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Lumiere Children’s Therapy: Learning to Talk

Mama, Dada, go, ball, and hi are all common first words you may hear your child say between 12-15 months old. Hearing your child say their first word is not only exciting, but helpful to be able to attend to your child’s wants and needs. Although each child develops language skills at different rates, delayed expressive language skills are usually first noticed by families.

Expressive language is the ability to communicate thoughts through words, gestures, and/or facial expressions. Expressive language allows one to communicate their wants and needs, socialize with others and interact in their environment. In order for a child to begin expressing themselves with words, there are a number of prerequisite skills that need to be mastered.

Prerequisites to talking

  • Exploration of the environment. Children should be constantly reacting to situations in their surroundings such as noises, lights, people, and activities. Reacting to others and new experiences are core features of communication.

    Strategies to try at home: Interact with your child in new ways to encourage exploration. Bang on pots and pans in the kitchen during meal prep, let your child ring the doorbell when walking in the house, or make a light show with flashlights. Be creative while incorporating music, sounds, visuals, and familiar faces!

  • Acknowledges others during play. Communication involves at least two people, so learning how to interact with another person is a necessary component. Children should want to be around others and react to interactions initiated by others.

    • Strategies to try at home: Get on the floor and play with your child! Initiate interactions by taking a turn on a puzzle, bumping your toy car into his, or stacking a block on his tower. Let your child acknowledge your interaction by imitating or responding in their own way. Continue to model interactive play with your child as often as possible.

  • Adequate attention and joint attention. Child should be able to remain on a single toy or activity for at least five minutes. Joint attention is when a child is focused on the same item or activity as the communicator or parent.

    • Strategies to try at home: To increase attention to asks, set a visual timer for two to three minutes on a chosen toy before they are able to pick a new activity. Instead of time increments, set a number of turns before moving to a new activity such as three puzzle pieces, three car races, or three items on Mr. Potato Head. In order to improve joint attention, be sure to sit at your child’s level and in their line of vision.Show your child that you are interacting with the same object by pointing, naming, and interacting with the same toy.

  • Demonstrates age-appropriate play skills. Language skills are most often learned through play in early development. Learning opportunities are frequent during pretend play, and while using interactive toys and early concept toys such as animals and play food. Playing with toys appropriately is required in order to use play to learn language. This may look like a child racing a car, pretending to stir a pot, or placing blocks on top of each other.

    • Strategies to try at home: Play with toys that require the child to interact, instead of watching it do something (i.e. light-up toys, ipads). Examples of good toys include puzzles, blocks, dolls, play kitchen and animal figurines. Model appropriate play with toys and encourage your child to imitate.

  • Understands words and commands. In order to use language to communicate, a child must understand language. This includes following simple requests such as “throw the ball” or “bring me book”, identifying pictures in books, or grabbing a named object in a group of three or more.

    • Strategies to try at home: If your child has difficulty following directions, give a verbal command first and then model the action. During routine activities such as getting dressed, brushing teeth, or leaving the house, give specific and consistent commands such as “put on your coat” or “open the door”.

  • Begins to imitate sounds, gestures, or facial expressions. Mimicking gestures teaches the concept of learning language through imitation without the pressure to use words. A child should learn to copy funny faces, clapping, waving, high-fiving, and other common gestures before being expected to imitate words.

    • Strategies to try at home: Sing nursery rhymes and do the gestures along with it such as Itsy Bitsy Spider, The Wheels on the Bus, and Pat-a-Cake. For facial expression, sit in front of the mirror and make funny faces such as sticking out your tongue. During social activities, encourage your child to wave to people they see and high-five family and friends.

  • Communicates wants and needs with gestures and/or pointing. Children will often learn to point to request objects before using words. Finding ways to express wants and needs by pointing, grabbing, or leading, is a way of nonverbal communication.

    • Strategies to try at home: If your child is wanting food or a toy, hold up two options and give the prompt, “what do you want?” Encourage your child to point by modeling the gesture. Teaching baby signs is a great way to facilitate non-verbal language as well. Start with teaching the signs for more, all done, and eat.

Once your child has developed the prerequisite skills for language develop, they will start to babble, imitate sounds, and use words for communicative purposes. The typical milestones for language develop are listed below. If your child is a late-talking, the months will vary but the hierarchy of skills will be relatively similar.



Typical Expressive Language Development


3-6 months

  • Makes pleasure sounds such as cooing and gooing

  • Smiles at familiar faces

  • Vocalizes to express anger

  • Initiates “talking” by playing with new sounds

  • Whines with manipulative purpose or cries for different needs

  • Laughs



4-6 months

  • Babbles with different sounds including p, b, and m

  • Vocalizes excitement and anger

  • Makes raspberries or gurgling sounds



6-9 months

  • Vocalizes four different syllables

  • Vocalizes two-syllable combination, example “uh oh”

  • Makes noises during play

  • Attempts to sings along with familiar song

  • Shouts or vocalizes to gain attention



9-12 months

  • Says mama or dada meaningfully

  • Repeats different consonant and vowel combinations

  • Imitates environment sounds such as car beep, animal sounds, or fire engine siren



12-15 months

  • Says or imitates between eight to 10 words independently

  • Imitates new words frequently

  • Says three animal sounds

  • Combines vocalizations and gestures when asking for an object (pointing and saying “milk”)

  • Babbles with adult-like intonation and occasional words



15-18 months

  • Child produces 15 words consistently

  • Uses words more than gestures

  • Begins to ask questions such as “what’s that?”

  • Child will name objects on request

  • Uses a variety of early consonant sounds like p, b, t, d, n, m, and h


18-21 months

  • Uses words frequently

  • Will imitate two-three word phrases such as “help me” or “want more please”

  • Child will occasionally produce two word phrases on their own


How to Encourage Language Development after First Words

After your child starts saying words, you may feel the progress of new vocabulary is slow. Modeling language, creating opportunities, and setting expectations are important to grow your child’s expressive language vocabulary. Below are a list of strategies to implement at home to improve your child’s use of words.


  • Narrate everything. During play, routines, and daily activities, narrate what you and your child are doing. Use simple, concrete nouns (dog, milk, cookie) and common verbs (go, eat, drink) in short phrases. If your child speaks in one word sentences, use two to three word sentences when narrating.

    • What does it look like? When getting dressed, mom says “Grace zips coat”. During mealtimes, dad says “I cut apple”.



  • Create language opportunities. Provide opportunities by holding toys back during play to encourage your child to request more of activities or specific items.

    • What does it looks like? Play with toys that have multiple parts such as legos, puzzles, blocks, sorting cube, and piggy bank. Parent holds the toy parts and hands each part after your child requests items with a word.  

Parent: “What do you want?”

Child: No response

Parent: “More”

Child: “More”

*Parent gives child one item*

If your child does not imitate word after two attempts, provide the toy so he or she does not become frustrated.


  • Wait. Parents know what their child wants without them having to verbally request with a word. Instead of automatically putting your child’s coat on or giving him the preferred toy, allow a period of wait time. Silently look at what your child wants, and wait for your child to request item. If your child does not say the item, give him a verbal model. If your child still doesn’t say the word after giving a prompt, give the item to your child.


    • What does it look like?

Parent: *silently looking at item”

Child: No response

Parent: “What do you want?”

Child: No response

Parent: “Ball”

Child: “Ball”

*Parent gives ball*



  • Give choices.  Providing two options to children forces them to communicate the object/activity they prefer. During meal times, hold up a preferred food (goldfish) and non-preferred food (carrot) then ask your child which one they want.  During play time, hold up two toys such as puzzle or ball.


    • What does it look like?

Parent: *Holds broccoli and goldfish*

Parent: “Which one do you want?”

Child: *Points to goldfish”

Parent: “Fish”

Child: “Fish”

*Parent gives fish*

  • Make it fun. Most importantly, make language development fun! The best way to do this is play with your child at their level. Teach them unique ways to play with your toys by making forts, pretend play, or setting up a picnic for all the stuffed animals. Children learn by imitating caregivers so continue to model phrases, play, and interaction with others.


Every child develops language at their own pace, but if you feel your child is significantly behind based on the typical milestone chart provided contact Lumiere Children’s Therapy for a language evaluation from one of our speech therapists.





References:

ChildTalk. “Child Talk.” How Many Words Should My Child Be Saying? A Quick Guide To Vocabulary Development, 1 Jan. 1970, www.talkingkids.org/2013/01/using-self-talk-and-parallel-talk-to.html.


Laura. “CHART 11 Skills Toddlers Master Before Words Emerge from Let's Talk About Talking.” Teachmetotalk.com, 28 May 2018, teachmetotalk.com/2018/04/18/chart-11-skills-toddlers-master-before-words-emerge-from-lets-talk-about-talking/.


Mattingly, Rhonda. “Typical Development .” Early Language Development . Early Language Development , 2016, Louisville, University of Louisville .


Mize, Laura. “11 Skils Toddlers Master Before Words Emerge.” Teach Me to Talk , Laura Mize, M.S., CCC-SLP, teachmetotalk.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/CHART-of-11-Skills-Toddlers-Master-Before-Words-Emerge-from-Laura-Mize-and-teachmetotalk.com_.pdf.

Rossetti, Louis. Rossetti Infant-Toddler Language Scale a Measure of Communication and Interaction. Pro-Ed, Distributor, 2006.

“The Effectiveness of Language Facilitation.” Leader Live - Happening Now in the Speech-Language-Hearing World, 29 May 2015, blog.asha.org/2014/05/22/the-effectiveness-of-language-facilitation/.


Lumiere Children’s Therapy: Asking and Answering Questions

“Hi, how are you doing?”

“I’m doing well, just got back from vacation”

“Where did you go?”

“Florida”

“Nice. Who did you go with?”

“My daughter”

“How did you get there”

“We drove.”


The above dialogue is an example of a typical conversation between two people discussing a recent vacation. The person asking the questions is showing interest and gaining more information by asking informative questions. The person answering questions is providing additional information about their trip by adequately answering the questions. Asking and answering questions appropriately is an important skill in order to participate in social conversation with others and build relationships.  It also aids in comprehension of spoken and/or written language by learning information through the form of questions and demonstrating understanding by answering comprehension questions.



What is Involved in Asking and Answering Questions?

Steps to adequately answer questions include:

  1. Hearing the question correctly

  2. Thinking about the meaning by deciphering the difference between who, what, where, when, why, and how

  3. Understanding the meaning or context

  4. Forming a suitable answer

  5. Articulate the answer in a grammatically correct sentence


Steps to adequately asking questions include:

  1. Determining the information you would like to receive

  2. Formulating a cohesive, grammatically correct question in your head

  3. Articulating the question to another person using adequate social skills

There is a hierarchy for answering and asking questions during development. “What” questions are the easiest to learn, use, and answer in language development. “Where” questions are next, followed by “who” questions. Lastly, the hardest questions to answer are “when” and “why”. When teaching children how to answer questions, start with “What” and “where” questions until fully mastered.


Milestones for Asking and Answering Questions

1-2 years old:

Answering:

  • Answers simple “what” questions like “what’s that?” while pointing at common objects

  • Answers simple “where” questions by pointing to objects or pictures in a book, such as “where are your shoes?”

  • Responds to yes/no questions with a nod or word

Asking:

  • Starts to add rising intonation to the end of phrases to indicate questions. For instance, “cookie?” may stand for, “Can I have a cookie?”

  • May start to ask “what’s that?” to unknown objects



2-3 years old:


Answering

  • Point to objects when described in questions such as “where do you sleep?” or “What do you wear on your feet?”

  • Answers simple wh-questions (what, where, who) logically

  • Follows directions when asked “Can you..” such as, “Can you give me the brush?”

Asking

  • Asks basic “where”, “what”, and “what are you doing”.. questions independently, “Where daddy?”



3-4 years old:

Answering

  • Appropriately answers more complex /wh/ questions such as “who”, “what”, “where”, “when”, and “how”

  • Answers questions about objects function such as “what do we do with a towel?”

  • Answers hypothetical questions. For instance, “If your sick, where do you go?”

Asking

  • Uses correct syntax while phrasing questions such as “where is sister going?” instead of “sister going where?”

  • Starts to ask “why” questions about everyday life

  • Asks the following types of questions using correct grammar:

    • Early infinitive “Do you want to go to the zoo?”

    • Future “Are we going to school?”

    • Modal can/may “Can I use the bathroom?”



4 years old:

Answering

  • At this age, children should appropriately answer all wh-questions including “when” questions. For instance, “when do you brush your teeth?”

Asking

  • Asks questions using age-appropriate structure including “ Can I…”, “Do you want to…”, and “Are we going…”


Activities to Try at Home:

  • For 1-2 year olds, asking questions should remain at the basic level. Line up favorite toys or household items and ask the child to name each by asking “What’s that?” Play with animal figurines and ask your children, “What sound does a pig make?” and so on. Books are great to use so that children can point to the answers for “What’s that” questions. First 100 Words by Roger Priddy is a favorite book of speech therapists.

  • In order to work on yes/no questions, ask preferential questions in that format. For instance, “Do you want yogurt? Yes or no?”. Nod your head accordingly while saying yes versus no so that your child fully understands.

  • Car rides provide ample time to address “wh” questions revolving daily activities. If headed to the grocery store, questions may include “Where do we go to buy food?”, “What should we buy for breakfast”, or “Where do they keep the milk?”. After school, ask more specific questions about the day, “What did you eat for lunch?”, “Who did you sit next to in class?”, or “Where did you play during recess?”.

  • Make a wh- poster board. Split the poster into thirds (what, where, who) or fourths (what, where, who, when) depending on your child’s age. Look through old magazines and cut out pictures to glue into the corresponding spots. “What” pictures may include clothing, food, or toys. “Where” pictures would include indoor or outdoor places. “Who” pictures would be people. “When” pictures can feature seasons, holidays, or time of day.

  • Create your own story books. First, decide what the story is going to be about (vacation, dance class, school, shopping, getting a pet, etc). Next, ask your child questions about the story in order to write a plot, such as “Who is the story about”, “Where are they going?”, “What are they doing there?”, “When does it take place?”, and “How does it end”. Have your child draw a picture on each page to go along with the text.

  • For older children, games can be used to encourage asking questions. The following games encourage the development of asking and answering questions.

Reading Comprehension Milestones

As children enter school-age, asking and answering question skills are applied to reading comprehension. Children begin to understand what they are reading through determining the elements of a story (character, setting, plot, main idea, rising action, and resolution). Below outlines a typical development of reading comprehension skills, and strategies to aid in development to try at home.

Kindergarten (5 years old)

  • Kindergarteners can start to retell details of a story read out loud by stating the who, what, when, where, and why of the plot

  • Children can retell the main idea of simple stories

  • Children can arrange story events in sequential order

  • They are able to answer simple “what” questions about the story read to them

First and Second Grade (6-7 years old)

  • Children are able to read simple, familiar stories themselves

  • Answer questions about a story that requires them to think about what they have read

  • Demonstrate understanding of a story through drawings

  • Children can create their own stories by organizing thoughts in a logical sequence of beginning, middle, and end

Second and Third Grade (7-8 year old)

  • Children are able to read longer books independently

  • Able to identify unfamiliar words through context and pictures

  • Apply reading skills to writing skills by forming complete paragraphs


Fourth through Eighth Grade (9-13)

  • Able to read and explore variety of texts including narratives, poetry, fiction, and biographies

  • Identify the elements of the story such as time, setting, characters, plot, problem and resolution

  • Analyze texts for meanings, use inferencing skills, and make predictions.

Strategy for Home

Make reading a part of your daily routine, whether it is a book in the morning, after school, or before bed. Stop periodically throughout the book to check for comprehension by asking “What is happening?”, “Who is this about?”, and “What do you think will happen next?”. For younger children, fold paper into three creases and have the child draw three pictures to represent the story.

If your child demonstrates difficulty answering or asking questions or seems behind on the language development milestones, Lumiere Children’s Therapy can provide the appropriate intervention to improve language skills.

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References:

“Asking and Answering Questions.” Speech And Language Kids, www.speechandlanguagekids.com/questions-resource-page/.

Lanza, Janet R, and Lynn K Flashive. “Question Answering and Asking Milestones.” Parent Resources Blog, LinguiSystems, Inc., 2008, parentresourcesblog.files.wordpress.com/2013/05/questions-development.pdf.

Morin, Amanda. “Reading Skills: What to Expect at Different Ages.” Understood.org, \www.understood.org/en/learning-attention-issues/signs-symptoms/age-by-age-learning-skills/reading-skills-what-to-expect-at-different-ages.

“Reading Milestones (for Parents).” Edited by Cynthia M. Zettler-Greeley, KidsHealth, The Nemours Foundation, June 2018, kidshealth.org/en/parents/milestones.html.

Spivey, Becky L. “How to Help Your Child Understand and Produce ‘WH’ Questions.” Super Duper Handy Handouts, 2006 Super Duper Publications, 2006, www.superduperinc.com/handouts/pdf/110_wh_questions.pdf.

“Teaching Your Toddler to Answer Questions - Receptive and Expressive Language Delay Issues.” Teachmetotalk.com, 13 Sept. 2017, teachmetotalk.com/2008/02/26/techniques-to-work-on-answering-questions-with-language-delayed-toddlers/.

“Why Is Asking and Answering Questions Important?” ABC Pediatric Therapy, 11 Mar. 2018, www.abcpediatrictherapy.com/why-is-asking-and-answering-questions-important/.