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Small Talk - Nicola Lathey, Tracey Blake - How to Develop Your Child’s Language Skills-Book Summary

Helping your child communicate can help in many things - it can make your child smarter, more confident, and can reduce frustration from both the child and the parent - especially in the terrible two stages. The book is divided by stages - in each section - it’s describes the stage the child should be in, fun activities to encourage communication for the age, along with some research data on how speach is acquired and how to help boost it.

General guidelines:

There are 7 parenting types, some are doing too much, and some too little in terms of helping and talking to your child. "Tune-in parent" is tuned in to their child activities, abilities and needs. The parent allows them to start interactions and immediately responds with interest.  One should talk to one’s baby, but allow her time to respond.

Do 10 minutes of small talk a day - 10 minutes of quality time - of uninterrupted 1-1 play time (not including the bedtime story). No multitasking, maintaining eye contact (make sure your baby does not need to strain to hold himself when you do so). Be clear and simple - so your baby can understand and talk clearly herself, and simplify sentences - to contain the main idea in the sentence (even if it is grammatically incorrect) and repeat those simple notions (don’t use many synonyms, and instead use the same word over and over again) and make sure to say them in context. Stay one step ahead of them and speak accordingly. Say what you see - describe what the child is doing (not ask her about it or suggest other activities). Use the child name and not ‘you’ when they are still young.

0-6 months Pre-babbling stage Goal: Make your baby vocalize as much as possible, by the end of the period - mostly using vowels sounds.

Background: Babies learn to talk well before they start to talk. They first listen, understand how conservation work, and can recognize their mother voice as early as week 24-27, before they are even born. It has shown that children are learning language from the womb - as a new research shows that the melody of a baby’s cry is close to the language that was spoken around him in the womb, and a fetus racing heart rate can calm down when hearing his mother’s voice. So it is recommended to talk or sing to your bump.

Children try to communicate well before they start to babble. Their groans, squeals and the like are a babies attempt to communicate. Eye contact helps to bond with your child, but also helps to mimic your talking and help your child experiment - even in his first few weeks of life. By maintaining eye contact we show our baby that we are interested and encourage her to talk and help him understand speak using clues from our expressions and gestures.


Starting from birth, babies can copy their parents movements. Try to stick your tongue out, make an oooo shape with your mouth and see your baby copy it.

Anticipation game - pick-a-(let the baby complete it). You will see that with time the sound sounds more and more like “boo” as you practice (and after you played enough times so he knows what’s coming).

Make vowels sounds in specific context (like spin and say - “eeee”, hug the baby and say (‘aaaaah’), fall to the ground and say ‘argh’). Once the baby repeats the sound - reward him with performing the matching action.

Play with a toy he likes, without looking at him. This will encourage your baby to call you and ask for it. Then reward his efforts by hugging him and giving him the toy.

Sing songs with vowels (like in “e-I-e-i-o”)

Say hello to a phone, and then let your baby do it.

Peek-a-boo. Ready-set-go - make noise and stop. Repeat.

Use sign language or gestures - at least with “more, finished, up and bye-bye” - to help your child communicate before she can speak.

Chat: when you’re your baby says something- pause , then answer. Take turns, and make sure you smile and maintain eye contact

Placing the spoon on the bottom lip to encourage lip closure. Try putting the spoon down the side of your baby’s mouth to increase the sideways movement of the tongue as mentioned above.

Use flat spoon moving to deeper

Exercises to strengthen lip: chewy tube, chewing hard cheese, poultry, and French toast, etc. than toast, ravioli and nuggets.

Use slide whistle to practice bloing, then candles, bubbles, etc.

Suck with straw. Cut it shorter.

Tongue exercise: lick lips, reach inside cover and funny faces with tongue.


Bedtime story for infants - instead of reading the entire book - choose 2 words that relates to the picture and read them. Also - point to items that interests your baby in the pictures regardless of the text. Choose books with a catch phrase (or add one yourself)).

Choose a rear-facing stroller - this increases the chances you will talk with your baby.

When baby talks - reward by smiling, eye contact and talking back. Ask questions to encourage your child to talk more.

Play dates to allow copying others.

Use Baby-directed speech: Talk with exaggerated intonation, higher pitch, slower and make simple and short sentences to help the child listen and understand. Add vowels (e.g. doggie). Studies show that this helps learning, and when teaching a new word - repeat it a few times and say it clearly in context.

Pacifier at first can help make a child mouth stronger, but using it too longe might hinder speech. Try to Wean at 8 months, but definitely before 1 year.

Try to encourage fussy eaters by playing with food (stamping, drawing with sauces, etc), encouraging touch and mouthing different toys to get them accustomed to different textures in their mouth. If there is a problem with lumpy foods - try to make sure that each spoon will have the same texture.

Use sippy cup (free flow and not spill free one) starting 6 months to encourage drinking without sucking, to avoid lisp.

Muffled sounds or excessive drooling might be a sign for a weak button lip.

Speech Milestones:

Turn toward a sound when he hears it

Be startled by loud noises watch your face when you talk to him

Recognize your voice

Smile and laugh when other people smile and laugh

Make sounds to himself, such as coos, gurgles and babbling sounds

Make noises, like coos or squeals, to get your attention

use different cries to express different needs (for example, one cry to signify hunger, another to indicate tiredness, and so on)

Consider baby-led weaning to allow strengthening the mouth muscles.

6 month- 12 months (babbling Stage):

Background: Babbling is used to generate neural pathways and practice using them to allow connecting sounds to words and meaning and to mounth movements.

Interaction with a responsive and attentive caregiver are the most critical factors in a child’s brain development. Listening requires focus, and it's a skill you can help develop - reaching 2-3 minutes of focus.

cause and effect games are also important - to help the child understand that his actions has meaning, and that if he talks or attempt to communicate more - it might change the reality and get him what he wants/needs. Babies can read lips from about 6 month - so make sure you go to their level and show them your face when you talk/sing.

Activities:Repeat the games from the previous stage - they enjoy it and it still has valueCopy and make conversation (copy him and try for him to copy you)Make noises in the mirror - to allow your baby copying your faceBabbling Puppet showPretend PhoneMicrophone and Talking Tom (that repeats what its told)Make a lot of noise when playing with rattles etc. then stop (or use a rainmaker for the same effect)Containers with different content or empty - shake to listen (works on listening)Listen to background sounds - outside (like cars, dog barking), and inside (like dishwasher running). Start those games with ShhhWhere is the noise coming from? Hide a noisy toyName items with sounds - to allow you baby ask for them (vroom for car, moo for cow, ahhh for doll, etc)Sing - emphasize words, add movements, repeat words, add gaps for you baby to join in


Use sign language to help your baby communicate before he can talk

Keep what you say short and simple to boost understanding

keep your routine language consistent

Maintain eye contact

Use gestures and signs

Try to figure out what they are trying to say - even if it is not yet articulated properly.

Speech Milestones: Speech sounds appear in a predetermined developmental order:

5-7 months: consonant sounds—“ p,” “b,” “m” and “w,” and then, later, “d” and “g” reduplicated babble: goo goo 8-9 months two consonant sounds together, such as “mu bu” or “du wu”—known as variegated babble, 8-10 month - start gestures (like wave) 10 months - 4-5 syllables conversational babbles make gestures 10-11 month pointing (by 12 months)

12-18 month typically say first word 12 months - understand 2-50 words 15 month say 4-6 words 18 month say 20 words, understand at least 50 words Once your child reaches 50 words there is a “language explosion”, and she picks up words in a fast paste. After 20 months, usually the gibberish stops, and the child uses real words. At this point your child will use both consonant and vowel sounds in a meaningful way trying to get her message across.

12-18 (Gibbrish): The goal of this stage is to encourage gibberish (Look at this funny video to understand what gibberish looks like). Many of the games will be similar but more complex at this point.


Use sippy cup for milk instead of bottle for milk - for better tongue position

Make sure to praise emerging, consistent words in a context - even if they doesn’t sound exactly like the real word (This is how language works - a baby will accidentally say a word, and if you praise it - she will repeat it).Keep your language simple and repeat words in context - so your baby can hear them again and again and be able to copy you.Use “that” less often when talking about object - and use the specific name.Good word to work on is “up” - it’s simple and will come in handy at this point.


Continue with previous games that are still relevant - say what you see,copying game - make 2 boxes with the same interesting items. Give one to your baby - and copy what she is doing with her items (also encourage her to copy you) - so she will be better at copying sounds.Family members album that your baby can go through - learning their names.Word theme of the day - choose a word and use it throughout the day (using games, stuffed animals or dolls, books and songs with the word or even googling it images together or wearing clothes with the word picture)Let you baby name items you pull from a specific subject bag (say it yourself if she doesn’t)Check understanding - “where is the ..?”, “can you give me the ..” - but not too much so your toddler will not feel being testedEncourage your child to communicate - give her a choice when she asks for something, put out toys that require an adult to run- like soap bubbles (and then she will also ask for more), or other games that she will need your assistance.Allow your baby to complete sentences in books (or by pointing to a picture - this is a ..?)Find the same - set pairs of toys/pictures and allow your toddler to match them

18-24 month

The goal here is to help the “word explosion” to occur and for your child say words more clearly. usually by 18 months toddlers knows about 50 words that will grow to over 200 at 24 month.

At this age your child will start noticing her surrounding, seek audience - and be more social to you and other children. By 18 month she will start playing side by side with other children.

At this age she will also start to play pretend that will help her in turn to communicate with others.


Ask less questions

Encourage to walk up to other children

More activities -> more wordsIf your child make mistakes- encourage the attempt and model the right word

Regular play dates with children at the same age and point out other children

Talk more about things that your child is interested in, and reduce your language to be 1 step ahead of her

Make a list of words your toddler learns to keep track.


Pretend tea party

Copy and add verbs. “Yes. Car. Driving Car”.Collect treasures and tell their stories

Name toys as you put them away

100 words book - take turns pointing to pictures  Sorting games

Name activities in pictures and put them in a “mailbox” and act them up

2 word choices: red car or blue car?

Gone book: objects and empty pages alternating. Read - “ball”. “Ball gone”..

Sing together rhyming songs - and also make mistakes and let your child correct you.


Start to understand a few simple words, like “car,” and simple instructions like “give me”

Point to things when asked, like familiar people and objects

Use up to 20 simple words, such as “cup,” “Daddy” and “dog.”.

Gesture or point, often with words or sounds to show what she wants

Copy things that adults say and gestures that they make

Start to enjoy simple pretend play

2-3 years Children at this age doubles their vocabulary. They understand abstract concepts: hot/cold, long/short, etc. is it big or small, what makes a tree a tree, opposed to plant or flower. Understand location and time. Start using grammar - plural, start past, pronouns, possessive “s,” ing, negatives and intonation change in question They start focusing beyond the here and now - and have memory, begin to retell and invent stories, and ask who and what, use pronouns as “me and mine”. At 30 months they distinguish between boys and girls (and say he or she accordingly), and start to ask why.


Correct by modeling and being positive.Talk to them in an increasing complexity and work on specific grammar points.


What is missing game

Emotions and concept books like The Baby's Catalogue

I spy game

Order by size

Talk about plural things, progressive actions and model them

Memory games: learn a song, ask for 2-then 3- then 4 items. Simon, card memory game

Re-tell a story:  first, then and last structure


At two years, a child should have a working memory (remembering what she has heard) of two objects.

At two to two and a half years, sequence two pieces of information in order:“Pick up the brush and give it to Daddy”).

At three to four years, a child should remember three key objects.

By 4 years they already have 500-600 words Perfecting grammar - irregular forms by the end of the period, and until then - overgeneralized past (“goed”), and start using can and will.

For more information and video examples - you can check this website.


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