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Reading & Language

Toddler Listening Milestones

Toddler listening to dadToddlers who hear lots of lively, interesting talk are more likely to develop a rich vocabulary. They learn language best when adults make eye contact with them and talk about topics of interest to them. Your toddler’s language development is also supported when he hears his own words repeated back to him and when adults expand on what he says.

Your toddler can understand the words she hears but may not be able to name or describe what she sees and does. For example, your toddler may not be able to name everyone in her playgroup, but when her caregiver asks her, “Where’s Nicole? Where’s Hector?” she points accurately. Toddlers also demonstrate their understanding of language by being able to follow one-to two-step directions that they hear.

Don’t assume toddlers aren’t listening when they are playing. It’s the work of toddlers to explore and play. They still may be listening even as they are pouring, stacking, or swinging.

Encouraging Your Toddler

  • When adults speak in a lively tone about exciting and interesting things, toddlers will listen. On the other hand, they may seem to “tune out” adult requests when asked to perform a particular action like “Put on your shoes.”
  • Through listening, your toddler begins to learn the rules of grammar. For instance, when your toddler says, “I maked the picture,” he is applying the -ed rule for past tense and is learning the principles of grammar. Even though “maked” is not the correct past tense for “make,” this shows your toddler’s ability to apply the rules of grammar he is learning to new situations.
  • Talk to your toddler about special days or events. Talking about past events, such as the day he was born or a trip you took last summer, can help your toddler understand story structure. For example, your toddler will understand that a story has a beginning, a middle, and an ending. This will help him to tell stories himself and to understand the stories he hears in books.
  • Tell your child stories about herself or other family members. Toddlers love to hear parents tell stories about important people in their lives—and especially about themselves. These stories often become lifelong favorites. In telling stories to your toddler, make them come to life. Use different voices for different people and don’t be afraid to play around with language—“a teeny, tiny, itsy, bitsy baby!” This will help keep your toddler interested in the story.

Next: Learn more about how toddlers develop into readers through talking.

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