You go many places with your children -- shops, friends' and relatives' homes, parks, restaurants, community events, etc. Every time you go out, your toddler sees and experiences new things, faces new challenges or meets new people. Using Comfort, Play & Teach: A Positive Approach to Parenting, you can help your child make the most of these experiences and encourage his language development.
Because outings are so rich in new experiences and emotions, they provide you with golden opportunities to show your toddler how to talk about feelings. At a fair, for example, she may go from feeling excited to surprised, from happy to sad, and so on. Try to infer how she feels and to help her put these feelings into words; for example, if she is smiling and jumping up and down at the sight of puppets, you may say something like "The puppet show is starting'. Are you excited?" These are important words to learn, because expressing feelings through language helps children cope with emotions and control them. You will also comfort her by showing that you are paying attention to her feelings and taking them seriously.
Children learn language by hearing it, so it is very important for you to talk to your child. Study after study shows that the more words children hear, the more words they can say. Their vocabulary levels during the toddler stage relate to their ability to read, analyse stories and write later on, so take advantage of everyday errands to encourage his natural curiosity by playing along when he asks his endless stream of questions: "What's that?" "Where Mommy go?" "Why?" This will allow you to talk about a wide range of topics and will make these outings fun and interesting for your child.
Finally, outings give you a chance to teach your child how to talk with others in social situations; for example, practise saying "Hello" and "Goodbye" to the people you meet: the cashier at the store, the neighbours on the street, etc. Show your child how to say "Thank you" when someone offers something and "Please" when she wants something. Gently encourage her to answer when she is asked a question, such as "What's your name?" or "How old are you?" Learning how to use language in a polite and friendly way with others will help socialize her and make her feel comfortable with new people.
If Your Child is a Baby
Going for a walk with your baby is a good way for you to help him explore the world. Whether he is in a baby carrier or stroller, talk to him as you are walking. The comfort he feels from hearing your voice will give him the feeling of security he needs to look at everything around him and learn about his surroundings.
Describe what you see and what you do as you point to objects: pick up an apple at a fruit stand and show it to her while saying "Apple." Or smell the flowers in the garden together while saying "The flowers smell good." Don't be afraid to play with the pitch of your voice, making it high or low, and to exaggerate facial expressions, such as those for amazement and surprise. Make oohs and ahs and other vocalizations, making sure she can see your face, to teach her how expressions are associated with tones of voice.
If Your Child is a Preschooler
You can take advantage of outings to encourage an interest in print. Build your child's confidence by looking at signs together and pointing out the letters he knows. Congratulate him on these small accomplishments to help him feel comforted and confident in his ability to learn more.
Stop at your local library often and play in the children's books section. Spend time choosing and looking at books together and show your child how to hold and care for them properly. Then take as many as you can home with you - even the ones you've already borrowed 10 times! Reading with your child often and respecting her preferences will foster her appreciation for books, help her become familiar with print and the structure of stories, teach her lots of vocabulary and encourage a positive attitude toward reading and learning that will stay with her when she starts school.