Overview: Language development involves speech, writing, and reading. Here’s everything you need to know about your child’s language development.

When I was going to college for my degree in Early Childhood Education, I remember that every lesson we planned had to be focused on the learning domains. We had to make sure that our individual lessons met at least 1 learning domain and our daily plans focused on developing the whole child.

As a home preschool parent, I try to keep these domains in the back of my mind when planning daily activities. I’m not as strict on meeting each domain every day with my child because I want her to have fun, enjoy the activities, and more importantly follow her lead.

I plan our days around her interests, so some times an interest just doesn’t play nicely into a learning domain. My goal is to provide at least 1 activity in each domain every week.

Related: An Overview of the Early Childhood Learning Domains

However, the language domain is one that I strongly enforce in our home. Students entering Kindergarten with a strong knowledge of language are more likely to succeed.

Think about it! Almost everything we do revolves around language in some way.

What is the Language Domain?

The language domain consist of 3 parts that work independently as well as together.

Receptive Language

Receptive language is being able to comprehend and understand our native language. This includes spoken words, written words, and gestures.

Babies are exposed to this type of language learning from their first glace at you. When they see you smile at their newborn face, they need to figure out what that smile means.

Kids start by observing our communications with them and others. They learn a great deal about our language just by observing.

Expressive Language

As they reach about 6 months they start to explore their communication skills by babbling which leads to single words, sentences, and eventually written language.

This type of language is called expressive language. Just like the name suggest, it’s the ability to express and use language. This includes talking, writing, and reading.

All those annoying questions that come out at about 3 years old is a child’s way of letting you know they are working on expressive language. Asking questions is how they are using language to learn about their world.


The last language aspect is literacy, which I think is one of the most important. This includes book knowledge, phonological awareness, alphabet knowledge, print concepts, and early writing. When a child explores literacy, they are taking what they know about expressive language and receptive language and applying it to their every day life.

Related: The Toddler Experience: A Hands-On Toddler Curriculum

Language Development Red Flags

Before we get into activities that help with building a strong foundation in the language domain, I wanted to point out some red flags. Please keep in mind that I am not a medical professional. These red flags are to be used a guide and any concerns should be brought to the attention of your doctor.

Related: How One Mom Got Her Toddler’s Speech to Skyrocket

Red flags are simply things to look out for which may mean that testing should be done. Just because your child is not meeting a certain criteria does not mean that he has some sort of problem. Remember every child develops at their own rate.

Birth to Age 3 Red Flags

– Does not look to sounds

– Does not react to loud sounds

-At three months, they do not smile or coo

-They do not babble at 6 months old

-At 1 year old, they do not respond to different phrases. Meaning “let’s go bye-bye” should get a different response than “let’s go to bed.”

-Reach 2 years old and they do not name common objects or use 2 word phrases

-At 3 years old, they do not participate in familiar rhymes/songs or follow simple directions

Age 3-5 Red Flags

-Takes them a long time to respond or they don’t respond at all

-Cannot follow simple directions

-Unable to express feelings with words

-When asked a question or given a direction, they just repeat it

– Have difficulty participating in groups

-Use only 1-3 word phrases

-Have difficulty naming common objects

-Have a short attention span with music and stories

-Use gestures or sign language instead of words (It’s okay to use a sign or gesture as long as they are saying the word too)

-Have difficulty understanding what you say

-They get frustrated with communication (Some times they exhibit challenging behaviors because they cannot communicate.)

Everyday Learning for Language Development

The most important thing you can do to help your child develop language is read, read, and read some more. When your not reading, talk to them about their surroundings. Child learn language by being exposed to language.

Receptive and expressive language is not really something you can teach. You have to be a good role model when “teaching” language.

Asking questions and allowing the child enough time to respond is something else you should be doing every day, even if the child does not respond back. Look for any sort of response. A smile or coo counts, especially for little ones. This shows that they understand how a conversation works.

Singing helps develop phonological awareness, which is the knowledge that words can be broken into smaller parts.

Baby sign is something I started with my daughter when she was 3 months old. She started signing back to me at 9 months. She was able to tell me “all done,” “more,” and “milk.”

Now she can sign “please” and “thank you.” She is just beginning to talk, but some days those signs save us a lot of frustration.

Some parents believe that signing will hurt a child’s ability to communicate when they can talk, but it doesn’t. When you do a sign, always say the word with it. This helps the child understand that the sign means the word. Now that Sicily is starting to talk, she uses both the sign and the word.

Describe a child’s surroundings and pictures in a book. When playing in water, explain how it feels. When playing at the park, touch different things and talk about the textures.

Again, children learn language best when they are exposed to it. Always talking to your child and explaining things will help them learn the names of objects and be able to express themselves.

Other Activities to Promote Language Development

I want to give you my top 5 preschool activities for developing the language domain milestones. These activities are my favorites, beside reading.

1. Nature Walk– A nature walk helps develop expressive language, receptive language, and early writing skills. While on the walk talk about what you see, smell, hear, and touch. Be descriptive in your language. Being descriptive and using a variety of words helps the child learn new words. I added that they learn early writing skills because I love journaling our nature walks. Collect items to bring back home with you and let your kids draw, paint, or use playdough to reflect on the walk.

2. Treasure Hunt– This treasure hunt is a bit different. Hide a few things around the room and your child has to find it by listening to your directions. Give one direction at a time to start. As they get older and can handle 2-3 step directions, you can add more steps into a single direction. This activity is great for developing receptive language.

3. Dancing Games– Or any listening game for that matter. Games such as freeze dance, musical chairs, and red light/green light are a fun way to develop receptive language.

4. Imaginative Play– As your child gets older, typically around 3 years old, they will begin to interact in more dramatic play. Setting up different environments provokes different types of language. I like to set up a different dramatic play area every 2 weeks. I try to base it around their interests. One week I might set up an airport and the next week might be a post office. Those are two different types of environments that have their own vocabulary. It’s a great way to get kids to use words they may  not use on a daily basis.

5. Developing themes around books– I love reading a book and then doing different activities that relate to the book. This gives kids a chance to practice using the vocabulary they learned in the book. For example, if you just read The Very Hungry Caterpillar, your child may have heard new words such as chrysalis. Planning activities around the book, gives the child multiple ways to hear and use the word. Help you child internalize words by exposing them to new vocabulary multiple times.

The language domain consists of many milestones, but the most important thing to take away from this is to read and talk to your child. Being a good role model with your language and reading will help a child develop their language skills. Be sure to download my developmental checklist for ages 1-4.