Updated: Aug 30
Babies and toddlers learn to recognise words such as their own name from as early as 4 months! But this is just the start, so how exactly do you help your child’s speech development?
When your baby is under 6 months, the best thing to do is just talk to your baby about anything and everything. This can be more helpful when you are responding to your baby and describing what they are doing, such as talking about the sounds they make. Or, you can even play together with fabric books and talk about the colours and textures that you can see and feel!
You can also sing songs to your baby. As their vision improves, you can see if they will begin to mirror your movements, facial expressions, or sounds. Be expressive and have fun! This is the best way to start communication with your baby.
Between six and twelve months, babies begin to respond when people chat to them. To start with, this will most likely be in repetitive babbling sounds, but soon they will start to pick up a small number of short, simple single-syllable words such as “no”, “yes”, and “bye bye”. They will also begin to use gestures to communicate.
At this stage, you can have conversations with your baby, taking turns to talk to each other or even join in the babbling! Read with your baby, using simple interactive books appropriate for their age. Simple picture books at bedtime are ideal for this.
You should also join in playtime activities, talk to your baby about the things that they can see around them, and use gestures and actions when talking. All these things help keep the communication with baby constant.
By 18 months old, your child should know around 20 words. They will be able to understand simple instructions and sentences, such as “come here”. Toddlers will also be able to use sounds to describe certain things, like animal noises, and they will be able to put two words together.
You can continue this development by naming two objects and offering your child a choice, such as asking which fruit they would like as a snack. Continue to use picture books, songs, and rhymes to expand your child’s vocabulary and keep the learning fun. It is also helpful if these songs and rhymes include actions, or if you use actions whilst you are talking to help baby understand.
At this stage you can also include play pretend games. These not only help their speech development, but also help to improve their play skills and work to grow their imagination.
If you speak more than one language, it is important to talk to them in both if you wish for them to learn both. The development of first words or vocabulary can sometimes be slightly delayed, however it is something that they can quickly catch up on!
Between two and three years, children learn to say and understand more words. They will begin to ask questions, use personal pronouns, and use simple adjectives to describe things that they see. They should also be able to begin talking about past and future events.
As your child begins to talk more, it is important to expand their vocabulary. When they point out an object, you should respond expanding on what they said with adjectives. It is also important to begin talking about memories and feelings at this stage, rather than just focussing on the present and physical. This should also include future events, building their awareness for time.
By four years old, children learn to listen to stories and can begin to recall them. Use pronouns for other people, and ask questions such as “why?” as they grow more curious.
At five years old, your child should be having longer conversations, and be happy to take turns. They will begin to understand when things are put into order, and their speech should start to be more clear.
When you reach this stage, it is important to still keep up the communication with your child; ask them about their day and tell them about yours too. Play make-believe games and try rhyming games too! This can also be talking about words that start with the same sound - these games help your child to identify sounds more easily in speech.
Encourage them to problem solve. This can be something practical, or asking them to recall what happens next in stories that you have read together multiple times. Games such as “I Spy” are also good for expanding their vocabulary and learning word sounds.
As you can see, learning does not have to be boring! There are plenty of fun and interactive ways for you to help and encourage speech development in your child.