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Toddler Talk: Words and Play

“Hat!” exclaimed my 15-month-old son proudly. He was sitting in his high chair at the kitchen table, and my back was toward him as I was preparing my own lunch. We had been teaching him lots of new words while playing with his toys, such as “ball” and “car.” His new favorite word was “hat.”

Today, he had been eating his lunch peacefully, and I took advantage of this to serve myself some of the spaghetti I’d made for him. I turned around to praise him for using his new word, and stopped in my tracks.

“Hat!” he said happily … holding his bowl of spaghetti upside down on his head.

Noodles and tomato sauce dripped slowly down his hair, his face, his clothes and the chair. He picked the noodles off his cheek and stuffed them happily into his mouth.

Then he laughed and said a new word: “mess!”

Learning new words with play and applying these words in new creative ways are important milestones for toddlers. They are not just developing speaking skills, but they are also learning how to apply words to concepts. Anyone with a toddler knows that everything is a ball: the sun, balloons, oranges and anything else that is remotely round. This application of a concept and linking it to a word is very important to building communication.

Speech development is a complex process and begins from birth when your baby starts to make “ooh” and “aah” noises. Around six months of age, baby will begin babbling, and then start to use various sounds like “dadada” and “bababa” to name things. Frustrating mothers everywhere, “mama” sounds are harder to form, and it generally takes babies a little longer to use this sound.

By 15 months, babies should be able to say at least two words consistently. These words may not be clearly spoken, but should be the same sounds applied to a specific concept. By 18 months, three or more words are expected. Between 18 months and two years of age, an explosion of language occurs as toddlers learn that words allow them to get what they want and need. By two years of age, children should have well over 25 words and be starting to string together short two-word sentences.

My son’s favorite two-word sentence was “me do!” He’s the independent one, clearly.

Toddlers can understand many more words than they can say out loud. It is important to read picture books with them and have them repeat your words. Name things for them as you go about your daily routines and play. Even if they cannot say the words, they are learning them.

If your child is growing up learning more than one language, his spoken language may be a little delayed as he figures out which word to use. However, this is not a problem, and you should continue to use multiple languages. When your child is three to four years of age, he will be caught up with everyone else and have the lifelong benefit of knowing more than one language!

It’s great fun to finally hear what your little person is thinking … even if it is a little messy sometimes!

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