Baby Talk: How to Boost Your Baby’s Vocabulary

Infant development remains a hot topic for parents as they seek support strategies for the developmental stages of children. While development of a baby may vary, the milestones for babies follow specific physical, cognitive and social-emotional development.

Infant development remains a hot topic for parents as they seek to further their child’s social emotional development. While development of a baby may vary, the milestones for babies follow specific physical, cognitive and social-emotional developments.

In her new book, Raising a Talker, Renate Zangl, PhD, explores how babies reach their language-development milestones. Through her simple strategies and interactive games and activities, she helps you boost your baby's vocabulary from sounds to words.

Below are a collection of games you can play with your baby 0-12 months.

Sound chants – friendly oooohs and eeeeehs  

  1. Place the baby in a comfortable place: sitting in the infant seat, lying on the changing table, or sitting on your lap while you hold her securely. The baby needs to face you.
  2. Make a funny sound to get the baby’s attention. Once the baby is looking at you, and you have her attention, you’re ready to go.
  3. Get up close and make an exaggerated /o/ sound, dragging out the vowel, saying something like ooooooooooh
  4. Pause for a few seconds and watch to see if the baby mirrors you. Praise her when she does and talk back to anything she said or did.
  5. Continue and make a few more /o/ sounds, again clearly articulating the sounds, exaggerating your lip movements and dragging out the vowel sound. Always pause, so your baby can respond back.
  6. After a few repetitions, switch to a new sound to keep the baby interested in the game. Pick a sound that looks very different from the /o/ sound such as the /e/ sound. Again, articulate the sound clearly and drag it out, saying something like eeeeeeeeeh...
  7. Repeat the sound a few times, always pausing for the baby to chime in.
  8. Now alternate between /o/ and /e/ sounds, saying oooooooh followed by eeeeeeeh. Alternate how you say the sounds – go up in your voice sometimes using a higher pitch, then go down in your voice other times, using a lower pitch. These variations make the game more interesting, keep the baby’s attention and sharpen the listening skills.
  9. Observe if your baby watches your mouth as you play this game. It may take some time until your baby imitates, but she will do so over time.

Note: Getting up close is important so that the baby can clearly watch how the vowel sounds are formed. Babies around 4 months old are literally hanging onto your mouth, and by going up close, you let the baby watch how you articulate the sound and give her visual information to learn from as well. Exaggerate your vowels and don’t be afraid to use your full pitch range playing this game.

Skills fostered: Visual discrimination, auditory discrimination, sound learning, cognitive skills, social skills

Variant:

To give the child a different listening experience, use a kitchen paper roll or toilet paper roll, and alternate the sound chants, once saying them without the roll (just like above), and then another time saying them through the roll.

 

Face gallery

Babies love faces, especially those of familiar people and other babies.

Preparation:

Take pictures of familiar faces, including the baby’s own face. Make copies of the faces and cover them with contact paper to make them more durable. Put them up on the wall at your eye level spacing them out nicely from each other. Use pictures of faces where the eyes are looking directly at you, which makes the faces more interesting for the baby to look at. 

  1. Walk through the face gallery holding your baby securely in your arms.
  2. As you walk through, point to each face. Talk in Baby Talk/Parentese and get excited as you see each face saying the person’s name: Oh, look! There’s DAAAAADDYYYYY! See DAAAAADDDYYYY!! Or: Oh, look! That’s you! There’s NEEEEL! … Saying the person’s name as you play the game gives the baby the necessary repetition needed to build up word memories to eventually recognize the names.

Skills fostered: Visual discrimination, language skills, social/emotional skills

Variants:

a. Secure a rope over your baby’s crib and attach 3-5 pictures in a row. It’s best to have the face shown on the back and the front, so if the baby swipes at the picture, she can still see a face. Again, it’s best if you talk with the baby as she reaches out towards the pictures. This makes the game more fun because she loves to listen to your voice and can learn about her language and people’s names at the same time.

Skills fostered: same as above, plus eye-hand coordination

b. Get some small wall mirrors that you hang up at eye level and space out. Then walk from mirror to mirror holding your baby securely in your arms, as you discuss who it is that you see. Again, be very excited and surprised as the face pops up in the mirror and use language to guide the game along.

c. Instead of faces, use squares or circles with bold white/black or red/white patterns. Babies first love to watch things that have clear contrasts and bright colors. Again, put the shapes up on the wall and walk through your art gallery as you talk about what you see. Have the baby touch the textures, as well.

Skills fostered: same as above, plus tactile discrimination

 

What’s in the kitchen cabinets?

Materials: Some noise-making toys, such as rubber ducks that squeak, your keys that dangle, a rattle, a bell.

Preparation: Put one noise-making toy in each of your top kitchen cabinets so that when you open the cabinet, you can easily reach the toy.

  1. Hold your baby securely on your arms, and as you walk through the kitchen, open one cabinet after the other.
  2. Knock on the cabinet and say: Knock, knock, whose there? Knocking on the cabinet gets the child’s attention before you open the door. Then, open the cabinet, pick up the noise maker and make its sound, while also naming what it is: Oh, look! It’s a DUUUUCK! See the DUUUCK. It says QUAAACK, QUAAACK. Act surprised about finding this treasure and talk in Parentese, articulating the object’s name very clearly and at the end of the sentence. Let the baby play with the noise maker if she’s interested. Making the object’s noise as well as labeling the object allows the baby to connect its sound with the object’s name.
  3. Go to the next cabinet, and repeat the activity the same way. Sticking with the same ritual makes the game predictable, which allows the baby to learn the name of the game and build up anticipation of what is coming next. Babies love and thrive on predictable scenarios that have a new twist (the new toy that is discovered in the cabinet).

Skills fostered: Auditory discrimination, language skills, social skills, fine-motor skills,

Variant:

As the baby starts to crawl, you can use shoe boxes (without the lid) that you fill with noise makers or toys the child is interested in. Spread out 3 to 4 shoe boxes on the floor and help the child discover the hidden treasures of the boxes. Again, be very excited and talk in Baby Talk, labeling each of the things you discover together.

 

Mirror peekaboo

Babies love to see faces, especially those of their own and of people familiar to them. They also love it when things disappear and then reappear. Here you combine both of their favorites.

Material: Large, unbreakable mirror; large scarf  

  1. Sit on the floor with the baby sitting on your lap, securely holding him as you both face the mirror. Place the mirror such that both of your faces are clearly visible in it.
  2. Tap on the mirror, so the child gets interested in it. Make silly faces and sounds as you watch your faces in the mirror. For example, make click sounds, kissing sounds, vowel sounds, big smiley faces. Be creative with your face and voice, and exaggerate what you say and show.
  3. Put a scarf over your head and then have it drop in front of you so that both of your faces are covered up. As your faces disappear, say PEEKA – and then pull the scarf away, as you say BOOOH! Mommy and SARAH are back!!
  4. Start the game all over, at first making silly sounds and faces and then having your faces disappear. Again, stick to a predictable scenario, so that the baby can learn how the game is played and over time, she’ll have great fun pulling off the scarf herself to make your faces reappear.

Skills fostered: auditory skills, cognitive skills, language skills, fine-motor skills

Variant:

Use sunglasses that you put on your face, and as you put them on, say PEEKAAA – and as you take them off, say BOOOOH! Mommy (or person’s name)  is BAAACK!

 

Where are we?   

This is a fun search game in which the baby has to look for two familiar people while he’s also learning about their names.

  1. Where’s MOMMY (or the person’s name) -  When the baby is engaged in an activity, hide behind the sofa, or some other place where he can not see you. Then ask clearly and loudly: Where’s MOMMY (or the person’s name)? Pause and see if he looks in your direction. If he does, pop up and triumphantly praise him: That’s right! Here’s MOMMY! You found me! MOMMY is here! If not, ask again: Where’s MOMMY? Can you find MOMMY? If he can’t find you, show yourself, get his attention so he looks at you, and then tell him who are. Then say goodbye, wave and hide again.
  2. Where’s DADDY?(or the person’s name) -  Now, the other person hides. Hide behind the open door, or some place different from where the first person is hiding, but also completely out of the baby’s sight. Then play the same game as before, telling him who you are when you appear: Hey there! It’s me, DADDY! 
  3. Pop up alternately: Where’s MOMMY?/Where’s DADDY? - The two people  now hide and reappear from their places, one after the other: mom, dad, mom, dad, etc. See if the baby anticipates where you are going to  pop-up next  by looking in your direction before you actually appear.
  4. Switch locations: Mom is now hiding in dad’s location and vice versa. Play the game the same way as before, asking him to look for mommy one time, then for daddy the next time, then mommy again, and so forth. Does he first  look for mommy at her ‘old’ hang out?
  5. Pop up randomly from your hiding places: For example, dad hides and reappears two or three times in a row, before mom comes in, etc. This way your game is no longer predictable, and your baby has to really listen from where the voice is coming from to locate you. Hide at different places as you keep playing the game over time. This makes it again new and interesting for him.

Skills fostered: Spatial awareness, cognitive skills, language skills, object/people permanence, social/emotional skills

 

Find more great activities in Raising a Talker.

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