As your child’s parent/caregiver, you are their first and best teacher. By adding language into your everyday activities, you can help your child grow their speech and language skills.

You can turn simple routines and playtime into a language-learning experience by doing things like:

  • labeling and describing objects and actions
  • taking turns in conversation and play
  • providing your child with opportunities to communicate

These suggestions can help you create back-and-forth interactions and model language in everyday activities:

It is easier for children to learn new words when you talk about things they enjoy. Watch for clues, such as:

  • what they are looking at or facing
  • what catches their attention
  • what they reach for or point to
  • what they choose to play with
  • what they talk about

If your baby or child turns or pushes away from something, this usually means they are not interested in it, or they need a break from that toy/activity.

Join In and Play

Once you know what your child is interested in – join in and play. This creates many opportunities for your child to learn language and interact with you.

  • Let your child choose the toy or activity
  • Watch how your child is playing, and play along
  • Get your own toy and copy what your child is doing*
  • Show your child new ways to play, using your own toys

*Note: if your child is not playing safely, do not copy or join in with their play. Instead, calmly state a clear rule or boundary (example: “I won’t let you throw the blocks”) and help your child find a safe way to play.

Video: A few words about first words…you are the key to your child’s first words (01:31).

This video discusses the importance of following your child’s lead, discovering your child’s interests, and using words to talk about whatever has caught your child’s attention. When you have fun with your child and add words to the interaction, it will help your child learn language, and may help them to say their first words.

When babies and children are still learning, the ways they communicate won’t match how an adult would communicate. They may share their ideas without using words (example: looking, crying, pointing, grunting), and they make mistakes in the way they make words or sentences.

  • Notice how your child communicates in different ways, with or without words
  • Respond to your child’s intended message, without expecting them to say it a certain way
  • Say the words that match your baby/child’s gestures. For example, say “up” when they reach up
  • If your child is using words, expand on their message by adding one or two more words
  • Use different words with the same meaning to build your child’s vocabulary (example: big, huge, gigantic)

Tip: If your child is using words, but the words and sentences are hard to understand, repeat their message back correctly to help them learn how to say the words. You do not need to point out the mistakes – simply repeat the message how you would say it. For example:

  • Child: “That a big tar!”
  • Parent/Caregiver: “That’s a big star”

Video: Playing with Language Video Series Part 1: Play Time (03:44)

Children need to understand words before they can say them. You can help them learn new words by adding language to play and daily activities.

  • Tell your child names of people and objects that they are interested in
  • Describe what you/your child are doing, during daily routines (examples: when getting dressed, having a snack)
  • Make more comments and avoid asking questions
  • Repeat important words many times in different sentences
  • Add emphasis to important words to help them stand out

Tip: when your child is first learning language, use words that can help your child share their needs (examples: help, hungry/eat, more, mine, stop).

Use Different Types of Words

  • Children need to learn different kinds of words to help them combine words and build longer sentences. For example:
  • Objects: ball, cookie, puppy, juice, swing, school, park, mommy, daddy
  • People: mommy, daddy, aunt, brother, baby, teacher
  • Places: home, park, school, daycare
  • Actions: eat, give, open, push, walk, splash
  • Describing words: hot, cold, happy, sad, big, small, wet, sticky
  • Locations: in, on, out, up, down, under
  • Time: first, then, before, after, today, tomorrow

Video: Playing with Language Video Series Part 3: Meal Time (05:36)

Children need opportunities to join in back-and-forth interactions when they are learning how to communicate. For young babies, taking a turn may be a wiggle, facial expression or a sound. Toddlers and children may take a turn using a gesture, facial expression or words/sentences.

Give Your Child a Reason to Communicate

  • Say something and wait to see how your child responds
  • Hold up two items and wait to see which one your child picks
  • Do something silly and wait to see how your child reacts
  • Give your baby/child a closed container with a favourite toy inside and wait to see how they ask for help


Waiting gives your baby or child time to think about what has just happened and then take a turn. Some children need more time to take a turn – especially young babies and toddlers.

  • Wait at least five seconds for your child to take their turn, before saying or doing something new
  • While you are waiting, stay engaged with your baby/child to let them know you are expecting them to do something
  • Watch your baby/child to notice how they take their turn – they may look somewhere, make a facial expression, or use a gesture/sound/word
  • When your baby/child takes a turn, give them enough time to finish what they are doing or saying
  • After they have taken a turn, keep the conversation going by responding to their message and saying or doing something new

If your child does not take a turn after five to ten seconds of waiting, you can say something new or give them a new opportunity to communicate and wait again.

Video: Conversations Pave the Way for First Words (01:37).In this video, we learn the importance of getting face-to-face with our child. When we get face-to-face, it allows us to pick up on cues that our child is using to communicate (e.g., like using gestures, or looking). When we respond to these cues with words, we are starting a back-and-forth interaction or conversation.

Books, songs and rhymes are great ways to model language and build early literacy skills. When sharing a book with your child, let them lead the activity and find ways to make it fun and interactive.

Sharing Books with Babies and Toddlers

  • Let your child choose the book
  • Sit across from your child (face to face) with the book facing toward them
  • Let your child hold the book and turn the pages
  • Give them as much time as they need to explore each page
  • Talk about the pictures that your child is interested in

Tip: You don’t need to read all of the words on each page – you can make up your own story or talk about the pictures that your child is interested in.

Sharing Books with Older Children

  • Describe how characters are feeling and why (Example: “They look happy/sad/scared because…”)
  • Talk about the cause of events in stories (Example: “Why/how did that happen?”)
  • Make predictions about what will happen (Example: “How will they…?” “What will they do next?”)
  • Retell the story, focusing on the main events at the beginning, in the middle and at the end

Singing Songs and Rhymes

  • Sing songs slowly so your child can sing or move along
  • Leave out familiar words or parts of the song for your child to fill in with a gesture, sound, or word (Example: Twinkle twinkle little _____. How I wonder what you _____)
  • Choose songs that use gestures and actions (Example: if you’re happy and you know it – clap your hands)

Video: Playing with Language Video Series Part 2: Reading Books (03:45)

If you are concerned about your child’s communication development, contact a registered speech-language pathologist for help. There are many service options in Toronto.

Services for Preschool-Aged Children

The Preschool Speech and Language Program in Ontario provides assessment and intervention for preschool aged children with communication delays/difficulties, and their families. To access these services in Toronto, contact Surrey Place.

Services for School-Aged Children

If your child is attending school, contact your child’s school board to access speech and language supports and services.

Community-Based Services

You can also find a speech-language pathologist in your community, through the College of Audiologists and Speech-Language Pathologists of Ontario. There may be a cost associated with community-based speech and language services.