This strategy works best between the ages of ten months and two years of age, when your child is learning rapidly through direct and delayed imitation. As with almost every other idea for working on language with young children, the idea is both simple and powerful at the exact same time. To use it, simply attach a word to an action that you do repeatedly. You might say "up" while reaching up, right before you pick her up, or "yay!" while clapping, or "pat pat" while patting down play-doh,"down" while knocking blocks down or "boom" when you fall on the floor after a round of "Ring Around The Rosie".
Tying your word to an action gives your toddler more cues to get her to imitate you and more information to help her remember what to say. It's a strategy that is easy to work into almost any activity that you do, making it a perfect tool to use with an active toddler who has a short attention span (which, of course, describes all toddlers!). Baby Girl and I were coloring with markers the other day (something that got a bit messier than I anticipated, as you can see by the state of her clothes in the video clip) and I started modeling some simple words along with simple actions. The thing to notice is that I didn't ask her to do anything. I just paired a simple action with a simple word and then waited for her to take her turn doing the same. And she did. (But no, she doesn't always!).
One of the things I love best about working with toddlers is that learning takes place right inside of play--so much so, in fact, that you can't even separate the learning from the playing. Helping your toddler learn language is less about changing what your toddler is doing and more about making little tweaks to what you are doing inside of those activities. And most of all, it's about enjoying the process along the way.
Looking for more ideas for helping your infant or toddler develop language?