Effective Practice Guides

Communicating and Speaking: Do


Try the following practices with infants and toddlers and preschool-aged children. Use as much of the child’s home or tribal language as possible. Find out how home visitors can put these practices to work with families.

Infants and Toddlers

  • Acknowledge a child’s sounds and gestures (e.g., “I know you’re sad Dad’s leaving. It’s hard to say goodbye.”)
  • Expand on what a child says, adding new vocabulary and modeling complete sentences. For example:
    • Child: “Me runned.”
    • Adult: “You ran on the playground? Where did you go?”
  • Provide opportunities for children to speak and listen to each other. Ask open-ended questions that allow for a variety of responses.


  • Build on children’s interests by being “in the moment,” modeling and encouraging children to take turns during conversations.
  • Take children’s questions seriously and let them contribute to new discoveries.
  • Show children that their talk is valued by providing an explanation when children ask questions about what a word means and by building upon what children say.
  • Use games that prompt children to talk and ask questions (e.g., hide a toy in a pillowcase and ask children to reach in without looking and describe what they touch).

Home Visitors

Home visitors can support parents in identifying, adapting, and trying the practices listed above during home visits and group socializations. Here are more ideas.

  • Encourage parents to speak their home language(s). Reinforce how this helps their child understand herself, her family, and others. It also helps their child develop and understand concepts about the way the world works.
  • Support parents’ efforts to engage babies in back-and-forth conversation (e.g., “Look how he smiles and waves his arms when you speak to him! You use words, and he uses his face and body.”).
  • Encourage parents to describe their child’s actions, feelings, and surroundings (e.g., “You seem excited about putting together such a hard puzzle!” or “Are you feeling tired? Maybe you need a little rest.”).2
  • Share different ways to expand their child’s communication and speaking abilities, such as open-ended questions and comments and repeating and extending what their child says.3 For example:
    • If the child is playing with dolls, the parent might say, “I see you’re cooking food for your baby. What are you making?”
    • If the child answers, “Cereal,” the parent might say, “Oh, you’re making hot cereal for the baby.”
    • If the child is older, the parent might add, “So, you’re the mommy (or daddy). Tell me about your family. How do you cook the food for your baby? What are your baby’s favorite foods?
  • Strategize with parents about having everyday conversations with their child (e.g., talk that takes place during routine care such as diapering, toileting, dressing, bath time, cooking dinner, going to the grocery store, or visiting family and friends).
  • Encourage parents to listen to their child’s comments and questions, take their child’s questions seriously, and model taking turns in a conversation. Model these strategies if appropriate, and comment when you see parents using them.

1California Department of Education, California Preschool Curriculum Framework Volume 1 (Sacramento, CA: California Department of Education, 2010), 111–113, Language Use and Conventions, http://www.cde.ca.gov/sp/cd/re/documents/psframeworkkvol1.pdf [PDF, 8.8KB].

2Early Head Start National Resource Center (EHS NRC), OpenDoors Home Visitor’s Handbook (Washington, DC: HHS, ACF, OHS, EHS NRC, 2014), Chapter 10.2, Language and Literacy, How To.


Topic:School Readiness

Resource Type: Article

Last Updated: June 3, 2018