What are some ways families can promote development in toddlers during this sunny season? Here are a few developmental principles to keep in mind as families engage in seasonal trips and activities.
Interaction with people and the environment is key for speech, language and motor development. Joint attention is a very important basic skill that underlies development of interaction. Joint attention, which emerges around nine months and should be well established by eighteen months of age, is defined as shared interest in an object or event by two people. Inherent in joint attention is the awareness of the two parties that they are sharing this interest. Developing this joint awareness is foundational to being invested in the activities and environment in which we live. This skill is foundational to learning to respond to and initiate interactions.
Closely related to joint attention and also very important for developing communication skills and daily living skills, families should incorporate ways to foster turn taking opportunities. This helps with cooperation and also mirrors the give and take of conversation, “You say something first and then I will respond”.
Vocabulary and Grammar Development
Children learn more words and correct sentence structure by being exposed to interesting activities and hearing others talk about these motivating topics. When we label objects, feelings and actions, our children map meaning on to words and phrases.
Applying Concepts in Real Life
Keeping these basic concepts in mind, think about how the summer time environment can be arranged to foster skill development in toddlers and preschoolers. Whether a child is developing normally, or exhibits a mild developmental disorder, or has more significant challenges, such as Down syndrome or an autism spectrum disorder, targeting these skills with be very beneficial!
For instance, water play is a fantastic way to address joint attention, turn taking and language skill development. Whether it is with “Swim to me”, or “Look!”, or “Kick, Kick, Kick”, we have ample opportunities to promote speech, language and motor skills in a fun and naturalistic way.
Exploit every opportunity to elicit a request or model language and skill use. Pull out a box of multicolored popsicles, get at eye level with your child and excitedly model which one you want. “Yum, I am going to eat a cherry popsicle! It is red like a cherry!” And then wait. See what kind of request you might get and then respond with excitement. One child may just point, so this may be a good opportunity to acknowledge they are making a choice, if they are non-verbal, due to age or disorder. “You pointed to the yellow popsicle. I think it is banana! Is that what you want?” For a more verbal child, expect what you know they can do and then recast, (not correct). If a child says, “orange pop-pop”, You respond with “You want the orange popsicle”. The key is to expect some sort of interaction and provide information, don’t just handing them a popsicle.
Trips are great as well, because you can talk about things you see out the window, or spend time with interactive travel games, such as “I see a red car, what do you see?” If you visit the zoo, you can point out the attributes of animals, such as size, and color, whether it is a mommy elephant or a baby elephant. Be excited about what is going one, “Look, the zebra is running!” When you get home, read a book about going to the zoo to reinforce the activities during the day and to help develop an awareness of the symbol system (print) that will become such an important part of learning about the world and critical for academic success. Reading with your child is very important!!
We recently had a “Messy Play Day” at our clinic, Speech & Occupational Therapy of North Texas. We pulled out tubs of gooey fun textures and played along side our clients! It was great fun for everyone and we were able to foster interactions with many children as well as model concepts and phrase construction. It was a wonderful opportunity for children to get messy and experience new textures in a relaxed social environment!
“Your big bubbles are going up!” “Can I have a turn with the chalk?” “Look, I am putting my feet in the shaving cream!” “Do you want to step in the pools with me?”
So summer fun may take some thoughtful effort, or it may unfold naturally within the context of pouring a bowl of cheerios or running through the sprinkler. As parents and caregivers, we can creatively expand our children’s skills and understanding by approaching each opportunity with the goal of interaction and enrichment! For additional information about language development, visit