Hot summer days are finally here! And while we watch our children grow like weeds and blossom like flowers, we can ensure their language skills are growing too—maybe even flourishing! Every summertime activity has the potential to stimulate language development in children. Our summertime series will give you some great tips on how to grow your child’s receptive and expressive language skills while embarking on new adventures or enjoying old favorites. The best thing is that you don’t need to bring anything extra with you. All you need is your eyes, ears, mouth, and a little knowhow—which is where we come in.
First up in our summer series, we will walk you through how you can increase your child’s language skills while going for a walk.
Boosting your Child’s Language Development While Going for a Walk
Going for a walk is a wonderful time to stimulate your child’s language development since walking and talking go together like pie and ice cream. In fact, it is well established that walking can stimulate the creation of new brain cells and “immediately alter how certain parts of the brain communicate and coordinate with one another” (Gretchen Reynolds, New York Times Oct 24/18). These neural connections are exactly what children need to establish in the speech and language centers of their developing brains in order to become strong communicators . Moreover, when we go for a walk we can let our imagination run free, converse without interruptions, and get all of our senses involved in the learning process. Try some of these tips to help your child take a giant step forward in their communication skills:
- Receptive vocabulary. Start out by asking your child to help you gather the items you will need for your walk. Ask them to get their sandals, jacket, sunglasses, hat, etc. Do they clearly know what these words mean? If not, spend time gathering the items together as you name them again. This is a great way to pinpoint which specific words your child knows well and which words they still need to hear some more.
- Following directions. Okay, maybe they know what to look for, but they don’t know where to find it—no problem. This is a chance to work on following directions at a time when they actually want to listen to you! Tell them where to find each item and be very specific. For example, “Your shoes are under the bench in the mud room.” Now watch what your child does with this information. Did they go where they were directed quickly and confidently? If not, guide them to the right place as you repeat the instruction and stress the important content words (under, bench, mudroom). Make a mental note of which words your child understood and which words they need more practice with and find ways to use these words more often.
- Expressive vocabulary. Alright, you’ve gathered your items and now you’re on the trail. Make sure to point out and name all the amazing things you see along the way. What things can your child point out and name? Are they able to use specific labels or do they use general words like this and that? Give them the specific words if needed and try to sneak in new or more difficult words such as creek, twig, and pebble to stay one step ahead of them in their vocabulary development. Don’t forget to use action words (run, skip, leap) and descriptive words (hot, prickly, tall) too because we need a variety of word types to form sentences. Nouns are not enough!
- Early Literacy. While on your walk, point out any signage along the way. For example: stop signs, street names, or store logos. Doing this establishes the important concept that print has meaning. Maybe some of the signs have familiar letters in them such as the letters in their own name or friends and family names. Can you find connections and attach meaning to them? For example, “There’s the letter /s/ in the stop sign—that’s the first letter in Sarah’s name!”
- Sentence construction. Take a few pictures along the way and then look at them together later. Can your child make up a sentence that describes the photo/memory? Can they use the past tense /-ed/ marker (i.e. walk/walked) or irregular past tense verbs (run/ran)? Help them speak in full, grammatically complete sentences as you take a walk down memory lane. This can be as easy as repeating what they say and adding another word or two in order to expand their sentences or by correcting any grammatical errors.
- Get a conversation going. Going for a walk is a perfect time to converse with your child because daily distractions and interruptions are at a minimum. Practice all the little things that make for a good chit-chat such as: initiating a conversational topic that’s interesting to both of you, taking equal talking turns for a good back and forth flow, maintaining a conversational topic for an appropriate amount of time, changing topics appropriately, and using a mix of comments and open-ended questions. Being able to have meaningful conversations is one of the end goals in communication development because this is how we all make social connections and build relationships throughout our lives. Be warned that there will come a time when your child won’t let you get a word in edgewise—just another fun phase!
In conclusion, going for a walk is a prime time to help your child exercise not only their bodies but also their minds by stimulating new connections in the speech and language centers in the brain. There are so many opportunities to make walking a language rich activity that can increase a child’s early literacy development, vocabulary, conversational skills, and sentence construction abilities. All of these skills help children express themselves, understand the world around them and, most importantly, build meaningful relationships with family, friends and their community.
How do you like to create language learning opportunities with your child before, during, or after a walk?
We would love to hear your ideas and keep the conversation going—please comment