see. When playing this game with little ones use the same simple short phrase “I see a ….”. When it is their turn they can participate by gesturing, making sounds or saying a word. Encourage toddlers to try and imitate your simple phrase to expand their sentence length. For older kids use more descriptive sentences as a model and encourage them to do the same (e.g., “I see a tall lady sweeping the front porch of her dark brown house”).
4. What do you hear? (9 mths – 5 yrs)
Now that the nice weather has arrived open up those windows and listen! Take turns identifying different environmental sounds as you travel along. For younger babies you will have to do more of the identifying, but your little one can participate by imitating the sounds you have heard! For older children, try and make it more challenging by turning it into a guessing game. Give clues and see if they can guess what sound you heard.
5. Find the colours (2 – 5 yrs)
Choose a colour then take a look outside the window. Whoever sees the colour first shouts out what they saw (e.g., “Red truck” or “I see a green tree”). The more distinctive the colours the more challenging the game (e.g., fuchsia, teal, etc.).
6. I Spy (3 – 7 yrs)
This is an oldie but a goodie! Take turns being the person that spies, while the others try and guess. To make this game more language rich try spying things using different adjectives (e.g., “I spy something that is tall”, “I spy something that is soft”, etc.). You can also introduce some new vocabulary as well (e.g., durable, spherical, translucent, etc.). In my family we usually tell each other if it is an object inside or outside the car just to make it a little easier.
7. Letter Hunt (2 – 6 yrs)
Take a look outside and show children all the things that have environmental print (e.g., street signs, business signs, the sides of vehicles, etc.). Take turns finding different letters and then shouting out what you found. For older kids see if they can also say what sound the letter makes.
8. Story telling (birth – 6 yrs)
I love, love, love telling stories! Oral story telling helps give older children a model of a basic framework for narratives (e.g., each story has a beginning, a middle, usually with a problem to solve, then an ending that solves the problem). For young babies, listening to the story being told using infant-directed speech helps them learn the patterns of sounds and words in language. Tell a story about something that has happened to you, or make up one of your own using your kids as characters. The more creative, the more fun!
9. Rhyme time (3 – 5 yrs)
Choose a word to start with, then take turns going around and find words that rhyme with it. They can be real words or made up words. In fact the silly words are usually the most fun!
10. Syllable clapping (3 – 5 yrs)
So simple, but so fun! Choose words and clap their syllables. The game gets more challenging the longer the words are so start simple and then increase the difficulty for older kids. This game is fun when you use names of familiar people, favourite characters or silly, made up words. This is a fantastic and easy way to practice an early literacy skill where kids begin to learn to manipulate sounds in words.
11. Categories (3 – 6 yrs)
I love this game for developing vocabulary skills and enhancing word finding abilities. Choose a topic (e.g., the farm, things that crawl, vehicles, soft things, etc.), then see how many items you can come up with that are associated with that category. Make it more fun by including familiar people or characters from your kids favourite shows.
12. Find things that start with… (4 – 6 yrs)
Being able to identify the beginning sounds in words is an important early literacy skill. In this game each person takes a turn choosing a letter sound. Then everyone has to look outside, or around the car, to find things that start with that sound. To make it a little easier for younger children, they can just come up with any word they want that starts with that sound, even if it is a made-up, silly word (which is always more fun).
13. Imitate each other (6 mths – 1 yr)
The car is a perfect chance to have a little bit of extra quiet and give babies the opportunity to make their own noises, sounds or practice babbling. Research tells us that babies love imitation and will be more likely to repeat a sound or noise again during this context. So next time you’re driving turn the music down and be quiet. Wait for your baby to make a noise or sound then imitate them and see if they will join in a back-and-forth game with you. The more a baby makes noises and sounds the more practice they have getting ready to say words!
14. What’s the opposite? (3 – 6 yrs)
This is a great game to help develop vocabulary skills, as well as concept knowledge. Take turns choosing a word and the rest of the group has to find it’s opposite. For younger children make the words simple (e.g., on/off, long/short, hot/cold, etc.). For older children make the words more complex (e.g., robust/weak, agitated/calm, exhausted/energized, etc.).
15. First to find a….. (2 – 6 yrs)
I love this game to encourage the use of descriptive words. Take a look out the window and see who can be first to find something with a specific attribute. For example, “who can find something dirty?” or “who can find something shiny?” or “who can find something tall”, etc.. Make the descriptive words more simplistic for younger children and more complicated for older ones. The more creative the better!
I would love to hear what fun language building games you are already doing with your little ones. Please share with me by commenting on this post or via social media!
Apel, K. & Masterson, J. (2012). Beyond Baby Talk: From Speaking to Spelling: A Guide to Language and Literacy Development for Parents and Caregivers.
National Literacy Trust (2011). A research review: the importance of families and the home environment. Retrieved online on September 9, 2015: http://www.literacytrust.org.uk/assets/0000/7901/Research_review-importance_of_families_and_home.pdf
Thiessen, E. Hill, E. & Saffran, J. (2005). Infant-directed speech facilitates word-segmentation. Infancy, 7(1), 53-71.
Trainor, L. & Desjardins, R. (2002). Pitch characteristics of infant-directed speech affect infants’ ability to discriminate vowels. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 9(2), 335-340.