Talk With Your Child

Talk with your child as much as possible in the language you’re most comfortable with. Talking with your child helps them develop a big vocabulary and strong language skills that will help them become a strong reader. Talk about what you see, what you’re doing, and what you’re thinking.

For Babies

Talk with your baby….all the time 

  • Follow their lead. When your baby gets captivated by something (the ceiling fan, the clothes going around in the washing machine, the fish fountains on the green in Uptown) tell her what she’s seeing and what it does.

  • Sing a-long. Remember peek-a-boo and pat-a-cake? It’s time to bring them back! As your child starts clapping and mimicking, add hand motions to rhymes and songs. Here are a few to get you started: Itsy Bitsy Spider, Head Shoulders Knees and Toes, and Five Little Ducks

  • Use grown-up words. Use the words you want babies to use when you talk with them (bottle instead of ba-ba). More info from this Howcast video.

  • Talk through routines. Infants and toddlers learn language by hearing lots of words and they thrive on routines. Make the most of routines by announcing what’s coming (“It’s time for lunch!”) and explaining each step (“First, you’re going to eat peas. The peas are green.”)

For Toddlers

Talk with your toddler, even when the only word you hear back is “no” 

  • Add descriptions. When you’re talking to your toddler, chances are you’re naming lots of objects (that’s a spoon, put the block here, don’t touch the trash can). As you’re naming objects, add descriptive words (it’s a brown horse, put the red block on top, that trash can is dirty) to add to her vocabulary.

  • Family meal. Mealtimes are great times to build toddlers’ language. This dad expands his toddler’s language during breakfast by asking questions, repeating what his daughter says, and expanding on her comments.

  • Imitation and Repetition. Help your child learn words by having the imitate what you say, and you may have to repeat the word over and over to help them practice. This video from shows you how to do this technique.

  • Add more words. Toddlers need to hear a lot of different kinds of words to build a strong vocabulary.

For Preschoolers

Talk with your preschooler, including answering all those “why” questions 

  • Ask questions. Instead of telling your child what you’re doing, ask her questions and have her explain. For example, if you visit the park, ask your child: What are you going to do first? Or, how many swings do you see?

  • Beginning sounds. One key reading skill is being able to identify words that start with the same letter. Tell your child two words that you heard on a Daniel Tiger episode, saw on billboards on I-85, or read in a book, and ask him if he hears the same sounds at the beginning of the words.

  • Sing to learn. Our Songs that Teach Pinterest board is full of songs that your preschooler can sing all day long. All that singing gets them ready to learn and play with language.

  • Practice rhyming. Help your child practice rhyming by asking them to find words that rhyme with things you see while driving or walking around. How many words can you find that rhyme with tree? What about car? Or store? Even better, what rhymes with Brixx? Fuel? Or Pizza Peel?

For Kindergarteners

Talk, talk, talk!

  • Name nouns. As your child learns new words, help them organize them into nouns, adjectives, and verbs. One activity for teaching nouns has kids organize pictures into people, places, and things and could be done with images cut from magazines, photos, or little toys.

  • First sounds. As you spend time with your kindergartener cooking, driving around town, and playing at home, help them hear the sounds in words by saying the beginning and ending sounds slowly. Games like this first sounds game from This Reading Mama are also good to reinforce beginning sounds and teach kids some new words.

  • Synonym search. Kindergarteners love nothing more than going on errands, as you’re driving around town, see how many synonyms or similar words you can find. See the tall buildings in Uptown, what other words are buildings (house, skyscraper, etc).

  • Find rhymes. Rhyming is an important skill for kids to have as they start to learn to read. Find rhymes everywhere (stop, hop), you can even make up silly words to create rhymes (uptown, buptown). This post from Little Minds at Work has rhyming ideas and printables.

For First Graders

Talk, talk, talk, and encourage your child to ask questions

  • Do an investigation. When you bring home a new type of fruit or vegetable, or find a new plant or flower, spend some time investigating it by describing its size, shape, color, and other features. A format like this investigation of a pumpkin is one way to approach it.

  • Learn letter patterns. First graders have learned their letters and sounds, now they’re learning letter patterns, like when you add an –e it makes the vowel say its name. (Turning fin to fine, or cat to cate). Have your child practice these sound patterns by giving them a word and asking them to change it from a short to a long vowel (this list is a good one to get started).

  • Sequence events. Help your child organize thoughts by sequencing events that you do together (like making a sandwich) by explaining what happened first, second, third, fourth, and so on. See how many steps you can include in the sequence.

  • Name nouns. As your child learns new words, help them organize them into nouns (people, places, and things), adjectives (description words), and verbs (action words). Make a game of it, like this sorting game.

For Second Graders

Keep talking with your second grader 

  • Tell your story. Second graders love to hear stories about your childhood, when you tell them about your funniest Thanksgiving or your most embarrassing elementary school moment, you’re building vocabulary and modeling how to structure stories. Find more tips at Reading Rockets.

  • Pull words apart. In 2nd grade, students start learning the parts of words (prefixes, root words, and suffixes). When you see words in books, on TV, and on signs, pull them apart into prefixes, root words, and suffixes. For example, preschool, replay, and unlocked.

  • Add adverbs. Once your child knows about nouns, adjectives, and verbs, introduce adverbs, or words that describe verbs (quickly, slowly). Add adverbs to sentences and see how many adverbs you can use to describe how your child is moving, or how you see people driving, walking, and running around town.

  • Find the lesson. As kids progress through elementary school, morals and lessons become important in the books they read. A graphic organizer, like this one for Giraffes Can’t Dance, can help your child focus on the moral, but lessons can also be learned from activities you do and TV shows you watch, as long as you’re talking about them and asking: What did you learn? What did the author want you to learn?

For Third Graders

Talk with your third grader about what they’re learning, from books, TV or school. 

  • Organize information. Whether you’re watching a video, reading a book, or talking about information they learned through a museum visit, help your child organize their thinking. For example, a graphic organizer like this one can help your child think about the type of information they know about a person.

  • Summarizing Strategy. Teach your child the basics of summarizing events, experiences, and ideas with some basic summarizing strategies. For example, have them answer key questions: Who? Did what? Then what happened? So what (what was the result)? And so (what was the final result)? (Here is a visual of the strategy).

  • How do you know? Third graders will be finding evidence from the text to support their ideas, but you can help your child support all the ideas they come up with by asking: how do you know? Then, help them strengthen their ideas by expanding on what they said. For example, “that’s an interesting idea. Have you thought about this?”

  • Pull words apart. In 3rd grade, students are learning the parts of words (prefixes, root words, and suffixes). When you see words in books, on TV, and on signs, pull them apart into prefixes, root words, and suffixes. For example, preschool, replay, and unlocked. Here is a list of prefixes and suffixes by grade.