Jun 10th, 2020

Smiley Riley

The first three years of your child’s life is an important time for language development. Your child is born with millions of language-focused neurons. The more you talk with them, the stronger those connections between neurons become. This happens through reading stories, singing songs, and talking - lots of talking! Have conversations with your baby even before they are speaking. You may even notice your baby begins to respond to your words before they even start speaking. Riley will clap her hands when I say “clap”. She will put her hands in the air when I ask “How big is Riley”. She doesn’t say “clap” or “so big” yet, but she does understand what I am saying.

Ways to Encourage Language Development:

  • Narrate what you are doing: whether you are preparing a meal, writing down the shopping list, or changing a dirty diaper, chat about what you are doing. You are the commentator for their life right now.
  • Respond to your child’s attempts to communicate: Your child will rely on a variety of ways to communicate to you. When your child points to something, name the object and encourage them to get it if they can reach the object. Otherwise offer it to them if you can. Riley often points to the chandelier. Since that isn't coming down, I just name it. When your child claps, clap and cheer with them. Riley likes to pat her tummy because one of her toys has a song about patting your tummy. When she pats her tummy, I always sing the song. It makes her smile and pat her tummy more.
  • Babble back: When your baby babbles, repeat their babble back to them. Pause to let them respond. This back and forth teaches your little how to have a conversation. As you babble with your baby, repeat their sound and then offer new sounds for them to try to imitate.
  • “Talk” back: As your child attempts to match your sounds and words, match their attempts with the word they are trying to say. For example, Riley says milk as “ma”, but I know she is trying to say milk. She is eagerly reaching for her milk as she yells “ma” at me. I’ll often repeat her sound “ma” as I say milk back to her like “ma, ma, milk”.
  • Inflections and intonation should be consistent: Inflection and intonation are a part of language so it is important for your child to hear that in context as you speak. You wouldn’t softly and calmly say “No”, “Stop”, “Don’t touch that” if your child is heading for danger. That doesn’t convey the urgency, seriousness, or the message clearly to your child. Just like you show inflection when you read a story, use appropriate inflection as you speak. My inflection and intonation when Riley does something new like walking reflect the excitement I feel!
  • Talk to your child as if they will respond back to you: Before you know it, they will respond back whether it is with a gesture, sound, or word. Ask your child questions often and pause to allow them the chance to respond. If they don’t respond, you respond for them. If they do respond with a gesture or noise, then respond to that as their answer. Continue the conversation. How long can you keep the conversation going?


Have some fun when chatting with your little one. Here are some ways you might add some variety.


Grab an empty paper towel roll, paper cup, a glass, coffee can, paper box, a microphone, or any other object you can find. Show your little one how you can put the object up to your mouth and speak into it. Encourage them to try it for themselves. Your voice probably sounds different as you talk into each object. This is a great talking point. Talk about how your voice sounds as you talk into different objects.

Smiley Riley

Smiley Riley

Volume control

Have conversations with your little one in your normal voice. Then have conversations with a whisper voice. Encourage them to try to whisper with you. Your little one probably needs no practice having loud conversations, though you are welcome to also add in some loud conversations to talk about what loud means.

Whisper Phone

Whisper phones are great for readers so that they can hear themselves as they read. They can also be used to have private, whispered conversations with your little one. Riley enjoys listening to mama’s voice in the whisper phone though she isn’t sure about speaking into it herself yet.

To make your own whisper phone, you just need PVC pipe and two elbow connectors. The PVC pipe just needs to be long enough to extend from the ear to the mouth (maybe a little larger to grow with your child) and a width appropriate for your child to be able to hold. Add the elbow connectors to the ends to focus the sound from the mouth to the ear. Hold one end to your child’s ear, and speak into the other end. As your child begins to read, let them read to themselves using the whisper phone.

Smiley Riley


  • Receptive language: Building your child’s vocabulary and the language they are hearing you say
  • Expressive language: Their attempts to communicate and talk with you.
  • Imitation: Encouraging your child to imitate your sounds and words.
  • Socialization: Teaching your child to have a conversation by asking questions, waiting for responses, and responding to their babble and talk.

Information from this post came from:

  • Ages and Stages by Dr. Charles E. Schaefer and Theresa Foy DiGeronimo
  • Wonder by Panda Crate magazine found in the Chat with Me Panda Crate
  • The Complete Resource Book for Infants by Pam Schiller

Note: This is obviously not a "size appropriate" whisper phone, but I couldn't resist! Every now and then Mama Bear likes to get a little silly :)

Smiley Riley