The first language skills your child develops are pragmatic skills. These are skills needed to get what he needs. Having words like “Mama,” “Dada,” and “Juice” in his vocabulary allows your little one to communicate his needs with his caretaker. If your baby spends a lot of time with other children, words like “Stop” and “No” will be necessary for his pragmatic repertoire.
As language becomes more complex, baby begins speaking in phrases of two or more words to communicate whole ideas. Baby uses phrases like “more juice,” “my baba,” “all done,” “book.” In this stage, pragmatic language still dominates, although his vocabulary is expanding rapidly.
Between the ages of two and three, most parents expect their children to have mastered the use of pragmatic language. When toddlers of pre-school age resort to crying to have their needs or wants met, they are often reminded to “use your words!”
In this stage, children begin to use more descriptive and social language. They use words, phrases and sentences to describe what they doing during play, express emotions, make choices for activities, and ask questions of adults.
One skill that can be mastered during this time is the use of adjectives to describe a noun, and the ability to follow directions containing an adjective.
For example, your preschooler should be able to use phrases like “big bear,” “brown sock,” and “little ant.” She should also be able to follow directions such as “point to the tall tree,” or “color the little bunny.”
Parents and caregivers can teach children to do this in the most natural ways, without strict instructions or drilled activities. Like other skills, children learn this best in their most natural mode: play.
Sit on the floor with your child during free play times. Find opportunities to model using descriptive language by describing what he has or what he is doing. Draw your child’s attention to the details of his world. His own toys, clothing, and foods are a great place to start, because he has a natural connection to them which will maintain his interest.
Here’s how one mom, Debi, employed this strategy with a little girl at her daycare:
Delilah, age 3 walked in that morning excited to show her teacher her new boots. Debi sat down to look at the boots and said. “Wow, friends! Delilah has boots today! And what color are they? Brown! Brown boots. Are any of our other friends wearing boots today?”
The children clamored around, eager to join the discussion. Nathan called out “I have boots!” Debi turned her attention to him. “And what color are your boots, Nathan?”
“Nathan has green boots. Delilah has brown boots. Who else has boots?”
This conversation is simple natural, and informal. The children are learning in the most natural way to use colors to describe objects. The more frequently children engage in discussions of this sort, the more likely they are to begin to use descriptive language. In fact, later that day, during story time, Debi was reading aloud from All You Need for a Snowman, when Delilah called out, “Hey! That boy has brown boots! Like me!”