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Language Development Activities for Preschool-Age Children

I worked with children throughout college. I have an MA in Speech-Language Pathology and am interested in kid-related issues.

Fun Language Development Activities to Do With Your Preschooler

Many years ago while I was in school, I had the chance to co-lead a preschool language stimulation class. It was a lot of hard work and it taxed my brain to come up with fun and creative ways to stimulate minds and provide language enrichment experiences for eight or nine youngsters every single day.

Some young children are a bit slower than others in picking up language and they require some extra attention to both language expression and comprehension to do well once they enter school. However, even for children that are developing language right on schedule, stimulating greater expressive language skills, creativity, and imagination will further enhance their later academic experiences.

I wanted to share a few tips and ideas for language development activities that parents, or even teachers, can use to make learning fun.

Tips for Encouraging Kids to Talk

I am going to share with you a language development activity just to get you started. It can be adapted in many ways based on your child's performance and abilities; I'll talk about that a bit more later. First, I wanted to give you some basic tips that you can use anytime you're working (or playing) with a child to encourage them to express themselves.

  • Try to use more open-ended questions. In other words, ask questions that invite phrase or sentence length answers, not a single word like "yes", "no", or someone's name. For instance, "What's going on?" will tend to get a longer answer than "Who's jumping over the dog?"
  • Ask for elaboration. If the response you get is just a single word or perhaps a phrase, ask more questions to get them to elaborate. For instance, if the child says "boy jumping", then you can ask, "What's the boy jumping over?"
  • Model longer phrases when necessary. If the child then says "the dog" you can put the sentence together. "Oh, I see the boy's jumping over the dog on the sidewalk". "Why is he doing that?" Clearly there's much, much more to language stimulation than this, but these little tips will be useful no matter what language development activity you do.

Storytelling and Language Development

One of my favorite language development activities involves storytelling. Even children with very limited language skills can enjoy building and telling a story. For children who are not delayed in their language acquisition, the more advanced forms of this activity can be great for stimulating imagination and even greater language skills.

In both cases, I found storytelling to be an activity that the children soon loved.

I often used wordless picture books for these types of activities but, being a student, I also often resorted to creating my own materials based upon my tight budget. The example I provide here is exactly that—homemade. You're free to use it of course, but you can probably develop your own for even better results!

Starting Out With Storytelling

In the example I provide here, I put together a series of pictures. They can be on flash cards, taken from magazines, or whatever. In my example, I took an hour or so to photograph some things. I made sure that I included some action or activity in my shots.

There are a variety of things you can do with these photographs or pictures.

  • For a child that isn't expressing themselves, it might be more appropriate to have them begin by pointing out items in the pictures as you describe them. Hearing a story, hearing connected speech is important for children who aren't yet talking.
  • For those with some expressive ability, a start can be made by simply having them name the subject of the picture or perhaps describing the pictures/stating what the character is doing.
  • A task that is a bit more advanced cognitively, is to ask the child to caption the photograph or to describe what a character within the picture is thinking.

Our Practice Materials and Your Assignment

Here are the shots I took to demonstrate a typical storytelling activity for language development.

This should be a fun activity. In fact, please go ahead and try this phase of it for yourself. Look at the photographs and try to caption at least a few of them. Use your imagination and your sense of humor to make some statement about what you see. Tell me what the character is thinking, what's happening, or just come up with a creative caption; we don't have to be putting together a story at this point.

(Note: These pictures are loosely related so they would be more appropriate for a child that has already demonstrated some storytelling skills at a more basic level)

I don't want to prescribe the storyline, so I will just say that Batman has awakened to find himself in a strange place, surrounded by things and beings that are much, much larger than himself. He's in quite a predicament.

Delving Further Into Storytelling and Our Language Development Activity

Great. Hopefully, you're getting an idea of how much fun this can be.

At the next level, I might ask a child to go ahead and make up a story. I might have them tell the story after I've put the photographs in sequence; or if they're up to the task, I might shuffle the photographs and have them determine the appropriate sequence and then tell me the story.

I would start with only a few pictures and then work my way up to 10 or more. Remember, whatever output you get from the child, you can encourage more with appropriate open-ended questions, elaboration, and modeling. Keep it fun.

For kids with limited language, I think it's important to have photographs that show action and that are tightly linked. This way they don't have to fill in the blanks so much, but pretty much just need to describe what they see.

This is the stage where a wordless picture book comes in. (One that kids find humorous and has been around for generations is a series about a frog) The child doesn't have to make up the story, they just need to tell it.

As they progress, things can become more challenging. Items can be less related and less action can be shown, leaving them to make up more of the story.

Even More

For kids who are able to tell a coherent story, I might take our language development activity further; asking them to do more.

For instance, can they extend the story further; anticipate future actions and events? Can they tell me how they would feel if they were in the main character's shoes? Can they re-sequence the pictures to tell a different story?

As I indicated earlier, a harder task can simply be giving the child a storyline that is more open, one that isn't as prescribed based on the pictures.

Once they're able to do these things I might ask them to make up a story of their own. Whether this entails taking pictures to go along with the story or not, is up to you and the child's abilities.

Find More Language Development Activities

© 2009 Ruth Coffee

So Tell Us The Story You Came Up With Through Our Pictures!

Senora M on August 19, 2011:

Cool lens. Lots of fun stuff on here for preschoolers.

franstan lm on August 16, 2011:

Love this lens. Great job

Jeremy from Tokyo, Japan on June 06, 2011:

Love the batman photos! Nice language development tips too.

sorana lm on April 18, 2011:

This is a fun lens. Even I had fun.

fsilvestre on March 23, 2011:

Thank you for this informative lens, it is an avenue for the language development of a child.

LouisaDembul on January 08, 2011:

Great lens, will use some of it on my own kids!

Donnette Davis from South Africa on June 19, 2010:

Great Lens, thank you. Have faved and lensrolled to Developing and Assessing Motor Skills in Children

MarbleousBehavior on May 10, 2010:

"Nah na na na na na na na na na na na na na na Bat pan!" So classic I actually did LOL!

JanieceTobey on October 28, 2009:

Well done! I especially loved all the photos and captions!

Evelyn Saenz from Royalton on August 19, 2009:

Lots of fun! Thank you for sharing.

Debbie from England on June 22, 2009:

This is probably the most enjoyable caption contest lens I've come across! I bet you had so much fun taking the pics :)

Nathalie Roy from France (Canadian expat) on June 17, 2009:

Great lens, love your poor batman's photos, that is funny!

Mihaela Vrban from Croatia on June 17, 2009:

Love combination of modules you used here along with great subject! Blessed by an Angel! :)

Sandy Mertens from Frozen Tundra on June 16, 2009:

Love the batman toy. Very cute lens.

Winter52 LM on June 16, 2009:

Glad that I stopped by. I'm horrible at stuff like this, but I enjoyed the captions that were available. ;) Don't have any little kids anymore, but the minute that I have grandchildren... maybe in a couple of years?? I am going to have so much fun lol.

bdkz on June 16, 2009:

Love these!

davidhallstrom on June 16, 2009:

I enjoyed your lens and it has some good tips.

The Party Animal from Partytown USA on June 16, 2009:

This is way too much fun - I love fun - fun fun fun - love it!!! very creative

Louise0711 on June 16, 2009:

Some great tips here. I'll be trying them out on my 2 year old son. Thanks.

Jimmie Quick from Memphis, TN, USA on June 16, 2009:

This is fantastic! I hereby bless this lens.

I love how you've got a very creative theme but with practical ways to teach children.

jaye3000 on June 15, 2009:

Great ideas in here. It is sometimes difficult to draw out what you're looking for. I've lensrolled this to ABA therapy. My son is schooled with this at home. Great stuff!

Robin S from USA on June 15, 2009:

cute lens!