Toddler Language Activities Part 1

As a Family Coach and Montessori trained educator, parents often ask me how to create a learning environment at home.

How can we incorporate more of the Montessori method into the kids’ playroom? How can we get the kids more involved at home? How can we create a space more like their environment in the classroom?

The answer is there are so many ways to do this from engaging your kids in your family’s daily life to actually implementing Montessori inspired materials at home. You should know that in the purposeful kids category, you will find real activities and ways to create a learning environment in your home that leave your kids feeling more involved and purposeful. 

In this post, I specifically touch on how to support your toddler’s language development at home, as well as share a Montessori inspired language activity.

How Toddlers Learn Language

Below are some of the ways that babies and toddlers learn language and how you can best support them.

  • Daily Experiences: To help support language development, it’s important to give toddlers a variety of daily experiences from baking, to gardening, to free play. Know that your toddler is learning so much through these experiences and having fun at the same time.

  • Observation: Toddlers quickly learn vocabulary through their observation of their parents, family members and people that regularly surround them. Starting from the time they are babies, they are taking everything in through their keen ability to observe. Kids absorb it all, just like a sponge. 

  • Reading: Kids cherish that special time of reading books with an adult. They enjoy having adults read to them and also enjoy looking at books on their own. Building time into your schedule daily for both activities will not only help toddlers increase their vocabulary, but will also foster a love of reading.  

  • Music: Do you know a toddler who doesn’t love songs and rhymes? Teaching toddlers new songs and rhymes is a fantastic way to expose kids to new words and to new languages.

  • Learning Activities & Games: Specific learning activities and games, like language objects and cards, are a great way to support children in their development of language.

Language Objects & Cards

Language objects and cards are Montessori activities that you will find in any AMI Toddler community. Toddlers as young as 14 months up until 3 years of age can do this work. Language objects and cards help toddlers to:

  • Learn vocabulary and/or expand their current vocabulary.

  • Engage in conversations with adults and other kids.

  • Engage in purposeful work that builds focus and concentration.

Language objects

Language objects are either real or child-size replica objects that are used to teach children vocabulary.

When using replica objects, try and choose objects that look as real as possible and are proportional in size to one another. For example, if you were teaching the vocabulary on animals that could be found on a farm, you would want to choose animals that look similar to real horses, pigs and cows instead of looking like “pretend play” animals. An appropriate horse replica could be a brown horse with a dark brown mane. An inappropriate replica would be a white horse with a rainbow colored mane. Again, we are trying to find replicas that are as “real” as possible. Also, you want to be sure that the horses, pigs and cows are proportional in size to one another. The pig shouldn’t be bigger than the horse in this example.

Language cards

Language cards can be photocopies of the real objects, drawings representing the real objects and/or photographs of the real objects.

Language cards are used in conjunction with the real objects for toddlers to help make the leap from the tangible to the abstract. For example, you would have the figurine of a horse and a card that has an image of the horse on it. It’s helpful if the image of the object is on a white background; this helps toddlers see the object clearly.

While this is very Montessori specific, know that you can find these types of language cards or flashcards at toy stores and online.   

It’s important to note that language objects are always introduced to toddlers before language cards. We show toddlers real objects before introducing cards that represent these objects. Pro Tip: Kids need real experiences before they can grasp the abstract. This is an important principle in the Montessori method!

Also, language objects and cards are always presented to children by category. This way, we are not only teaching children vocabulary, but also giving them the ability to classify and organize that new vocabulary.

Some categories could be:

  • Fruits

  • Vegetables

  • Farm animals

  • Birds

  • Reptiles

  • Sea Creatures  

  • Sports and sporting equipment

  • Forms of transportation

  • Tools

  • Musical instruments

As children get older and master daily vocabulary, you can create more specific categories. For example, the birds category could become types of birds that live in your community while the fruits category could become types of fruits found in South America. By doing this, we are creating more opportunities for kids to continue learning vocabulary and keep their interest in this work.

Now that you have a basic understanding of what language objects and cards are, let’s dive into the first activity that you can do with your toddler.

How to use Language Objects with Toddlers

Below is the first of three activities that you can do with your toddler at home, those being:

  • Activity 1- Real objects

  • Activity 2- Objects and their matching cards

  • Activity 3- Language cards with drawings or photographs of the real objects.

Know that these activities move from real tangible objects to objects & cards to solely cards. Remember kids first learn through real experiences before they are able to grasp abstract concepts.

Activity 1- Real objects

Materials: A basket that contains 6-8 real objects from the same category. In this example, let’s start with 3 fruits: orange, apple and kiwi.

  1. Hold the object, look at it and feel it. Then say its name. For example, You would hold the orange, feel it and smell it. Then say, “This is an orange.”

  2. Set the object down and invite your toddler to do the same. Do not ask or force your child to say the name out loud. Younger toddlers are in the stage of receptive language not expressive language. Children 2-3 years will naturally repeat the names out loud.

  3. Repeat steps 1 and 2 with two more objects. You’ll teach the vocabulary for 3 objects at a time, not all 6-8 objects. In this example, repeat steps 1 and 2 with the apple and the kiwi.

  4. As the final step, you’ll play a game with the three objects you have presented to your toddler. The goal of the game is for your toddler to recognize that a specific object corresponds to a specific name. For example, I would say, put the kiwi in my hands. When the toddler place the kiwi in my hands I would set it down and say, can you touch the orange? Pick up the apple. I would continue in this manner playing with her as long as she seems interested and alert. If I feel she hasn’t grasped the correct vocabulary, I would transition from playing the game and let her know she can use this work whenever she would like to. The idea is that we never correct a child. We can always revisit the work with a child on a different day.  

  5. After playing the game, let your toddler know that he/she can take out this work whenever he/she would like. At another time, you will introduce three more objects and repeat steps 1-4 with your toddler. For example, you would then introduce an apple, a watermelon and a peach.  

So that’s it for activity 1. The idea is that we are teaching toddlers language through real objects and we are reinforcing the vocabulary by playing a game. Makes sense, right?  

Activities 2 and 3 will be included in next week’s post. In the meantime, I recommend creating 3 different baskets with real objects from different categories. Don’t feel that you have to go out and purchase objects or replicas at the start. I recommend starting with child-friendly objects that can be found around your house and used to make a language object basket.

I would love to hear from you. How do you support your toddler’s development of language at home?

Keep well,