The people who will have the most frequent opportunity to talk with babies are their parents.

But every adult in the child’s life can help to expose them to richer language experiences.  All members of the wider whanau, siblings, grandparents, uncles, aunties, cousins, and even neighbours can all play a part in a child’s early language development.

Babies and toddlers understand much more than we may think.  The more language that they hear and have spoken directly to them, the more words they will learn to understand and say and the faster they will learn to talk.  So every language interaction with a grown-up is gold!

The funny thing is that quality language interactions are not hard: you don’t need to be an expert, or be specially trained, or have fancy resources.

Talking with your child is free, but it pays big dividends. Just because it is free, doesn’t make it less valuable.

Older family members can help by singing or story-telling.

There will be many opportunities for grown-ups who have a rich memory of old stories or have the imagination to make up new stories, to catch the attention of the young ones; for example, while:

  • babysitting, indoors;
  • sitting or playing in the back yard, or the park;
  • on a picnic;
  • by the river/sea fishing together;
  • traveling in the car;
  • walking to and from pre-school or school.

There is never a bad time to tell a story!

Tell stories to your child. This helps them with memory and recall, visualising experiences.

  • Talk about classic family histories, for example, funny or surprising things family members have done or said, and have a laugh together.
  • Retell experiences that your child had when they were younger, for example: “Do you remember when we went to the farm and you fed the horse an apple? You got scared and threw the apple on the ground. Then the horse ate it and whinnied ‘thank-you’. You felt braver and held some grass out and the horse ate it from your hand.”
  • Talk about things your child has done today and recount the activities and meaningful experiences, for example:  “We went for a scooter ride and you fell off and hurt your knee. Then we had to walk home. When we got home we put a plaster on your graze.”
  • Link things the child sees or experiences with things they have experienced in the past, for example: “There’s someone fishing. You’ve been fishing with Grandma and Grandad, haven’t you?”

With slightly older children, practice using past tense (“we went to the beach”) and linking and sequencing words (“…and then we …”).  Those are skills needed for later literacy activities such as writing stories.

Story-telling engages children.  Older children will ask questions and add their own bits which create opportunities to stretch the story and grow their understanding and vocabulary.

The main thing is for the grown-ups in your child’s life, to take time, as often as possible, to:

  • chat to your child in ordinary, everyday language;
  • hear and respond to their vocalisations, words attempted words or sentences;
  • ask them about things they are interested in;  (they will show you this by pointing, showing you something, looking at or playing with something, or saying/attempting to say something.)


Chat, Hear, Ask, Take Time