People often seem surprised to learn that speech-language pathologists work with babies. They’ll say, “Why do babies need speech therapy? They’re not supposed to talk yet.” In fact, language development starts from day one.

Speech-Language Pathologist Cara Mohundro, MA, CCC-SLP, shares some things parents can do at home to help your baby begin to develop language in the first year.

  • Imitate your baby’s facial expressions. Take turns smiling at each other.
  • Make sounds with your baby like “ah” and “ooo.” Try imitating his or her vocalizations, too.
  • Talk about everything you do. Tell your baby things like, “I’m changing your diaper now. This wipe might be cold.” or “Mommy is making lunch. You get to eat peas today. They are SO yummy!”
  • Play games like patty-cake and peek-a-boo. Sing songs like Old MacDonald and practice animal sounds.
  • Practice waving hi and bye-bye.

As your child gets a little older and begins trying to use more sounds and some real words, try some of these activities.

  • Make different sounds as you play together. Say “bu-bu-bu” and “pop-pop” while you blow bubbles. Say “rrr-rrr” while you play cars.simple sentences that are just a little above your toddler’s level of speech. If she says, “tree,” you can say, “Yes, a tall tree!” If he says “eat,” you can say, “Eat bananas.”
  • Model words for colors and numbers. Let your little one listen while you count her fingers and toes or tell about his blue shirt.
  • Read a book to your toddler every day. Talk about what you see in the pictures and ask your child to point to pictures on the page. Ask questions like, “Where’s the baby?” and “Can you touch the dog?”

It’s also important to make sure your child is hearing well in order to develop language. If your child has frequent ear infections, their language development can be negatively affected. Talk to your doctor about the best way to reduce ear infections and improve your child’s hearing.

If you are concerned that your child is not developing language as quickly as he or she should be, ask your doctor about a speech therapy evaluation.