WORD PLAY
A local speech therapist offers her tips on early language development strategies that can be fun for kids and parents

By Anastacia Grenda

A child’s first word is a milestone that is thrilling and momentous for parents. But what about everything that comes after “dada” or “dog”? Language development isn’t just the cornerstone of communication—it’s integral to a well-rounded life, said Thao Pham, a speech-language therapist who owns Sounds Smart Speech Therapy and Tutoring Center in Placentia.

“Children pay attention. Their language is more complex and they are more creative overall,” she said. “It allows a love of learning that is so crucial for school. It is so important because it allows them to succeed in life.” Pham, who has worked in speech therapy and language developments for eight years, has some simple tips for parents to help children ages 1 ½ t o 5 build a vocabulary for life. And not only will your child be learning and growing, but the bond between the two of you will be enriched as well.

HABIT FORMING

Fear not, busy and overworked parents—you can incorporate language lessons in your daily routine. Take eating, for example: Instead of asking your child, “Do you want milk?” which requires only a “yes” or “no” answer, give them a choice—“Do you want milk or juice?” so they have to expand on their reply. Pham also recommends serving a small portion of food at a time, so that when they finish they learn how to ask for more. She adds that bath time can be a relaxing moment to practice words, and tasks such as laundry or cooking can be used to label objects and describe the order of events. “Any time during the regular routine of the day is fine. It doesn’t have to be difficult. Every single moment is a teaching moment,” she said.

READING IS FUN(DAMENTAL)

Pham says it’s not just reading to your child that counts. It’s how you do it that’s important. While it’s nice to snuggle together and read Goodnight Moon before bed, or let your child thumb through picture book on her own, you can be more purposeful during story time as well. Hold the book so your child doesn’t flip through the pages too fast or try to rip them. And instead of putting your child on your lap, face your child, the better for her to see your facial expressions. Which leads to Pham’s next tip: Find your inner actor and let loose. Read with animation, using hand gestures, silly faces and fun voices. And feel free to improvise—you don’t have to read verbatim if you can get creative.

LET’S PLAY

Remember how much fun it was to be 5 with nothing to do but play all day? You can’t? Well, get right down on the floor with your child and engage in some quality kid time. This is a great way to promote language development, Pham said, because you can be a strong verbal role model. Instead of just making a “vroom,” vroom” noise while playing with your son’s Matchbox cares, talk about what your child is doing. (‘Look, that car’s going fast.”) And pretend play is best of all—not only does it encourage creativity, but it prepares a child for social situations. “If a child has never been to a restaurant, then pretend you’re at a restaurant at home—they’ll learn to sit nicely, that they don’t scream,” Pham said. “You can pretend to go camping, go to school or the library.” The important thing for you to remember is that you have to genuinely engage—in other words, you have permission to turn off your e-mail and just have some fun.

SOMETHING NEW

What better way to learn new words than through new experiences? Broaden your child’s horizons by doing things together, like gardening or making cookies, which will introduce new concepts to their young minds. Again, this is a good opportunity to label objects and show how things work by discussing a sequence of events. There’s the added bonus of increased self-confidence and interest in trying new things. It’s all part of an investment that’s worth more than a thousand words.