mom talking to toddler by window

15 Ways to Build Language Skills in Children

Expressive language skills help children communicate their needs, manage their emotions, and connect with others. 

  • Expressive language is the “output” of language through verbal or nonverbal communication, expressing wants, needs, feelings, information.

As a parent, the way you interact with your child can develop and improve their expressive language skills. Many studies show that talking and reading with your children extensively from an early age helps them to increase their vocabulary and other communication abilities. 

girl signing with woman

Not all communication is verbal. These tips help children connect words with their meanings , can be easily modified to fit your child’s preferred way to communicate, and are beneficial for all forms of communication, such as:

  • Verbal communication
  • Sign language
  • Gestures, body language
  • Visual supports: Pictures, photos, objects, or videos
  • Written words
  • Computers, tablets, or other electronic devices
mom talking to toddler by window

You can easily add simple and fun activities to your everyday life that will help your child communicate and express themselves.

6 Tips for Talking with Your Child:

  1. Sing and dance. Most children enjoy movement and music. Music makes information more memorable, demonstrates the rhythm of language, and is just plain fun. Repetitive lyrics and silly tunes are very effective and usually a huge hit.
  2. Share stories. Create stories of your own by imagining characters and adding special details. Encourage your child to add to the story or create one of their own. Personalize your masterpieces by including the names of family members and other familiar information.
  3. Ask questions. Kids learn so much by asking questions. Answering questions can help them, too! To help, use open-ended questions to get kids talking. “What was your favorite thing that happened today?” Questions that are open to short answers or long answers are great. Your child may say, “lunch”. They may also tell you all about lunch.
  4. Play word games. Word puzzles, puns, riddles, are a great way to make learning fun. Point out how two words can sound the same and have different meanings. Have fun with silly sounds like animal noises and silly words like bam, boom, crunch, onomatopoeia.
  5. Discuss routine activities. Turn day-to-day activities, chores, and errands into a running commentary and teachable moments. Describe what you’re doing as you do it, what’s coming next, why you are doing what you’re doing.
  6. Follow their lead. When your child is communicating with you, give them your full attention. As long as safely possible, turn to focus on them and listen intently.  This is another great opportunity to ask follow up questions. 
dad reading to toddler daughter

5 Tips for Reading with Your Child:

  1. Create a home library. Put together a home library of books and other reading materials. Make the books available throughout the house and easy to access. In addition, create a sensory-friendly inviting reading nest like a table covered with blankets and soft pillows on the floor. 
  1. Read Aloud Family Time – Even with older children, reading aloud improves kids’ information processing skills, vocabulary, and receptive language skills. This all works together to also help expressive language skills. Plus, research shows that children whose caregivers read to them benefit in a number of other ways, including helping develop a love of reading.
  2. Encourage their interests. Pick books about your children’s favorite topics, places, characters, periods. Maybe they’re wild about dinosaurs, astronomy, or fairies.
  1. Expand their vocabulary. Point out new words in books. Say them together and use them in a sentence to help show context and meaning.
  2. Take turns. As your child gets older, let them be the reader for family reading time. Even when they’re young, they can point out pictures, turn the page, and make sound effects for the story. 
boy with nose pressed against glass on museum display

Other Tips:

  1. Repeat back what they’ve said. There are a few important benefits of this.
    • It reinforces to your child that you are listening.
    • You can make sure you understand what your child is telling you, and your child understands what you heard.
    • Children are bound to make some interesting guesses as they’re learning about pronunciation and grammar. To guide them without discouraging them, try repeating back the corrected version of what they said while praising them for their efforts.
  2. Plan field trips. Visiting museums, taking nature walks, even visiting a store can all help bring language to life. Plan field trips that help your child see what they’ve been learning, reading, talking about. 
  1. Limit electronics. While some educational programming can be beneficial, getting hands on with books, activities, face-to-face with conversations builds language skills more effectively than passively watching TV or YouTube. 
  1. See your pediatrician. There are a number of things that can affect a child’s language skills. Talk to your pediatrician about how things are going to make sure you’re on-track for your child’s development or can assess the situation if there are concerns. To track your child’s developmental milestones and find more information and tips, check out CDC’s Milestone Tracker App

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