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Increasing independence in communication for early language learners is easy to do by making small, but valuable changes to daily routines you likely already have in place.  Here are 4 suggestions to incorporate this Independence Day!

1.       Follow your child’s lead!

When a child is learning early words and concepts, it's important to enjoy listening to what your child can generate on her own.  Take time to enjoy the time just being together.  Language learning opportunities are happening all the time, and they are not all verbal.  Non-verbal interactions are critical to developing both verbal communication and social behaviors.  To promote social behaviors, look for opportunities for reciprocity in your interactions with her.  Observe what your child does and get involved in the play with her.  You can start by simply watching what your child does and imitating her.  Get down on the floor with your child and be silly!  For example, if she does a pat, pat, pat on a drum, you do a pat, pat pat, on the same drum.  If she stops and runs around, you stomp and run around.  If she vocalizes “bah dah bee dih” You vocalize the same thing.  Make this into a game of turn-taking, you go back and forth together.  When it’s her turn, you watch her; when it’s your turn, she should watch you.   These early skills lay a foundation for sharing and turn-taking with peers.  This may begin with you and continue on in the form of conversational skills many years down the road.

Here’s another idea: when you have a moment together that is quiet, try an imitation game. You smile, wait for her to smile; you touch you head, wait for her to touch her head; you clap your hands, wait for her to clap her hands; you blow raspberries; wait for her to do the same.  You stick out your tongue; wait for her to stick out her tongue.

The key to this game is the joint experience.  Be patient and you’ll be amazed with what she may do!


2.       Sing songs with your child!

When selecting a song or nursery rhyme to sing, select one that uses repetitive lines or phrases.  The repetitions serve as excellent language models and provide a context to then allow your child to experiment with using them in the song via her own vocalizations.  Her language input may be in many forms and all of them should be valued or accepted.  It could be full, accurate words or they may be silly sounds or approximations—these are all great ways to have her “sing” along.   First, select a song, then provide predictable breaks in the melody and allow your child to fill in the next word or few words without you singing along.  By offering these small breaks in predictable increments, your child will encounter many opportunities to sing.  This will promote her ability to generate and use language more independently. 

Here’s an easy example, let’s say Old MacDonald is a family favorite song.  You already sing it all the time.  Next time you sing the song, pause for the animal names to allow your child the opportunity to say the animal she would like to sing about.   You’ll want to pause to a good 3-5 seconds and wait.  It will feel like a long time at first but you will need to provide ample time for her to chime in. You can start line by line or go for the whole song at once—it’s up to you.

You can sing: 
“Old Mac Donald had a farm, ________ (“EIEIO”) and on that farm he had a ________ ( animal-pig, horse, sheep, cow, etc.) EIEIO!  With a ________  (Oink, Oink) here and a ________ (Oink, Oink) there.  Here a ________ (Oink), there a ________ (Oink), everywhere a ________ (Oink, Oink) . Old Mac Donald had a farm ________ ( EIEIO)”

You can sing:
Twinkle, Twinkle little ________ (star).  How I wonder what you ________ (are).  Up above the word so ________ (high).  Like a ________ (diamond) in the sky.  Twinkle, Twinkle little ________ (star).  How I wonder what you ________ (are). 

If your child is not yet vocalizing, you can use words and gestures together to help promote her participation.  Using ASL vocabulary words along with spoken words is another great way to promote language.  Visit for resources on signs. Trying singing and signing the key words.


3.       Expand the possibilities of early utterances!

When your child is using more words, and they are strung together (2-3 words), you have greater opportunity to expand these utterances.  You can now begin a real exchange of ideas about what is happening “here and now,” right in front of you.  This is an exciting phase-- when a child can not only generate different phrases that have true meaning, but you can also reciprocate by saying something different or by expanding on what your child says.  This helps to build even longer and more complex utterances at this stage of language development. 

For example, if your child is playing with a train and a truck and says, “go train!”  You can expand her utterance and say, “go FAST train!” (then move the train faster and faster) or “go SLOW train” ( then move the train slower and slower).  These expansions build in new vocabulary words and longer utterances using your child’s own ideas and productions as the foundation.   Over time, your child will likely request your input in playing trains by using your phrases to request your participation while playing with a whole host of toys and activities!

The Hanen Program has excellent resources for early language learning.  Check out their website at

4.       Fade models of early vocabulary words

When early language learners are using language, parents and caregiver can provide models of early language words or phrases.  This is a very useful technique for developing and expanding on a child’s early utterances.  For example, if your child sees a ball and vocalizes in some way, you can say, “BALL!” Doing this over and over will help your child make a strong connection between the word BALL and the concept of what a ball is when he or she sees one.  As your child gets the hang of this, she will begin to label items in the environment all by herself.  When your child sees a ball, she will say “ball,” you will enthusiastically respond, cheering her on and it’s very likely that she will do this again.  Over time, your model of the word BALL should fade, allowing your child more opportunities to label this word independently. 

Beyond models, you can expand an utterance (see #3 above) or try recasting it.  Recasting is when you repeat back what your child says with a change to the format.  If your child says “BALL” or “BALL GO” you can say, “Ball?” (and look for it) or “Ball Go?!” to ask about where the ball went. 


For more information on language benchmarks and appropriate timing for introducing these suggestions in your child’s language learning journey, take a look at these early language learning developmental benchmarks.