Loving caregivers can be enormously effective in advancing the language skills of infants and toddlers. Research reveals that the more that adults talk with young ones and respond to infant vocalizations and to toddler jargon and babbling, the richer and more powerful the language repertoire of children when they become preschoolers.

Use Teachable Moments

Language is best learned during familiar, daily routines. The diapering table is a lanpage-interaction opportunity par excellence! As you diaper a child, coo and smile. Use "self-talk." Explain what you're doing to make the little one more comfortable with a clean diaper. Pat a baby's tummy as you admire how delicious and beautiful he looks! If a baby coos while you are cleaning and diapering, be sure to respond with pleasure and delight to these vocalizations.

While you are dressing and undressing or bathing a little one, be sure to talk about what is happening - how you are putting ON baby's shoes or how you are ZIPPING up a toddler's jacket. As you use words while showing by actions, children are learning the meanings of the words. Talk about what is going to happen next. "We are getting ready to go outdoors. You can play on the slide. You can play in the sandbox with a pail and shovel. I will help swing you in the swing back and forth, back and forth."

Children learn to anticipate and to picture activities that will happen next by your descriptions and your explanations. As you vividly share such experiences, you are giving language power to your little ones!

Label Actions and Activities

As the children push up from the floor with their arms, or try those first wobbly steps, provide the words that tell what is happening. "Parallel talk" means that you give words to the gestures and activities the children are carrying out. Exclaim admiringly, "You are trying so hard to put one block on top of another block. You are building a tower. Good work!" If the child is staring with a worried look at a crying peer, use reassuring words. "Tamar tumbled on the floor. She is feeling a little scares We will comfort her and help her feel that she is safe. Let's give her a gentle pat and we will help her feel better."

Picture Book Sharing

During the first years, adults need to "Hook babies on books!" Be sure to settle cozily with a baby for a book sharing experience every day. Settle a baby comfortably on your lap. Let toddlers lean against you as you choose a book and snuggle on a comfy chair and then open and share the book's treasures. Choose books with bright colorful pictures. For very young infants, make sure there is only one picture per page. Then they can focus without distractions on a puppy, a baby in a crib, or a nursery rhyme character, such as Little Boy Blue sound asleep leaning against his haystack. Even when the old nursery rhymes seem quaint, babies enjoy the rhythms and meter of traditional nursery poems. By 9 months, some babies can even point to Little Boy Blue and exclaim "Boy!" When you read frequently with little ones, they look forward to their favorite pictures and the poems and words that go along. And they often are more easily able to memorize the words to familiar poems.

Vary Your Voice!

Change your voice tones as you talk about the pictures in a book. Use delighted tones, puzzled tones, exclaiming tones, curious and wondering tones. Infants and toddlers will learn to love books and book reading because you have made their experiences with books so pleasurable and so interesting.

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This article originally appeared in the October, 2001 issue of Early Childhood Today.