The role of a teacher in an infant and toddler classroom is critical for a young child’s development. Through language and positive interactions, teachers expand a child’s world by fostering critical thinking and problem solving skills, social and emotional skills, and cognitive development.
Let’s dive into some ways that both teachers and parents can guide their youngest children’s development through language.
Simple and Specific Language
By using simple and specific words to describe the environment and objects around them, teachers and parents can introduce and reinforce concepts to children.
Example: “Look, Leo! Look at the zebra. You can hold him in your hands. He’s so soft. We can say hi to the zebra! Hi zebra. Let’s tell him that he is a soft zebra. Hi zebra, you are very soft.”
If you ever find yourself wondering what to say to a baby or toddler. A good bet is to just be descriptive about what is around you. Think of the 6 senses. See, hear, touch, taste, smell, and emotions.
Example: “We’re all outside! I like sitting on this bright blanket with you. Do you see the colors? I see red, yellow, and blue. Do you feel the wind blowing on you? I can smell the grass. Let’s feel the grass together. You are smiling and look so happy. Are you feeling happy and relaxed? I am too! I love looking at your face!”
Social and Emotional Language
Even before they can speak, all babies and toddlers are communicating with you. It’s our role to model conversations, acknowledge attempts to communicate, and encourage positive play between children.
Example: “Let’s read a book together!” Hi Leo! Leo wants to join us. Let’s make room for him. Would you like a toy to hold? Here’s a zebra. Leo wants to chew the book. Let’s get Leo something to chew on. Which one do you want? There you go!"
Reconnect the Bond
All communication is an opportunity to connect and bond with children in your care. Even when they are crying or fussy, talk positively and kindly to them as you figure out what they are trying to say and tell them how you are responding to their communication.
Example: A child wakes up from a nap and starts crying and fussing, but you are finishing up making them a bottle and your hands are full. You can communicate with them and soothe them as you follow through with your words. “Good afternoon Leo! I’m so happy that you got some sleep! I hear you! I see you getting fussy. It’s ok. I’m coming as soon as I can, little one. I’m putting your bottle in the warmer right now and then I’ll come over and pick you up. We’ll dance and rock as your bottle gets warm. We are all here with you.
Example: A child is doing tummy time and starts to get fussy. “Lucas. You are working so hard on those muscles! I think that you are working so hard on turning over. Let’s try that together. Let’s put that arm here and you can move like that and now look! You did it! You rolled over! Look at those strong muscles. Would you like a break? How about we rock and sing for a bit and then you can show Miss. Lisa your new skill.”
Daily Activities = Daily Opportunities
There’s no end to language opportunities for infants and toddlers. Diaper changing, feeding, playing, working, sleeping, bonding, engaging with peers and handling transitions are just a few times that we can develop a child’s cognitive development. Look for every opportunity to expand their language skills.
During those interactions, a great tool to use is to ask them questions and give them time to respond. Encourage responses and take all cues as communication from them. Expand their exposure to new skills. Learning sign language? Combine that skill with words to help that connection.
Examples: “Would you like some more apples? You nodded yes! Ok, here’s some more apples.” They’re red and are so crunchy. Yum!
“Are you all done with lunch? You said all done with your hands. Good job. Your belly is full of yummy food. What a good job telling me all done. I’m going to wipe your hands. Which one first? You got it, Leo! I’ll wipe your right hand first."
As you go throughout your day, reflect back on how the communication and language development is happening in your class or home. Ask yourself:
Are you modeling positive language?
Labeling common objects and situations?
Showing pleasant social interactions?
Is the environment calm and relaxed?
Are both you and the child enjoying the interaction?
Children thrive in language rich environments that identify common objects, feelings, and actions that they experience daily. By giving children positive and nurturing language, you are giving them the skills they need in order to have a firm foundation for their next developmental milestone.