Language skills targets for babies and toddlers: 1. Social participation

Feb 28, 2016

Babies learn to talk by paying attention to other people. In other words, before they will speak, your child first needs to be interested in watching and imitating you. Simple games that encourage your child to interact and play with you are the best way to get them launched on their language journey. Here are some easy ideas for getting started.



Make a connection

All infant communication starts with a connection between the child and another person. Most babies quickly and naturally want that connection and start to make eye contact, facial expressions and sounds to reinforce it. Along with giving our children lots of focused attention throughout the day, there are plenty of fun activities to encourage these early communication skills.

  • A simple game of peekaboo is a classic baby pleaser, and a fantastic way to boost their social skills.
  • Songs with actions, especially rocking songs where your child sits on your knees facing you, also boost your connection. Classics include ‘This is the way the baby rides’, ‘Round and round the garden’, and ‘Eensy weensy spider’.
  • With slightly older children, a good way to create a connection in your play is to use a single object that you can play with together, e.g. a ball, a drum or blocks.


Once a baby starts paying attention to people, they quickly begin to imitate what they see and hear. Learning to imitate is an important step on the way to talking, and it’s a skill we can promote and strengthen.

Make the most of intimate moments with your baby, such as diaper changes or drying after a bath, to bring your face close to theirs and imitate any happy sounds or expressions they make. This works especially well with babies at the babbling stage, who often find it amusing to hear you make sounds like their own. Make your own expressive faces and simple sounds for your child to imitate when they’re ready.

Play is a great time to encourage imitation. Here’s an activity suggestion from my book, called ‘Match and Copy’:

Try collecting pairs of identical or similar objects that your little one can play with. Put them into two bags or boxes, one for your child and one for you. Let your child choose a toy from their bag. Copy what they do with it. Then show them something different to do with it. Try to take turns in this way as long as your child is interested. Here are suggestions for things to put in your bags:

  1. Balls (for rolling, bouncing and throwing)
  2. Blocks (for stacking, knocking down and banging together)
  3. Noise-making toys, like shakers
  4. Cars and other vehicles for rolling and for playing ‘Ready, steady, go!’
  5. Small figures or animal toys (for making animal noises and performing simple actions like running, falling, sneezing etc.)

Narrate what you do in very simple language.

Have fun with this lovely stage of language learning, when the simplest things are so fascinating to our little ones, and enjoy the strong bond you can feel with your child as you encourage their development and learning.

Looking for more strategies and ideas to get your little one talking? Check out my book for strategies that work, and hundreds of fun playtime activities to share.


This is the first post in a series. Over the next few months I’m planning to share ideas for helping children to achieve specific speech and language skills at every point on the way to making full sentences in conversations. My aim is to help other parents to get the most out of daily interactions with their babies and toddlers, building strong language skills, and enjoying great communication along the way.

Alongside the usual activity posts and essays, here’s what’s coming:

  1. Social participation
  2. Gestures
  3. Signs
  4. Following Instructions
  5. Playful sounds
  6. Animal sounds
  7. First words
  8. Mama!
  9. Social words
  10. Verbs
  11. Prepositions
  12. Two-word phrases
  13. Adjectives
  14. Adverbs
  15. First questions
  16. More questions
  17. Pronouns 1
  18. Pronouns 2
  19. Negation
  20. Parts of a whole
  21. Functions
  22. Plurals
  23. Possession
  24. Tense
  25. Story-telling
  26. Why
  27. Same / different
  28. Implications

Phew, lots of ideas! I’m excited to be starting this series, and hope you’ll join me! Like Word Boosting on Facebook for updates as I post. If you have any suggestions or requests for language skills targets for me to address here, please do contact me: leave a comment, message me via Facebook, or email me. I’d love to hear from you!


This post is shared at Crafty Moms Share: Sharing Saturday and The Practical Mom.


  1. swapna
    March 2, 2016

    Interesting tips! Have pinned to the practical mondays board:)

    • Kathleen
      March 2, 2016

      Thanks so much!


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