Whether it’s “mama,” “doggie,” or “cheese,” there’s nothing quite as joyous as hearing a child say their first words. Language is a vital part of early development, and it’s always helpful to understand what, exactly, your infant or toddler is capable of: Which new skills? Which new words or language patterns?
Here’s a look at expressive language, and how it contributes to early childhood development.
Expressive Language And Early Childhood Education
What is expressive language?
Expressive language is just as it sounds: language that’s used to express things. It allows people to communicate their wants, needs, thoughts, and opinions through words, sentences, gestures, and writing. As adults, we use expressive language all the time without even thinking about it; we make requests, ask questions, describe what we’re seeing, and state how we’re feeling. Even the acts of stringing together words in sentences, using grammar correctly, and telling stories are all part of expressive language.
Why is expressive language important?
Expressive language enables children to express their wants, needs, thoughts, and ideas; argue their unique point of view; develop the use of language in writing; and engage and interact with others.
When children can’t communicate their wants and needs, they often get frustrated. Enter the tantrum: when a child is too hungry or tired to truly express what he or she wants.
Expressive vs. Receptive Language
Language is categorized into two classes: receptive and expressive.
Receptive language — is the ability to understand the expressions and words of others — comes first. In other words, we understand language before we’re able to use it; parents know all too well that infants understand way more than they let on. Receptive language lays the foundation for what comes next: expressive language.
Building blocks of expressive language skills:
- Receptive language skills: Comprehension of language.
- Attention and concentration: Making a sustained effort, partaking in activities without getting distracted, and seeing tasks through to completion.
- Pre-language skills: Communication without using words, including gestures, facial expressions, imitation, joint attention, and eye contact.
- Play skills: Engaging in unstructured playtime, which encourages communication by requesting, interacting with, and labeling toys.
- Pragmatics: How language is used within social situations; allows children to converse appropriately.
- Motivation: The desire to communicate with others.
- Fine motor skills: If verbal language isn’t developing, the ability to be able to find alternative forms of expressive language, like sign language.
How Does Expressive Language Develop From Birth to Toddler
Expressive language starts to develop within the first few days of birth. Babies quickly learn to express hunger, discomfort, fatigue — mostly through crying, funny facial expressions, and lots of new sounds. They also learn to laugh and smile.
The first three years of life — when the brain develops and matures — are the most intensive period for speech and language. Skills develop best in a world rich with sounds, sights, and language.
Infants and toddlers all have critical periods for speech and language development when their brains are best primed to absorb language. These windows are finite; once they’re over, if a skill has not been learned, it becomes much more difficult to make up for it.
What Language Skill Milestones Should Parents Be Mindful Of?
We see children get bigger — they say new words, express new emotions, voice their love of new toys. But what can be even more interesting is learning about what’s happening behind the scenes, from a language-development standpoint. There’s no set time when certain things happen; rather, most infants and toddlers hit their milestones with a wide range. Below, some features for each developmental stage:
Birth to Three Months
- Sounds to express pleasure or pain.
- Reactions to loud noises.
- The ability to settle down or smile when they’re spoken to; the ability to recognize your voice and calm down when they’re crying.
- The ability to cry in different ways to express different needs like hunger or sleepiness.
- During these months, parents should begin verbalizing what they’re interpreting; for example, ask, “Are you hungry?” or “Does your tummy hurt?”
Four to Six Months
- Gurgling sounds and vocal play while playing.
- Speech-like babbling that incorporates many different sounds, including ones that begin with the letters “m,” “p,” and “b.”
- The ability to use sounds and gestures to express needs and wants.
- Babbling sounds to express excitement or unhappiness.
Seven to 12 Months
- Babbling with more consonants and long- and short-form vowels.
- Speech or sounds used to get parents’ attention.
- The ability to listen and respond to simple requests like, “Wave bye-bye!”
- The ability to imitate different sounds
- First words like “mama” or “dada.”
One to Two Years
- Expanded vocabulary that grows by the month.
- The ability to ask two-word questions — “Where ball?” — and combine two words to make declarative statements.
- Clear words with lots of consonants.
- A new attraction to simple stories, songs, or rhymes, and the ability to recognize and point to pictures in books.
Two to Three Years
- A vocabulary explosion — toddlers seem to have words for everything.
- The use of “k,” “g,” “f,” “t,” and “d” sounds.
- The ability to speak in a way that’s clear to family or friends, and the ability to name objects, ask for objects, or direct people’s attention to objects.
Expressive Language Activities to Try At Home
- Repeat their phrases or utterances, and respond back and forth as if you’re having a conversation. Add words to teach new vocabulary and demonstrate proper grammar.
- Interpret their words aloud to demonstrate correct pronunciations.
- Read books and open-ended questions: “What is he doing here? How is she feeling?”
- Pretend play, which targets higher levels of expressive language. By building a scenario, your child is working on storytelling and sequencing.
- Involve your child in cooking, which also teaches sequencing.
When targeting expressive language through activities and toys, keep these following points in mind:
- Use open-ended questions as much as possible.
- Wait until your child requests an item before giving it over, or ask them to request an item before giving it to them.
- Have your child narrate or describe what they’re doing or what they want you to do.
The Importance of Speech As Part of Toddler Curriculum
Your child’s day-to-day environment is vital to their learning, and toddlers need regular opportunities to participate in activities that teach new skills and fine-tune existing ones.
That’s why it’s so important to integrate language learning into any toddler curriculum. Vivvi’s teachers help children reach their language-development milestones through carefully curated activities, toys, and books. They’re there to encourage babbling, new and familiar words, and all forms of expressive language.