Speech and Language

Speech and Language

Children start to learn language from the day they are born. As they grow and develop, their speech and language grows more complex. They learn to understand and use language to express their ideas, thoughts, and feelings, and to communicate with others. 


This begins at birth and continues through the preschool years. Children see and interact with print through books, magazines, grocery lists in everyday situations such as home, in preschool, and at daycare before they start elementary school. Gradually children combine what they know about speaking and listening with what they know about print and become ready to learn to read and write.


Children who enter school with weaker verbal abilities are much more likely to experience difficulties learning literacy skills than those who do not. Our use of vocabulary affects everything we do-from the way we talk to how we understand what we read. Vocabulary is something that is built with exposure and repetition. 


You can help your child develop literacy skills during regular activities without adding extra time to your day. There are also things you can do during planned play and reading times. Show your child that reading and writing are a part of everyday life and can be fun and enjoyable.

  • Talk to your child and name objects, people and events in the everyday environment. Be specific about the location of things.
  • Talk to your child during daily routine activities such as mealtime and respond to his or her questions. Show your child how to read a recipe or preparation instructions.
  • Introduce new vocabulary words during holidays and special activities such as outings to the zoo, the park, the grocery store.
  • Read picture and story books that focus on sounds, rhymes and alliteration (words starting with the same sound).
  • Encourage your child to describe or tell a story about his/her drawing.


There are some early signs that may place a child at risk for the acquisition of literacy skills. 

  • Preschool children with speech and language disorders
  • Physical or medical conditions such as preterm birth requiring placement in a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), chronic ear infections, fetal alcohol syndrome, cerebral palsy
  • Developmental disorders such as mental retardation, autism spectrum
  • Poverty
  • Deprived home literacy environment
  • Family history of language or literacy disabilities (dyslexia)


Signs that may indicate later reading and writing and learning problems include:

  • Persistent baby talk
  • Absence of interest in or appreciation for nursery rhymes or shared book reading
  • Difficulty understanding simple directions
  • Difficulty learning (or remembering) names of letters
  • Failure to recognize or identify letters in the child's own name


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