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Tips for Promoting Language in the Early Stages

Parents/caregivers of young children often ask how they can help build their child’s speech and language skills outside of speech therapy sessions. As children learn through play, the best way that parents can assist their children is by playing with them and modeling language. But what exactly does that mean, and what does it look like? Below are several techniques used by speech language pathologists that parents can use at home to increase vocabulary and utterance length:


+1 Routine: This is a general rule of thumb when modeling language for your child. After children acquire approximately 50 words, they will start to combine these words together. The “+ 1” routine is a technique where adults model a sentence just one word longer than what the child is producing. Examples include:


Child: “car” Parent: “car go!”

Child: “bubble” Parent: “blow bubble” or “bubble up”

Child: “open” Parent: “open box” or “open door”

Child: “car go” Parent: “blue car go” or “car go fast!”




3:1 Rule: The “3:1 rule” is another guideline to consider while modeling language for your child. This term refers to the principle that language modeling should consist mainly of comments rather than questions. That is, there should be approximately 1 question for every 4 utterances that you model for your child. This applies during play as well as during daily routines. This could look like:


While dressing your child:


  • “Shoes go on” (comment)

  • “Blue pants” (comment)

  • “Brrr it’s cold today!” (comment)

  • “Do you want red or pink?” (question)


Communication Temptations: Communication temptations are situations created by parents/adults that “tempt” the child to utilize functional communication. This often means setting up an environment where a child must request an object/action. An example of a communication temptation would be using toys such as bubbles or wind-up toys. Hand your child the toy/bubbles. Most likely they will need help to open the container or wind-up the toy. Wait until they request appropriately (either by verbalizing or signing “open” “help” etc.) and comply with the request. This could also look like putting a favorite toy on a high shelf, or handing your child a box that is difficult to open, and waiting for your child to request your assistance. Create motivation for your child but keep it fun, do not push to the point of frustration.


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