Effective Practice Guides

Attending and Understanding: Know

Goals for Infants and Toddlers

  • IT-LC 1. Child attends to, understands, and responds to communication and language from others.
  • IT-LC 2. Child learns from communication and language experiences with others.

Teaching Practices


For infants and toddlers who are dual language learners (DLLs), model language by repeating your best guess at what they may be trying to communicate and then extending what they say.

Attend to an infant’s verbal and non-verbal communications and respond with words and facial expressions to continue a back-and-forth-exchange.
Ms. Sharma holds 4-month-old Lonnie in her arms and points to the mobile above their heads. “Look, Lonnie,” she says, “the shiny pie plates are twirling around.” Lonnie gurgles and laughs. Ms. Sharma continues, "Let me pull the strings so they twirl some more.” Again, Lonnie gurgles and laughs. Ms. Sharma says, “You are right. They are pretty to look at.”

Use questions and short comments to encourage toddlers’ thinking and language learning. 
“Darius,” says Mr. Trent, bending down so Darius can see and hear him. “Your ball keeps getting into the babies’ crawl space. What could you do to keep it out of their way?” Darius looks puzzled. Mr. Trent suggests, “Let’s go over to the gross motor area and we can roll it back and forth to each other.” Darius says, “Yeah,” tucks the ball under his arm, and walks with Mr. Trent.


Arrange the space so there are comfortable places to engage children in conversations while carrying out routines.
Ms. Roland moves her nursing rocker from the bedroom to the family room in her family child care home. Pleased with the new addition to the setting, she tries out the chair with baby Elizabeth. “Now we have a comfy place to sit and talk and enjoy your bottle.” “Bababa,” says Elizabeth. “That’s right,” says Ms. Roland. “I wonder what interesting things we can see from here.”

Offer a collection of board and washable books that feature pictures of familiar objects and experiences, and introduce simple stories in English and the children’s home or tribal languages.
Ms. Barney, a home visitor, and, Ms. Andres, mother to toddler Marco, sit on the couch during a home visit. Marco takes a book from the shelf and hands it to his mother. He holds his hands open, making the sign for book. Then he climbs up between the two adults. “Perro grande ... Perro pequeno/Big Dog ... Little Dog,” reads Ms. Andres. “He loves dogs and he loves this book,” she says to Ms. Barney. Ms. Barney replies, “I think he also loves the book because you read it to him often. It’s one way you show him how much you love him.” “Leer, leer (read, read),” says Marco. “Sí, sí (yes, yes),” says Ms. Andres. “Marco, what do you see on the cover?”


Create and read books using photos of children and their families.
At the beginning of the year, the Top of the World Migrant Head Start Program holds a family picnic. During the celebration, Mr. Wendt takes photos of the children with their family members. Later, he prints the photos, places them in plastic zipper bags, and binds them with yarn to make Mi Familia books. Today, he is reading with toddler Tessa. He says, “Look Tessa. There’s your cousin Raoul—primo Raoul. He’s riding a tricycle—triciclo.” Tessa grins and pats the picture. She says, “Rooool.”

Talk with children about their own experiences and in response to their interests.
Ms. Dennis takes 10-month-old Trudy for a ride in the wagon. She sees Trudy looking at something in the distance and says, “Trudy, I wonder what you see. Oh, it’s a squirrel in the tree. He ran out on the branch.” Trudy points and makes some sounds. “Yes,” responds Ms. Dennis. “He does look like the squirrel in your book. He’s furry and he has a long tail.”

Goals for Preschoolers

  • P-LC 1. Child attends to communication and language from others.
  • P-LC 2. Child understands and responds to increasingly complex communication and language from others.

Teaching Practices


For DLL preschoolers, use simple words and short phrases if they are new to the language. As they learn the language, use more complex words and longer sentences, and allow time for them to process what you are saying.

Speak slowly and clearly, stopping as needed to make sure children are following along.
Ms. Lacey tells the preschoolers about an upcoming event. “Mr. Tuktu, Emil’s grandpa, is coming to visit us tomorrow. He will teach us about animals that hibernate in the winter. I see some puzzled faces. Who can tell us what ‘hibernate’ means?” Several hands go up and Ms. Lacey asks one of them to tell the group what it means. Ms. Lacey repeats the word, hibernate, and asks the children to join in.

Talk with small groups at mealtimes and during activities to model language skills and to encourage children to listen to and communicate with each other.
The children at Ms. Jordan’s table are very quiet today. “Perhaps they are just hungry,” she thinks to herself. But in case they just need a little help to get a conversation started, she asks a silly question. “What might happen if you never got bigger than you are right now?” “We could live in tiny houses,” says Todd. “We could live in our classroom forever,” adds Roma. “I like it here,” says Erik. “We can sleep on our cots.” Ms. Jordan thinks, “They were hungry but now they have lots of ideas to share, too.”


Provide home language and English versions of recorded books and stories.
In Ms. Chowdry’s family child care home, the literacy area has books and stories from several sources. Some books are classics, others are new titles she thinks will become classics, and once a month she and the children go to the public library to get books related to projects and individual interests. The children can also listen to recordings of stories. Some of the recordings are stories in the Cherokee language told by Teresa’s elisi (grandmother) when she visits the family child care program.

Offer interesting things to explore that lead children to talk and share ideas with each other.
The 4-year-olds are at the cooking table examining a stalk of Brussels sprouts. “What’s that?” asks Hannah. Nobody knows, so the children ask Mr. Andrews. “What do you think it might be?” he says. Several children suggest answers and then Suzette says, “They look like little cabbages.” Mr. Andrew says, “Good guess,” and encourages the children to keep thinking. Ben says, “I know. They are Brussels sprouts.” More questions and thoughts lead to an extended, thick conversation as the children learn how the sprouts grow, where Brussels is, how you cook them, and whether they taste good.


Learn and use a few important and meaningful words in a child’s home language.
Bonjour et bienvenue, Kiki et Monsieur Dumas,” says Ms. Parker. “We are happy to see you today. Kiki, you can hang your coat on the hook—le crochet. Then, say good-bye to your daddy. ‘Au revoir, Papa.’ You can join your friends who are playing with the blocks.”

Observe and keep track of a child’s receptive language skills while encouraging expressive language.
Dante, who just turned 3, does not say many words. Ms. Santos, his mother, shares with their home visitor, Ms. Pollin, “I know Dante doesn’t talk much, but he understands almost everything we say to him.” Ms. Pollin says, “That’s usually a sign that he will soon be talking—as long as his family keeps talking to him! You can write notes when you hear him using new words and phrases. Then we can look at your notes together to see how he is progressing.”

Topic:School Readiness


Resource Type: Article

Last Updated: December 3, 2019