Language Stimulation for Early Childhood Educators

Are you concerned about young children in your care who seem late to talk? 

Perhaps you have noticed a toddler who: 

  • uses a limited number of spoken words 
  • relies on gesture, leading or making noises to have their needs met 
  • avoids initiating communication e.g. sits and waits, instead of asking for help 

Discussing your concerns with parents and consulting a speech pathologist would be recommended, but there are strategies you can start using at any time. As a childcare educator, your interactions in everyday situations can have a significant impact on children with communication difficulties.

Here are some tips to get started: 

Focus on interaction first 

When we have concerns about a child’s communication, it seems natural to put our focus on encouraging that child to speak. But communication is not just about using words. Language develops through experiences of responsive interaction. If we focus on interaction first, there can be benefits not just for language, but all areas of development.  

  • Spend time observing and getting to know the child. You may begin to notice activities or toys that often engage the child. Be prepared, every child is different. What interests them may not be what you expect. 
  • Take opportunities to join in the child’s activities: if a child is already interested, this makes interaction and learning within the interaction easier! 
  • Follow the child’s lead: Have you ever noticed how children enjoy being in charge of play? When you’re focusing on building interaction, don’t feel you need to direct or teach. Wait for the child to initiate by making a sound, pointing, doing an action, or saying a word. You can respond by copying the action, using your facial expressions, or saying a sound, word or phrase. If you keep it up, you’re building an experience of back-and-forth interactions that support wellbeing and learning. 

How we talk can make a difference 

In an effort to encourage spoken words, we may find ourselves asking questions e.g. “What’s that?”, giving instructions e.g. “Use your words”, or insisting on imitation e.g. “Say…”. When a child has experienced limited success using words to communicate, the result can be unintended pressure, resulting in fewer communication attempts. This style of communication also puts us back as the ‘director’ of the interaction, rather than following the child’s lead. 

Once you’ve started building positive interactions, you will be noticing what the child is interested in and responding. Try commenting using a word or short phrase, that describes what the child is looking at or what is happening e.g. “car”, “A big dog!, “Feeding baby” 

Using a variety of types of words (names for things, action words, describing words) is important for early language but also positively impacts future vocabulary development. 


Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University (2022) 

Research Summary: Learning Language and Loving It, The Hanen Program for Early Childhood Educators/Teachers 

Finestack, L. H., & Fey, M. E. (2013). Evidence-based language intervention approaches for young late talkers. In L. A. Rescorla, & P. S. Dale (Eds.), Late Talkers: Language Development, Interventions, and Outcomes Brookes Publishing.