Early language development in babies and toddlers

PDF download is not available for Arabic and Urdu languages at this time. Please use the browser print function instead

Learn about the different activities and interventions parents and caregivers can use to help babies and toddlers develop their speech and language.

Key points

  • Babies and toddlers will develop speech and language skills at different times.
  • There are different interventions parents and caregivers can use to encourage speech and language development such as gestures, using simple language and repetition.
  • Parents and caregivers can use different activities to encourage language development, including play time, singing and gesture games.

While babies and toddlers will develop speech and language skills at different times, there are certain activities and interventions parents and caregivers can use to help their child learn to communicate.


When interacting with your child, try to incorporate the following suggestions to encourage speech and language development.

Face-to-face: Try to get down to your child’s level so they can see your face and mouth when you talk.

Label: Talk about and label things and actions around you. For example:

  • Parent at park: Look, a swing. Slide. Go down the slide.

Gesture: While you say words, try to pair them with a gesture, facial expression, or the actual object. For example, pretend to drink water from a cup while saying, "Drink water."

Use simple language: Use short simple sentences with your child when they are learning to talk.

  • Good model: See the kitten. Kitten is furry.
  • Not a good model: Can you find the striped, furry kitten in the book?

Repeat: Say new words often in different contexts. For example, say "Get your red coat… I see a red car… let’s eat a red apple."

Wait: Give your child time to respond. Try not to fill in words or say what they want to say - they may need time to understand what you said and to think about what to say.

Imitate, interpret and add: Repeat you child’s utterance with what you think they meant and expand on it. For example:

  • Child: Muh
  • You: Oh, you want more milk. Yummy milk.

Playing at home

Teaching language through play can be enjoyable while developing skills. Find activities that are fun for your child and that you can do together, such as baking, sorting laundry, stacking cups or blocks, drumming with pots and spoons, blowing bubbles, filling the sink with water and washing dolls, washing the car, bath time, or making a fort.

Try the following activities with your child to help bring out language and gestures from them while you play and interact:

  • Activate a wind-up toy, let it run out and then hand it to the child. Wait for a request or comment to wind it up again.
  • Stack 4 blocks into a tower and then knock it down. Pause and see if the child will ask if you to do it again.
  • Blow bubbles and then close the container. Pause and wait for the child to ask for more or for help.
  • Blow up a balloon and slowly deflate it. Hand the balloon to the child or hold the deflated balloon to your mouth and pause.
  • Place a desired food item in a container with a tight lid. Leave it in front of the child and wait for a request to open the container.
  • Sit on the floor facing the child. Roll a ball to the child and practise give and take. After receiving the ball, hold onto it and see if the child requests or comments to continue the activity.
  • Put an object that makes a noise (cheerios, toy necklace) into an opaque bag. Shake the bag to make the noise and wait.

Learning language through singing and finger plays

You can also help your child learn language through singing. Demonstrate or model the song for your child and encourage your child’s attempts to either sing, gesture or both along with you.

  • Fill in the blank ("Old MacDonald had a farm _____").
  • Praise your child for any attempts to sing or gesture on their own.
  • Clap along.

Examples of gesture games and finger plays include:

  • Peek-a-boo
  • This Little Piggy
  • Head and Shoulders, Knees and Toes
  • If You’re Happy and You Know it
  • Pat-a-Cake
  • Eensie Weensie Spider
  • Round and Round the Garden
Examples of songs and nursery rhymes you can sing to your child include:
  • Old MacDonald Had a Farm
  • Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star
  • If You're Happy and you Know It
  • I'm a Little Teapot
  • Hickory, Dickory Dock
  • Humpty Dumpty
  • Skinamarink
  • Head Shoulders Knees and Toes
  • Five Little Monkeys
  • One, Two Buckle My Shoe
  • This Old Man
  • Pat-a-Cake, Pat-a-Cake
  • Baby Bumblebee
  • The Wheels on the Bus
  • B-i-n-g-o
  • Do, a Deer
  • Baby Shark
Last updated: November 3rd 2020