Early language and communication skills are crucial for children’s success in school and beyond. Language and communication skills include the ability to understand others (i.e., receptive language) and express oneself (i.e., expressive language) using words, gestures, or facial expressions. Children who develop strong language and communication skills are more likely to arrive at school ready to learn.1 They also are less likely to have difficulties learning to read and are more likely to have higher levels of achievement in school.2
During the first years of life, children’s brains are developing rapidly and laying the foundation for learning. The interactions that children have with adults influence how children develop and learn.3 As a result, early childhood educators have a prime opportunity to provide children with interactions that can support children’s growth and development, particularly their language and communication skills.
As past research shows, when teachers provide children with higher levels of language stimulation during the first years of life, children have better language skills.4,5 When teachers ask children questions, respond to their vocalizations, and engage in other positive talk, children learn and use more words. A study found that one third of the language interactions between teachers and children were the type that support children’s language development, while the other two-thirds included less complex language such as directions, general praise, and rhetorical questions.6 Promoting more high-quality language interactions between children and adults provides children with the kinds of experiences that can foster their growth in language and communication.
This guide describes 10 practices that early childhood educators can use to support the development of language and communication skills of infants and toddlers. Because research supports the importance of adult-child interactions for infants and toddlers,5 the practices are designed to be done one-on-one or in small groups. Each practices draws upon the types of interactions that research suggests promotes language and communication skills. These interactions include:
- Responding to children’s vocalizations and speech
- Engaging in joint attention with children
- Eliciting conversations with children
- Talking with children more
- Using complex grammar and rich vocabulary
- Providing children with more information about objects, emotions, or events.
These interactions benefit children from a variety of language and cultural backgrounds, including children who are dual language learners. Children who are dual language learners may sometimes feel socially isolated and have difficulty communicating their wants and needs.7 Educators may find the practices presented in this guide useful for helping dual language learners feel more socially connected and communicate better. Educators interested in learning more about supporting dual language learners will find additional information in the resources presented at the end of the guide.
Source: Frank Porter Graham Institute on Child Development, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill