Language Development

A Stolen Opportunity

This week, I was a swashbuckling pirate with a peg leg, brandishing a foam sword while my scallywag preschooler danced around me with his own foam weapon in a fit of pretend fury. I deflected him numerous times before I gallantly admitted defeat, laid down my sword, and started changing my other child’s diaper.

My preschooler, with no mercy in his eye, charged at me shouting, “OPPORTUNITY!!!”

He is 3.5 years old.

After laughing hysterically and trying to hold him at bay with one hand, I wondered, how did his amazing vocabulary evolve so quickly?

Grizzly Bear

At 11 months, my Grizzly Bear (preschooler now) uttered his first words. He was a late bloomer (in comparison to some babies) and said bye-bye to his grandpa as I carried him up to bed one night.  He didn’t talk for months afterwards and said very few words when coaxed all the way until he was 2.5 years old. By 2.5 years, he could string together a few words but still seemed to lag behind his peers. As any parent would, I tracked as he met other milestones using the Ages and Stages Questionnaire provided by KARA (see Blog 14), and discussed speech milestones with his doctor. I was reassured that even though his speech milestones weren’t on par with others, he was within the normal range.

Polar Bear

At 10 months, my Polar Bear (toddler now) motioned up at me as he said “mama.” Of course, I was over the moon with joy at his choice in first-time speech, but his vocabulary didn’t evolve much from that beautiful moment. At 18 months of age, Polar Bear is still stuck on a handful of words, which he uses sparingly and with tremendous hesitation. I know he can talk, but he is quite stubborn and will whisper words to me and motion towards something rather than try. Of course, I am not concerned as the age range in which children learn to speak is particularly variable.

See below.

Vocabulary Milestones

Age 1

By their first birthday, experts agree that a child should be able to say a handful of words, respond when you talk, and follow very simple directions (when in a good mood, I would imagine). My doctor indicated that if my kids could say one word by their first birthday, that counted and was within the normal range. I also understand that doctors are more interested in if a child responds to sounds and their parents’ voices rather than saying or repeating words. This form of communication (eye contact and body language) is a better indicator of being on track (click here for more info).

Age 2

By their second birthday, a child should use 50 words regularly; I recall trying to count all of my Grizzly Bear’s words at this stage and totalling in at 12 words. They should also be able to string together words; another area we weren’t excelling in. Lastly, they should be able to identify frequently used objects. Here was where both of my boys lived and thrived. They were quite capable of telling me exactly what they wanted – a book, a banana, a diaper change; they seemed to be communication experts when it got them what they needed. They also seemed to know what I was telling them – pick up the toy, put on the boot, lay down, etc. Conversationalists, they were not, but determined and clever, oh yes (click here).

Age 3

By their third birthday, a child should be able to speak clearly, speak in sentences, choose the correct words, and follow two-part requests. Check, check, check, check, and then some! Patience, practice, and motivation led my Grizzly Bear to becoming a conversational wizard! He derives new stories on his own, builds his vocabulary repertoire by himself, tries out new phrases, and even makes up his own jokes!

Mom “Did you have a good day?”

Grizzly “I had a beautiful day!”

Mom “Do you need help opening the play-doh?”

Grizzly “Yes, this is so embarrassing.”

Mom “Can you help me with this?”

Grizzly “I can’t today, I’m a kitty.”

Mom “I don’t think Polar Bear wants to clean up your toys.”

Grizzly “Yes he does, he is my minion.”

Mom “Are you excited to go see Mrs. Joyce?”

Grizzly “Can you turn on some music?”

Perhaps my son has moved on to being a teenager… I pondered as I turned up the radio.

So what helped? Completing Ages and Stages Questionnaires certainly did because afterwards, I was able to talk to staff experts about activities I could do at home to help my children practice.

Practice (and Patience!) Makes Perfect

Self Talk, Parallel Talk, and Expansions

I was given plenty of advice and tips after my Ages and Stages Questionnaires. One comment I even took away when my son was just an infant: apparently even a baby is interested in what I am doing or reading. A newborn baby can hear that I am making noise and can interact with me (through eye contact and listening), so why not tell them what I am doing or read what I am reading out loud? My sons didn’t have any inkling that I was spouting off what I was reading in the newspaper, but they were certainly happy to hear Mom’s voice!

Next came self talk, where I would use short sentences to talk about what I was doing. My boys could pick up words, particularly nouns and verbs this way. Many children also learn action words like “bye-bye,” “want,” and “come,” which accompany actions like waving, pointing, or motioning.

Parallel talk is very similar to self talk but instead of going on about which boring dish I’m washing, I would be talking about what my child is doing. This seemed to really spark their interest when we were doing something together and I would talk about it. It seemed to encourage positives towards talking and the activity. Mom is putting away the puzzle… Yes, follow my lead…

Experts suggest that while actively doing self talk and parallel talk with your children, it’s best to use short, simple sentences that are only slightly longer and more difficult than the sentences they are using themselves. This leads into expansions.

Expansions – in this stage, after they use the word frequently, add a word to it so that it becomes a short sentence. Only expand on words and sentences that your child knows well and uses.

Polar “Thirsty”

Mom “Thirsty for Juice?”

Polar “Ball”

Mom “You want ball?”

It’s always a treat to hear your child learn something from you so try these and other methods to help your kids develop new language skills (click here).

More Resources

I also highly recommend taking an Ages and Stages Questionnaire or one or more of KARA’s literacy programs: Literacy and Parenting Skills, Aboriginal Literacy and Parenting Skills, Books for Babies, and Rhymes that Bind. The questionnaires and programs that KARA offers are wonderful ways to learn beneficial methods of promoting language development within a family. Give them a try!