Even a newborn is listening to you intently to eventually communicate with you. There are activities parents can do at home to enhance speech in their babies. This article focuses on speech activities for kids which parents can start in the first year itself. In fact, it is a proven fact that listening begins in the mother’s womb and infants pick up both verbal and non-verbal cues, even in the early months after birth. Those listening skills will then turn into eye contact, cries, smiling, giggling, babbling, and more. Have you ever noticed that your baby cries differently for different needs? Different cries are baby’s way of communicating with you!
In fact, your baby’s first communication begins with crying.
Roughly, by the age of one, your baby will develop both nonverbal and verbal language skills to communicate.
Speech and Language Milestones in the First Year of Infancy
During year one, most babies develop the following language milestones:
- Recognizes familiar voices
- Responds to familiar voices by smiling and laughing
- Coos, squeals, shouts
- Has different cries for different needs
- Communicates through gestures (points to a bottle to tell you he/she needs more milk)
- Repeats sound or actions/gestures
- Responds to simple instructions (“Come here please”)
- Repeats words
- Recognizes the names of common objects
- Shows interest in reading books
These are the milestones that an average child covers by age of one. Please bear in mind that all babies develop differently and taking one or two months extra should not be seen as a problem. Still, if you have any concerns about your baby’s development, ask your doctor for advice.
Important Activities for Speech and Language Development in Infancy, That Parents Can Do at Home
1. Animal Sounds: Children are naturally curious and creative. You must have noticed that they like some unusual sounds better, like a squeaky sound, sound of a horn or whistle, sound when we pop our mouth or click our tongue. Hence, expose them to various sounds like those of animals, birds, whistles, trumpets and so on. And please use toys and human sounds, don’t rely on gadgets.
You can simply say cow says ‘moo’….cat says ‘meow’…… This also helps your baby recognize the names of common animals along with their unique sounds. The best part about playing with sounds is it can be done anywhere, even in the car
2. Sound Stories
Storytime is a wonderful time to bond with your baby. But it is also a way to enrich your baby’s language development. To learn speech skills, your baby also needs to learn nonverbal communication and sounds in response to everyday things. Instead of reading through a book, make reading fun by adding facial expressions, voice inflections, sound effects, and animal sounds.
3. Talk Back
Babies communicate by crying, cooing, and squealing to get your attention. When he/she is communicating with you, start talking back. If your baby coos, coo back. If baby smiles at you from across the room, smile back while saying ‘Hello’ and waving.
Babies learn through imitation. Over time your baby will not only smile, but say ‘Hello’ back to you while waving.
4. Color Names
Everything is made of color. To help foster early color recognition, say the colors of everything you see.
For example: Name the colors of cars passing by while taking a walk to the park; tell your baby what color clothes he/she is wearing, toy colors, and more!
It is important to name colors and objects in the first year, don’t wait for the child to respond, just build up his observation for the ‘world around him’.
5. Sing a Song
Whether you can keep a tune or not, your baby doesn’t care! Singing is a perfect way to provide a language learning opportunity that includes voice inflections, new words, and facial expressions. So go ahead and make a silly face while singing at the top of your lungs! Enjoy with the baby, even if it’s a simple nursery rhyme, sing it with actions and expressions so that the baby can eventually imitate and enjoy it.
6. Monkey See, Monkey Do
“Monkey see, monkey do” is all about facial expressions. Facial expressions are an important aspect of speech development because they convey emotions. Research suggests that nonverbal forms of communication like facial expressions make up 60 to 65% of communication.
To encourage increased emotions through facial expressions, hold your baby in front of you and mimic his/her facial expressions. When your baby smiles, smile back. Better yet! Stick out your tongue, make a silly face, and watch to see if baby repeats your expressions.
7. Mirror, Mirror
Since tummy time is an essential part of a baby’s physical development, take advantage of tummy time by using a mirror. Not only will baby enjoy his/her reflection, but each time a coo or giggle is made your baby can see where the sound is coming from and his/her facial expressions when ‘speaking.’
After a diaper change or anytime your baby is on his/her back, take baby’s legs and move them in bicycle motions while singing a silly song or reciting a nursery rhyme. The bicycling motion will allow baby to focus on your face while you sing or speak to her/him.
Face-to-face is one of my favorite fun activities for promoting speech development! Lay on the floor with your little one and face each other. Point to areas of her/his face while naming the parts of the face. This will help your baby not only learn hand/eye coordination, but early recognition of parts of the face.
Better yet, take this activity one step further by doing the following example:
- Point to baby’s nose and say ‘nose’
- Take baby’s hand and touch your nose while saying ‘nose’
Having baby touch your nose allows her/him to understand that everyone has similar body parts with the same names.
10. Repeat After Me
This simple game works best when facing your baby. Start making babbling sounds- baby talk (especially with vowel sounds) and wait for your baby to repeat them back to you. Some common coos and babbling sounds include: Oohh/aww; mamma/dada.
This type of speech normally does not develop until four months of age. So don’t be upset if your one-month-old is not catching on, just give it time. Before long you and baby will be chattering back-and-forth.
11. Say My Name
One of the biggest language developments a baby will make is learning/recognizing his/her name! While it’s different for every baby, most regular developing babies will recognize and respond to their names between 3 to 6 months of age.
To help baby along with this language development, say your baby’s name whenever possible. Some fun ways to say your baby’s name include:
- Adding his/her name to a silly song,
- Asking a question with his/her name,
- Replacing the names of book characters with your baby’s name.
To develop language babies need to repeat or ‘echo’ words. A great way to include new words and increase language skills is by adding expressive phrases to everyday situations.
For instance, if your baby drops his/her bottle on the floor say, “Oh no!”
I’ve found this activity also helps develop speech by adding sound effects to baby’s activities. Each time your baby jumps while holding him/her, add a sound effect like “boing, boing.” While trying to calm your crying baby, rock him/her back and forth while saying, “swoosh, swoosh.”
Over time, baby will begin to “echo” what he/she hears.
I know it seems silly, and that’s because it is! Echo is meant to be a fun learning activity for babies, so the sillier you get with sound effects and funny phrases the more baby absorbs new words, sounds, and phrases.
13. Taking Turns: My Turn, Baby’s Turn
Turn taking is perhaps the best activity for to and fro communication. What I have experienced in my work with children is that not just teachers, but even parents come to a didactic role when it comes to teaching. We don’t need to ask questions to a child, we just need to make them feel excited about learning.
There are many finger games like akkad bakkad, bhoom bhoom cha cha, o ma yo shi….and the like which helps children listen, wait and respond.
Also, when doing activities, we can always take turns, like turns in putting rings on a stand, turns in dropping coins in the piggybank and so on.
Car- pull is an activity that’s perfect for crawling babies! While baby is crawling, get down and your hands and knees and teach baby how to push a car or truck as she/he is crawling. Your baby doesn’t have to keep a constant hand on the car, just a little push in between crawling motions.
To include speech development, add car sound effects; tell a funny story about the car ride; sing “Wheels on the Bus/Car/Truck”; etc.
This game if perfect for babies who can sit unsupported and have decent hand/eye coordination. Simply take a (medium- to large-sized) ball and roll the ball directly toward him/her. Incorporate language skills by saying phrases like “Here is your red ball!”
Roll-A-Ball can become more advanced by helping baby understand simple instructions and responding to those instructions. Try rolling a ball over to him/her and asking him/her to roll the ball back.
16. Count With Me
You can help your baby with learning numbers by counting out loud to him/her every day. This activity doesn’t require extra effort on your part, simply start talking and counting out loud.
The following are great ways to include number counting each day:
- Count each stair step as you carry baby upstairs,
- Count how many bananas you bought at the store,
- Count baby’s fingers and toes.
17. Disappear, Reappear
Instead of playing a regular game of peek-a-boo, try playing with your baby’s favorite toy or stuffed animal. Hide his/her toy from view. Wait and few seconds and say “peek-a-boo.” You can also incorporate more speaking skills into the game by adding some creative dialogue!
Examples: “Peek-a-boo! I found bunny!”
This activity can then be generalised to more toys hidden from the child. The child can learn animals and their sounds also while playing this activity. The activity can be varied by introducing ‘look who is coming….Meow. Meow.. a cat is coming….
18. Finger Puppets
Small finger or hand puppets are an amazing way to help develop language skills for your little one! By using finger or hand puppets to tell a story you are showing baby the following language and speech skills:
- Different facial expressions to show emotions when speaking
- Creative dialogue between two or more puppets (similar to speaking between two people).
19. Fruits and Veggies
Much of a baby’s speech development has to do with repetitive hearing and use of everyday words. One way to help with word recognition of common fruits and vegetables is by playing pretend with plastic fruits and vegetables.
Although baby will need to be supervised with pretend plastic food because of small pieces, he/she will learn how to recognize a banana, carrot, pear, and more!
Also, don’t forget to count your fruits and veggies for number recognition!
20. Picture This
One of the easiest ways to help develop language skills in babies is through flashcards. Flashcards with pictures and writing help your baby begin to recognize what the picture or action is on the card along with the corresponding word or phrase.
While your baby won’t say the words out loud for a while, it helps him/her to recognize the picture with the associated word.
21. Build a Tower
Building a tower with blocks is perfect for developing hand/eye coordination. But this activity can also be used for encouraging language development in babies.
As you watch or directly help your child stack blocks, say the color of the block along with counting the blocks as the tower is being stacked. Many available baby blocks also have pictures in which you can describe the picture to your baby. For instance: If you have blocks with animals pictured on them, name each animal along with the sound the animal makes.
Remember: speech development is a process. Speech has a social context. Child will try to speak if he has intentions to communicate. Play a lot of turn taking games, read out stories to him/ her. Remember the sky is the limit for speech development of your baby! But your baby needs your help along the way! The best way to develop language skills by year one is through imagination and play. Each of the activities above combines:
- Imaginative play,
- Simple instructions for you and baby to follow,
- Activities involving both verbal and nonverbal speech.
So start playing some of these fun speech and language activities to give your baby a head start before he or she turns one!
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