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Language Development

Dear Debi,
In my family child care we use conversation with the children everyday. I know how to help the children understand and discuss their feelings by talking it out, but how can I better use conversation in helping childrenís language development?
Gail, Pomona, CA
Debi's Tips
Debi Gutierrez
Debi Gutierrez
  • Begin conversations early
  • Kids learn from all kinds of conversation
  • Make time for one-on-one conversation
  • Use open-ended questions as conversation starters
Expert Advice
Anita Britt, Ph.D.
Anita Britt, Ph.D.
Childrenís Hospital LA
Kids can develop language skills when child care providers simply talk with them. Even infants learn from all types of conversations they hear. They learn when you talk in a sing-song voice, and they learn when you read to them. Thatís why itís important to talk to infants early and get them familiar with language. I recommend to parents that they begin speaking to their children while they are still in the womb.

When children are 6 months old, child care providers should use phrases that they want them to be able to use in the future. These conversations can take place during one-on-one times with an infant, such as diapering and feeding times.

It doesnít matter what you talk to your infants about. Whatís important is that you talk to the kids as much and as often as possible. If you are outside with a child and he or she points to something they see, for instance a bird, then say, ďYes, isnít that pretty? Itís a bluebird, and they fly. See how high they can fly? What do you think about the bluebird?Ē It doesnít matter that they donít fully understand what you are saying. They are taking it all in and learning language skills by hearing you talk to them.

Itís important to give each child individualized attention so that they feel loved, important, and that you are paying attention to them. In this one-on-one time, itís also important to respond to what the kids say to you, so that itís like a natural conversation with back and forth between you and the child.

Open-ended questions are very important to starting conversations because it gets kids thinking and encourages children to use language to describe their thoughts and feelings. When they starting thinking about an open-ended question, they are searching for words to use to answer the question. This in turn encourages thought process, which also helps kids develop language skills.

It doesnít matter in which language you speak to the child because at this stage of development, infants can learn different languages at the same time. Babies can make all the sounds of all languages in the beginning. So when you talk to them, you are teaching them which sounds to make to be able to use a particular language. Whatís important is that you talk with the child.
Child Care provider Comments
Child care provider for 3 years
I have a 2-year-old girl in care that Iíve had since she was 5 months old. She has excellent language skills and will constantly start up conversations with me. I really think she is this way because I have always taken the opportunity to talk, sing and converse with her. I used diapering time to strike up conversations with her even before she could speak. When I change her diaper now, she knows itís time for conversation.
Child care provider for 8 years
I think itís important to start conversing with babies before they even can talk. I think it teaches them what words to use, appropriate ways to talk to others, tone of voice, and everything else about language. I constantly engage kids in conversation and talk to them about everything because it teaches them to be good thinkers. It stimulates their brains Ėlike exercising a muscle.
Alma Martinez
Alma Martinez
Child care provider for 10 years
I have one-on-one time with the kids when I pick them up from school. While weíre in the car, I point out what landmarks we see on the road and I tell them where we are headed and what we are going to do for the day. I think itís a great time to engage the kids in conversation and introduce new words into their vocabulary.

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