Nobody told me holiday prep would take at least twice as much time with a toddler as it did in our pre-baby days! Even last year, with a sleepy newborn I had more than enough time to shop, bake, decorate, wrap, and clean! Well those days are long gone! I am not complaining- we have a healthy, happy boy who keeps us on our toes! So instead of fighting it, I’ve decided to embrace this change and the opportunities it presents to work on language development!
I know, right? I’m adding something else to my crazy holiday to do list? Not exactly…I’ve mentioned in previous posts that people communicate all the time! So one of the best things about early speech and language development is that you can target it just about anywhere during just about any activity!
Obviously, holiday activities are not part of our normal daily routines, and (as we’ve established in almost every post) young children learn best through routines and repetition. Due to this deviation from our everyday routines, our older babies and toddlers may not be at their most vocal during these activities, simply because they aren’t as familiar and comfortable with them. Despite this, holiday activities provide so many fun opportunities to engage with our young children and help expand their speech and language skills!
So let’s look at how we can target our little ones’ communication skills and language development this holiday season!
Wrapping can be such a fun language-development activity. Most likely your baby or toddler is like Van and too little to understand the concept of wrapping a gift. That’s totally fine! I gave Van a little box and let him practice putting my scraps of ribbon and paper from wrapping “in” and “out”. “In” is one of the earliest prepositions children can demonstrate an understanding of, so it is a great one to practice with older babies and young toddlers. So I’d hand him a little piece and say “put in” and he’d put it in the box and close it! And he loved it! For a 2-3 year old (older toddler), you could encourage them to put things “on” the box, “off” of the box, “out” of the box, etc. If you really want to get crazy you can even cut out pictures from your wrapping paper and have your little one choose what to put in next by pointing or verbalizing.
Another fun way to target language while wrapping gifts is letting your little one play with bows. They’re often shiny and sticky (not to mention they’re cheap and most bags have some crumpled ones in them already). Most older babies and toddlers will love sticking bows to a piece of wrapping paper! Show your child how to do it while using simple words and phrases (“stick” “bow” “it’s stuck” “bow on” and “bow off” are perfect for this activity!).
Continue to narrate their actions while they play. And be sure to supervise your child the entire time! Some bows have staples in them so you want to make sure they’re not going in your little ones mouth! You can have your child stick the bow on actual gifts, but a large piece of wrapping paper may work better since they’ll probably want to take the bow off and on several times (and why fight it, that repetition is helping them learn!).
Holiday Baking is so fun to do with your little one and amazing for working on verbs! You can involve your little one as much as you want!
The cleanest way to do this is pop your little one in a high chair or wherever they usually eat. Then you could give your older baby or toddler each kitchen utensil as you finish with it. Name each one and show your child something to do with it. For example, you could give your little one a teaspoon, name “spoon” or “scoop” and show your baby a gesture of scooping. Use a variety of verbs and nouns while you do this!
I decided to go all-in and let Van play in some dough! This way we could do more verbs and he’d get the the added sensory experience! If you’re going to do this just make sure your dough is something you’re okay with your little one tasting (no raw eggs, etc.) as it is bound to happen!
We have a family recipe for eggless cream cheese cookies, so I adapted these to make with Van by cutting the sugar, using organic butter and cream cheese, and using a blend of coconut flour, almond mill, and oat flour. I’m not going to say they’re super healthy, but they’re good enough that I didn’t stress over him eating the dough! And the dough takes less than 5 mins to make so I made a little bit like this for him to play with, then followed the real (very unhealthy) recipe so I could make some as gifts for family and friends!
He loved it! In addition to using self talk and parallel talk, I encouraged communication by letting him pick which cutter he wanted. I asked do you want “tree” or “star”, lightly shaking each one as I named it for emphasis. He reached for the tree, so i named it again (“tree! You chose tree”). I rolled a little dough out for him. Then I took his hand, put it under mine, and gently pushed to show him how to “cut” the dough. Then I let him have at it while I got to work on the other cookies. I continued to use self talk and parallel talk, and let him help sprinkle when he got tired of playing in the dough!
Y’all these are the BEST for learning family members names! And they’re great for requesting if your little one loves them like Van does! Instead of just sticking cards straight on the fridge or wherever you put the cards you receive, let your little one see! Normally, Christmas cards have pretty good pictures of the people’s faces. So slowly name the people in the picture, pointing to each one. If it’s people your child knows, you could also try saying “look” and pointing to the person without immediately naming him or her. Count to 10 in your head to see if your little one tries to say the person’s name. If they attempt, great! If not, just be patient and model it for your little one! Hearing it over and over again will help them learn!
Another great approach with Christmas card is to target receptive language. Receptive language always comes before expressive language! It is basically your child’s understanding of a word. So if the card has people your child is familiar with, you could ask, “where’s xxxxx?” to encourage pointing and receptive language skills. If your child doesn’t point, or points to the wrong thing, don’t worry! Just take his/her hand and gently help your little one point saying “there’s xxxxx! Xxxxx.”
In addition to people, you could do either of these approaches with actions, objects, and other words you want your child to know. Just remember to support your little one by accepting all communication attempts! We got one card with a couple riding horses. Van routinely points to the horses and say “neigh neigh”! So I say “yes, horse says neigh! Horse“, emphasizing the word I want him to use! He’ll get it eventually!
Van loves Christmas cards so much we also keep them high on the fridge or on our magnetic board so he has to do something to request them. Ideally he’d say card, but usually he just looks at me then whines while reaching or pointing. At 14 months, I will take it! I just model the target word/phrase “card” or “more cards” a few times as I’m getting the card for him. And I’m very good at playing dumb so I only get down one card at a time! The repetition of having to keep asking for more will help him learn to communicate!
Y’all babies and toddlers love to “help”! I try to let Van participate with cleaning as much as I can. It’s definitely another great opportunity for verbs, which will be essential to forming unique 2 word phrases (this skill usually appears between 18 and 24 months). Like I said, receptive vocabulary always comes first, so I want expose him to a variety of verbs before he hits 18 months! So when I dust, I give him a damp cloth and tell him “let’s wipe” encouraging him to wipe furniture. Then I name what he wipes (“wipe floor”, “wipe couch”, “wipe table”, etc.). I have a mini dust pan I found at Marshalls for him so we do this with “sweep” as well. The main thing about these early phrases I model is that I’m trying to be repetitive and keep at least one word consistent. He also “helps” me load the dryer, as I model “sock in”, “shirt in”, etc. Does it take forever? Yes. Is it fun and totally worth it? Mostly, yes.
And those are my holiday hacks for now! I was going to add a section for shopping but I’m actually feeling a bit nauseous from typing…our little family may or may not have an announcement coming soon 😉🤗