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Steph Black

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Top 5 Language Boosting Activities

#5 – Books

Books are fantastic for so many reasons. They often have interactive elements such as parts to feel and flaps to lift. Books teach stories and new words, but you don’t just have to read them! Follow your child’s lead to see what they are interested in and give them the word for it. Head out into the garden to find real flowers to match it to the ones in the book.

These books are great for supporting your child’s learning across a range of engaging topics. They have simple language but lots of colourful pictures to talk about.

#4 – Music

Children not only enjoy making lots of noise, it also helps them form new connections in their brain! You can make up your own songs about whatever you’re doing at the time by borrowing melodies for well known nursery rhyme. Be sure to add important words that they need and repeat it lots of times for them to hear. 

“The fact that babies respond to music at birth (and, in fact, in the womb during the last three months before birth) gives strong evidence for the existence of neural mechanisms that seem ideally suited for processing musical information” – Donald Hodges (2000).

Music is so powerful for language learning! Who can still remember all the words to a song from their childhood?

#3 – Feely bags

Children love exploring new things, and a feely bag can make this even more exciting for them! Just fill a bag with items from around the house and help your little one feel what is inside before revealing it. This gives a great opportunity to use describing words like soft, fluffy, squishy, smooth, big and small.

Our feely bag was made locally at The Craft House.

#2 – Messy play

Exploring textures and being messy also helps children build connections in their brains. It also comes with lots of opportunities to add language for your child to hear. Going to the beach to play in the sand and dip toes in the sea definitely counts!

Little Puffin Signing sessions use kinetic sand and mud. The children love it and because it sticks together it is slightly less messy than the real stuff.

#1 – Face to face

The single best language boosting activity is YOU interacting face to face with your baby! They get so much enjoyment from seeing a familiar person using exaggerated facial expressions. This is also the first way they learn about emotions.

This could be as simple as a game of peek-a-boo or singing Row Your Boat with signs or natural gestures.

If you’d like even more ideas about effective activities, The UK Government has just launched a website to help boost language development. This is a great source of ideas to add to your daily routines and includes a lot of activities used in Little Puffin Signing sessions.

Steph is a qualified speech and language therapist and Signalong Tutor.

Steph Black Speech and Language Therapy is registered with the Amazon Affiliate Scheme and only recommends products that have been tried and tested in sessions.

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Parental Advisory: How Babies Learn Swear Words

My sister’s first word started with “f” and ended in tears. This is a fairly common occurrence in children’s early language development and is actually a product of our well-meaning attempts to prevent them from learning any forbidden phrases or off-colour orations.

Children typically need to hear a few hundred repetitions of a word before they understand it and try to say it, but this doesn’t seem to be the case when it comes to words we actively don’t want repeated.

Understanding why this happens can be advantageous for parents looking to support their child’s language development. It’s less about preventing swearing and more about capitalising on the learning process itself. If we treated all words like swear words children would pick them up a lot faster. In the Hanen “It Takes Two to Talk” programme we actually teach these strategies to aid language learning.

#5 – You said it

We try not to swear around them but it’s inevitable. Between standing on toys and tackling a sudden and unprecedented brown tsunami (known in parentese as a poosplosion) we can be forgiven for letting slip a few choice words.  

In the speech and language therapy world we call this modelling – children mimic those close to them. The Hanen “It Takes Two to Talk” programme teaches this as a primary strategy: ‘Say it like they would if they could’. For example, instead of saying ‘what’s that?’ give them the word. Let them hear it in context, repeatedly. Or perhaps just once if it’s a swear word due to these next points…

#4 – Grandma’s face

When children swear for the first time, they have no idea what it means. What they learn very quickly though is that you, granny and the stranger at the table next to them pull the most entertaining faces!

It is said that 55% of our communication is non-verbal. That includes eye contact, facial expressions and other forms of body language. Children get so much of their information here. If they do something that gets a reaction (good or bad), you can almost guarantee they’ll attempt it again.

#3 – It makes people laugh

We’ve all seen a video of a baby swearing. It’s amusing in equal measure because they are totally oblivious to the meaning and because we relate to the parent’s despair. Laughter is a particularly strong positive reinforcement tool. Babies enjoy eliciting laughter from their caregivers and it’s the kind of attention they are likely to seek out again.

#2 – We look at the baby

When people swear near a child all eyes are immediately on the child to gauge their reaction. Did they hear it? Did they like it? If every time they heard the word ‘fork’, everyone looked at them and shushed, they’d start to pay attention to that word and probably repeat it to see if they achieved the same response.

#1 – It’s short and sharp

Research has shown that children find it easier to learn language when we use short sentences. “It Takes Two to Talk” teaches the “Four S” strategy1 (not including the S you’re thinking of) and two of these are particularly evident when we swear:

  • Say less – single words or short phrases are best when children are learning to talk
  • Stress – place emphasis on the most important word

In practice you cannot employ all of these tips across every single word you say around your baby but you can start using these strategies to target those crucial words and accelerate their development. So, swearing isn’t all bad (in fact it’s also a scientifically proven form of pain relief2) and this isn’t to suggest you start brushing up on your minced oaths because chances are the odd profanity won’t cause any harm. It is however a great reminder about taking stock of why certain things occur with our little learners and how we can use those circumstances to our advantage.

Steph is a qualified speech and language therapist, and certified Hanen Tutor. More information is available here:  

  1. The other two strategies are “Go Slow” and “Show”. More information is available here: https://www.hanen.org/Shop/Products/The-Four–S-s.aspx
  2. Stephens, R., Atkins, J., & Kingston, A. (2009). Swearing as a response to pain. Neuroreport, 20(12), 1056-1060.
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5 reasons why signing is great for your baby


People often assume that sign language systems are only for those with a hearing impairment or developmental disability but this is far from true. Learning to sign during infanthood has been shown to have far-reaching positive implications. Here are five reasons to consider it for your baby:

#5 – It might help babies regulate their emotions

A recent study1 looked at toddlers between 11 and 28 months in childcare settings where symbolic gestures are habitually used during daily routines (e.g. preschools that had been taught a system like Signalong). The findings suggested that toddlers used gestures far more than spoken language during distressing daily routines (such as changing). The ability to sign provided children with more opportunity to use coping strategies, improving their emotional self-regulation.

#4 – It boosts language development

One misplaced concern about signing is that it might hamper a child’s language development by giving them an alternative to using words (and therefore less of a need). Studies suggest this isn’t the case and that signing can in fact be used to jump-start verbal development2. This is likely caused by its reinforcing visual aspect, repetition and its emphasis on key words.

The 1001 Critical Days3 movement advocates for the importance of the first two years of life. One important recommendation is that activities such as reading, talking and singing can make a difference to early wellbeing and cognitive development. These activities make up a huge part of learning to sign.

#3 – It can reduce frustration

Equipping a baby with the ability to communicate (even prior to talking) is a powerful way to alleviate the frustration that comes with a caregiver having to second guess their child’s needs. If you know what your baby wants, you can quickly meet that need and hopefully cut those tantrums off at the pass.

#2 – It’s an excellent bonding tool

A study looking at babies learning to sign found an increased number of episodes of joint visual attention during interactions between parents and toddlers5. Not only is this great for bonding, it is also strongly associated with improved language skills.

#1 – It accelerates learning

A follow-up study of eight-year-old children who had adopted a signing system during infancy claims that they had on average an IQ of 12 points higher than their non-signing peers. Regardless of the actual causes of this improvement, it seems clear that the sort of activity involved in signing with an infant encourages a better understanding of the world around them. One school of thought (called the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis) suggests that the language we use shapes or limits the way we understand our lives. By providing a baby with more methods of labelling their environment, you can help broaden their horizons.

Little Puffin Signing classes are run by Steph Black, a qualified Speech and Language Therapist and registered Signalong Tutor. More information on booking is available here: http://www.littlepuffinsigning.co.uk/

Further reading:

  1. Konishi, H., Karsten, A., & Vallotton, C. D. (2018). Toddlers’ use of gesture and speech in service of emotion regulation during distressing routines. Infant mental health journal, 39(6), 730-750.
  2. Goodwyn, S. W., Acredolo, L. P., & Brown, C. A. (2000). Impact of symbolic gesturing on early language development. Journal of Nonverbal behavior, 24(2), 81-103.
  3. https://1001criticaldays.co.uk/facts-and-stats
  4. Moore, B., Acredolo, L.P. & Goodwyn, S.W. (2001, April). Symbolic gesturing and joint attention. Paper presented at the Biennial Meetings of the Society for Research In Child Development, Minneapolis, MN.
  5. Acredolo, L., & Goodwyn, S. (2000, July). The long-term impact of symbolic gesturing during infancy on IQ at age 8. In meetings of the International Society for Infant Studies, Brighton, UK.