Toddler Language Development is Everywhere

My sister, who lives in New York, came to visit over the holidays. While at my house, she sat down in our classroom area and started asking questions about the materials. After we had looked at some sensorial and math materials, she asked, “Don’t you have any toddler language materials?” I realized that for 0-3, language materials aren’t quite what we might expect. The usual Montessori language materials – movable alphabet, metal insets, Pink Series work – aren’t usually introduced until 3-6. So, what constitutes language materials in a toddler classroom?

First of all, anything that strengthens or develops the “pincer grip” needed for writing can be considered a toddler language material. Also, activities that increase or improve visual discrimination fall under toddler language. Any work that involves naming (“nomenclature”) can be considered a language material, which opens up a huge area of cultural activities that encourage language development. I’ve listed some ideas below.

Pre-Writing Activities:

  • puzzles with knobs (going from large knobs to small ones)
  • squeezing with bulb basters or eye droppers (going from large to small)
  • picking up objects with tongs or chopsticks
  • Writing Activities:

  • sandpaper letters
  • writing or drawing in a tray of sand or cornmeal
  • Visual Discrimination Activities:

  • puzzles (with inset pieces, 3-dimensional, and simple jigsaw)
  • object to object matching
  • object to picture matching
  • picture to picture matching
  • Nomenclature Activities:

  • learning seasons, days of week, months of year
  • simple parts of plants (trunk, stem, leaf) and animals (head, eyes, mouth, legs, wings)
  • learning names of household objects
  • Simple Games

  • memory match-up (concentration)
  • “making silence” game
  • playing “I spy with my little eye”
  • games with easy directions and no reading (Candyland, Chutes & Ladders)
  • making patterns with parquetry shapes (simple tangrams)
  • Reading

  • age-appropriate picture books with clear, vivid illustrations
  • books for reading aloud that are interesting and varied
  • time set aside for both silent reading (the child alone) and reading aloud (with a parent or teacher)
  • A few thoughts on how these activities relate to language development:

    For instance, the activities listed under “Simple Games”. How do those relate to language? Actually, most of those things could have been listed under “Visual Discrimination” as well. Since reading involves being able to translate sophisticated shapes (letters) into sounds and words, anything that helps refine a child’s visual skills is language-related.

    The “making silence” game, in which children close their eyes and quietly listen to the sounds around them, has long been a favorite of Montessori children. This game helps refine the sense of hearing – and you will notice that the more you do it, the better kids get at hearing very tiny sounds around them. Language begins with auditory learning; children hear it spoken around them and start to connect words with ideas and things. The silence game will increase their receptiveness to oral directions, questions, and anything that is read aloud to them.

    When choosing books for children, keep in mind that they books they look at (or read, if they’re ready) and books you read to them should often be different. That’s because a child is able to understand books that are over their own reading level. When you read aloud, aim a little above where the child may be at when they look at books themselves.

    I have some toddler albums from The Montessori Foundation, and it was interesting to me as I researched these posts that their Practical Life album for toddlers was twice as thick as the language album for toddlers! Not only that, but there is considerable overlap in Practical Life and Language activities at this age, since so many Practical Life activities increase fine motor skills and hand/eye coordination (essential for reading and writing). Just one more reason Practical Life is so important for this age group.