Congrats! Your lil’ smarty-pants has acquired the vast majority of the LOVE (0-6 months) and RISE (7-12 months) skills (see posts #2 and #3 for detailed description of these skills and examples of activities to promote their development)! In the next half a year or so, your babe will be busy fine-tuning the already acquired abilities and continuously developing new, POWER skills. POWER and independence is exactly what he/she will be aiming for so brace yourselves! During this time, your toddler will seek a lot of attention and will perform to gain your attention. Cognitively, they will demonstrate longer attention span and increased memory. Communicatively, they will still be using gestures/body language, but now will also begin to experiment combining sounds to form… wait for it…. Words!
Refer to the list below for a description of the POWER skills that are typically developed between 13-18 months:
Play (functional) – While play is usually solitary at this point, your toddler should be demonstrating the function of objects by playing appropriately with toys (i.e., as they were intended to be played). For example, rolling a car toy on the floor, flipping pages of a book, trying to blow bubbles, kicking a ball, stacking a few blocks to make a tower, etc. By now, he/she should also be able to find objects not in sight.
Omissions – Omitting some initial consonants and almost all final consonants is totally age appropriate right now. For example, “ba” for “ball” and “nana” for “banana” are normal, age appropriate speech errors for 18 month olds. Due to these types of errors and simplifications of words, speech is mostly unintelligible between 13-18 months, especially to unfamiliar listeners.
Words – Your bundle of joy may by now have an expressive vocabulary of 3-20 words (mostly nouns and names)! Some common early words include “mama”, “dada/papa”, “uh-oh”, “no”, “bye-bye”. You should see an increase in his/her ability to imitate gestures, words, and animal sounds. He/she should also begin naming objects (e.g., “what’s this?” “ba” (ball), “say “bye-bye” to daddy” “ba-bai”) and pointing to pictures (e.g. in familiar books) on request.
Echolalia – What a cool word! Echolalia means to echo, and this is exactly what your little one is busy doing between ~15-18 months – echoing your words, even if the imitations are still far from sounding intelligible. By ~18 months, he/she may even be starting to imitate combinations of two-word phrases such as “bye-bye mama”
Responding – By 18 months, your toddler should be able to follow many familiar commands, receptively identify 1-3 body parts (e.g. eyes, nose) and clothing items (e.g. hat, socks), understand at least 50 words, and use a combination of words and gestures to respond and make requests for desired items.
Don’t be alarmed if your little one’s vocabulary growth seems slow. Research shows us that children take turns developing their motor and speech/language skills. These skills “compete” with one another. This means that when a child is busy perfecting walking, standing, and pincer grasp, his/her vocabulary growth will be on the backburner. In turn, if you notice a burst of new words, your babe will likely not be preparing for Olympic games at the same time.
Try these games/activities in order to promote the development of POWER skills at home:
Bubbles – bubbles are always lots of fun and a great go to tool to stimulate language! It involves a highly repetitive, predictable set of actions, which is exactly what we need to help our wee ones remember specific sound combinations and associate them with actions/objects. As the sound combinations develop meaning (e.g. “bubbles” stands for this super fun game with daddy), a toddler will be more prone to imitate these sounds and use them consistently in reference to this activity. And before you know it, words like “bubbles”, “pop”, “more”, “big”, “my”, “uh-oh” may play music to your ears!
Shared book reading – sooo much can be accomplished through book reading. I cannot emphasize it enough! Books are the introduction to the world of literacy, language, and imagination! They promote attention and memory (as the child remembers how the story unfolds on each page with the aid of pictures), cognitive skills (like predicting), it expands understanding of words (thereby increasing receptive vocabulary), pointing, turn-taking, print awareness (symbols that represent letters) and the list goes on! This is also an opportunity to use the same words over and over again – thereby strengthening understanding, and providing an opportunity to echo, to imitate. Please, please, please incorporate shared book viewing/reading into your child’s daily routine if you haven’t done so already.
Rolling a ball/pushing a toy car to each other – Seems too simple? This game will help promote turn taking skills as well as understanding of cause-and-effect. Turn taking is required not only for social skills like being able to play together with a friend… it is also one of the building blocks of communication, as we take turns speaking and listening to one another. While taking your turn, you can also model language through repetition of simple words: “ball”, “car”, “roll, roll, roll”, “puuuush”, my turn”, etc.