This week I will be doing my first 5-day series where I post for 5 straight days on a specific topic. To kick it off, I will be sharing 5 days worth of tips and tricks that you can incorporate into your everyday routine to boost your toddler’s language skills!
Today I’d like to talk about mealtime tips.
We all gotta eat, so mealtimes are the perfect times to pack in some language boosting strategies!
1. Narrate as you cook together
If you aren’t used to doing this, it may feel really awkward at first! I promise it will start to feel normal after some practice! What you want to do is narrate what YOU’RE doing (self-talk) and narrate what your CHILD is doing (parallel-talk). Narrating is a great way to provide language models so your child begins to learn about new vocabulary, how to form grammatically correct sentences, and can begin to develop his inner voice.
In your narration you’ll want to include sequential concepts (i.e. first, then, next, finally), names of ingredients and utensils, and cooking verbs (i.e. shake, pour, spread, stir, mix).
Here are some examples of narrating in the kitchen:
- First, I am going to spread butter on the bread. Then, I am going to place one piece of bread, butter side down, on the pan. Next, I will add a piece of cheese. After that, I will add the other piece of bread, butter side up. Once the bottom is lightly toasted, I will flip it over and cook the other side. That’s how we make a grilled cheese sandwich!
- Now I am going to pour in the melted butter and mix it with the flour and sugar with this whisk.
- You are doing a great job helping me make pancakes! You’re using a measuring cup to scoop up the batter and pour it onto the pan. Now you’re using a spatula to flip the pancakes over.
Pro tip for an extra boost: Always speak in first-person. Instead of saying “Mommy is going to pour the butter now,” say “I am going to pour the butter now.” I know it feels natural to refer to yourself as “Mommy,” but it really messes with their understanding of pronouns! You’ll start to hear them say “Timmy wants a banana!” and this can be a hard habit to break if it continues for too long. Break the cycle now!
Related reading: 5 Easy Ways to Get Your Child Talking
2. Describe your food
While you’re enjoying the meal together, describe the food on your plate! My toddler’s most common description of my cooking is “I no like that”….so I’m trying to expand his vocabulary a little bit in this department ;).
Descriptive language is a very important skill as it not only increases vocabulary but it also helps with following and giving directions. A simple example of this would be if you tell your toddler to pick up the ball, but there is a blue AND a yellow ball sitting there, then he wouldn’t know which one to pick up. The adjective would be a key component of your direction in order for him to successfully carry out the task.
The same problem would happen if your toddler asked YOU for a cup off the counter, but there were 3 different colored cups up there. Instead of dealing with a meltdown because you gave him the green cup instead of his desired red cup, you could be getting a more detailed answer in the first place having already developed the necessary descriptive language skills.
Some ways to describe the food can include:
Pro tip for an extra boost: Expand your toddler’s sentences. So if he says “my beans are green!” then follow up with “yes, your beans are green! Just like broccoli, peas, and asparagus! They are all green.” Or if he says “my blueberry is small” then follow up with “yes your blueberry is very small just like raisins and Cheerios!” These expansions get your toddler thinking beyond that single item and will help their brains start to categorize the different foods by comparing various features.
3. Ask questions
This one will probably feel the most comfortable for you as we get a lot of practice asking our kids questions all day! Asking questions strengthens comprehension as it requires the child to understand different question words (who, what, when, where, why, how) and distinguish one from the other. Your questions could pair directly with your descriptions above or you could think of new ones.
Here are some question stems to get you rolling:
- Where is your _______?
- What color is your _______?
- How many ______ do you have on your plate?
- Who is eating his _______ right now?
Pro tip: Be sure not to pressure your child too much into responding. This should be a fun and enjoyable meal for the both of you! If he doesn’t answer a question either because he doesn’t want to or he doesn’t know the answer, then simply provide a model (the correct way to answer the question) and move on.
There Ya Go!
Your mealtime chats are important in helping your toddler build his language skills. So fill that special family time with narrating, describing, and asking questions!
This is day 1 of the 5 Days of Speech and Language Tips series.
Tell me in the comments if you incorporated any of the strategies into your mealtimes!