You can find language in your backyard!

Are you children interested in nature? Could they do with less screen time? Does your child love ‘treasure hunts’ or drawing? Do you need an activity that you can direct from the kitchen?

This activity promotes language-learning, getting outdoors, drawing skills and if need be, an opportunity for you to get the kids out from under your feet!  Of course you might find yourself out in the garden with your kids which is even better, providing you with fresh air and an opportunity to get to know your backyard better too!

Bring in the Backyard Treasure list! This is how we play:

1. Present your child with a special ‘notebook and artist pen’ and tell them they are going to find some treasures in the backyard.  They will need to listen up closely!

2. Challenge your child to find an example of each treasure description you provide (see list below for each treasure description).  Note, each description includes a word that the child must understand to find the correct item, great for language development.  You may need to discuss what the descriptive words mean before they go hunting.

Just a sample of ideas!

Just a sample of ideas!

3. The child must go and draw what they find, not touch.  This is to avoid little hands dealing with spiders and other not-so-safe delights in the garden.  Older kids might be fine to decide what they pick/bring back, but the main aim is for the child to then draw the treasure.  This is great practice for drawing what they see with the motivation of having a collection of drawings of their findings.

4. The child brings their notepad back to show you the drawing and to check if it fits the treasure description.  This is a great time to further promote your child’s language skills by discussing if the item fits the description and how they decided they would pick that particular item.  If it does not fit the description, you may need to provide some examples of the descriptive word, for example ‘wet means there might be water on it, it’s not dry‘).

5. Give the next treasure description.

For older kids, you could provide the written list, as above and let them go out and take on the task themselves.

This activity can then be repeated again and again, encouraging your child to find different items to match the descriptions.  Or think up a list of new descriptions!

Here is the list we have used so far:

  • brown leaf
  • a ‘forked’ stick (one with a ‘V’ in it)
  • a spider
  • something NOT green or brown
  • something moving (don’t touch)
  • something living
  • something when you look up
  • something you can eat
  • something wet
  • something man made
  • something that feels rough
  • something with a nice smell
  • something old
  • something new
  • a green leaf

Don’t forget even words like ‘NOT’ are descriptive words and are important for a child to understand.  A child may not understand the concept of ‘something new’  in the garden, so you may have to explain how ‘new’ relates to the garden.  If your child is not old enough for understanding words such as ‘man made’, think about some other descriptions you could add.  Here are just a few ideas to get you started – more descriptors of how items feel, look, colours, NOT….., quantity.  Remember the more you play with the same descriptions, the more your child has to think outside the box to find something different.

a few 'picked' items

a few ‘picked’ items

And if your child really does like to bring back a collection for you, why not save these in a basket and leave out for later imaginative play!

Let me know how your children get on with this fun yet educational activity!

I Raise My Kids is also at Facebook and Google+!

Leaves give great adjectives!

[Using leaves for learning]
Today, we tried to identify what was unique about each leaf and use a word to DESCRIBE this. I modelled most for Master nearly 2. We came up with: stripey, thin, twisted, frilly, crumpled, holey, matching… plus many colours. Not only was this a language exercise but also a sensory task sitting on grass and feeling each leaf. We were also nourishing our spiritual body by sitting out in nature and appreciating what was happening around us. All you have to do is go and sit on some grass (where there are leaves!)….and enjoy!

frilly, crumpled, holey.. Master 22mths took one as I took the photo!

frilly, crumpled, holey.. Master 22mths took one as I took the photo!

🙂 I Raise My Kids is also over at Facebook! 🙂

The ex-perfectionist in me butted out!

This is the work of a 22mth old and not an ex-perfectionist mum! Whilst I still have a tendency to straighten things and show my children how to do things even better, I know my ‘fixing’ these pieces for my son would only suggest to him ‘you didn’t do it quite right’. And right now a 22mth old should be allowed to do it as his brain sees it and be proud of his own work!

hooray! you did it!

hooray! you did it!

Just a couple of things I’ve really learnt from the excellent Emotional Anatomy of a Yogi workshop I attended – excellence over perfectionism (we can never achieve anything perfectly according to quantum science) and enough of the martyrdom (let them lead their life, stop stepping in). Still on my to-get-better-at list!

Remember to find us at Facebook – I Raise My Kids!

Defining words to your child helps to grow their vocabulary

Going along with my post about trying your kids out on different foods – also remember…your child’s vocabulary will only ever be as big as the number of words they are exposed to.
This means pointing out words and defining them for your child, no matter how old they are! Never assume they understand every word, phrase or saying 

How many new words can you point out to your child tomorrow?

Lately we’ve been defining words like ‘new year’s eve’, ‘calendar’ and ‘humid/muggy’!
And by defining, you might need to actually go and point something out in real life, find something similar, Google it or even say ‘let me have a think about that one’!

Man…diving – his vocab is growing!

Despite awesome renovations at Underwater World here at the Sunshine Coast, Master coming-up-2 STILL has only one interest…’man…diving’. Knowing that language-learning occurs best when the child is interested, I worked his receptive vocab! He now knows ‘wetsuit’, ‘regulator’, ‘bootees’, ‘mask’, ‘tank’, ‘breathing’ and ‘weight belt’. (We were staring that long)

I explained ‘regulator’ by putting my hand to my mouth and doing some diving breathing, paired ‘bootees’ with ‘shoes for swimming’ and ‘weight belt’ with ‘stay down..don’t float on top (with hand gestures)’ etc.
And sure enough, he is telling me these words back like I just taught him simpler words like ‘fish’ or ‘swimming’.
He doesn’t know these aren’t everyday words as to him they are of complete interest!!
I then follow this up with ‘you LIKE the man, you LIKE watching the diving’ to help him understand this is his interest.  Heidi



Literacy starts here..

[Birth+] A few benefits of baby books:
– clear pictures to keep your little one watching
– makes you talk in simpler language, which helps your child to understand and learn new words
– for 12mths + kids, extend the vocab (eg watermelon-seeds-red, juice-drink-cup, sheep-wool-tail)
– introduces early literacy skills such as left to right, turning pages, listening to words, pointing to pictures
– pages are easy to turn – keep your baby’s attention by bending the book back slightly so the next page pops open, say ‘turn the page’ and show their hand the action of turning
– older kids can even practice ‘reading’ the words to younger siblings

let's start from the very beginning

let’s start from the very beginning

The pack away game

[12 months] Starting as early as you can, start making a game of packing away, when you have the time!  It is MUCH easier to make packing away a habit rather than a chore that is suddenly expected of children when they are older.

This works for packing away toys where there are many ‘things’, for example, bath toys, duplo, little people, soft animals/teddies, waterplay toys.

The ‘game’ is YOU giving language clues for the child to find the things and bring them to you to put in the box/tub or wherever they belong.  You just need to adjust the clues according to age!


  • 12 months – ‘get  cup’ (using signs/gestures is good to give them more of a chance of working out what you are talking about), ‘get duck
  • 18 months – start giving clues, not just the word, such as ‘get big ball’, ‘get elephant with hat’ (signs can still be good)
  • 2 years onwards – start using more describing words (adjectives) such as ‘the spiky dinosaur’, ‘the spotty one’, ‘the  long rake’ or other attributes of the item ‘the one we eat at breakfast’, ‘the one we peel’, ‘the red one’ (and you still might be using your hands!)

Once you start to know the words your child knows, start giving multiple directions at a time such as, ‘get the duck and pig’, ‘find the big teddy and the teddy with no clothes’, ‘get the banana, the watermelon and something we eat for dinner’.

Don’t forget to finish the game by saying ‘hooray’, high fives, ‘you packed away’, ‘you HELPED’!!!!!!

And IF you still have trouble encouraging packing away, why not start by ‘backward chaining’.   That is, you pack away some (or most, depending how young your child is) and get them to help with the last few. That way they can still receive the ‘hoorays’ which sets it on a positive note to try again for next time 🙂


What’s on today mummy??

[12 mths+] Did you remember to tell your little one ‘no daycare’ this morning? Actually, once you have defined the word ‘daycare’ (by telling them at the front gate or just entering), you can announce each morning ‘daycare today’ or ‘NO daycare today’.  Children this young may certainly be wondering what is happening for the day but would not necessarily have the words to ask.
And of course you can tell them anything else that’s on in the day – as long as you have defined the words for them ‘daddy work’, ‘shops today’, ‘Sam’s house today’ etc.

My first vocab list – 6 mths+

[6 months +]

Help your baby to understand more about their world as soon as the ‘lights come on’.  Around six months, a baby starts to focus their attention on things more easily and this leads into a perfect time to start giving them some words (just to understand at first).  This then starts the snowball effect of communication development, where the more a baby learns to communicate and communicate back to you, the more their brain develops, so the more they communicate… and the cycle continues.  Your baby is smarter than you think.  By assuming their brains are ready to learn, you can start building their vocabulary from a young age.  Make the early years count and help develop your child’s communication and future literacy skills!

Where do I start in teaching language?

Here is a list of first words that I have found babies first focus their attention to and thus it is easy for them to learn about these concepts.  If you know a natural gesture (think ‘car’ or ‘phone’), use this too which all helps to get the message across (think how gestures help to get the message across in a foreign country – Getting thrown into a new language is not easy).  Take a look at Do I get on this baby sign bandwagon or not? to understand how to start using a few signs with your baby.  Signing (and even just using your hands to communicate) will help your child’s brain to develop that bit quicker, particularly at first.  It can also be particularly helpful for those that are slower to develop speech, so they will still be able to practice communicating to you, and in turn receiving the positive attention for doing so and get the snowball effect of communication happening too – just without speech at first. 🙂

Of course, your baby might find a different word/concept to take interest in, so go with that!

The first step

Watch your baby closely at different times throughout the day.  As soon as they focus their attention onto something, name that item (or action)!!!  It could be anything, from a fan to a door handle.

Repeat, repeat, repeat.  Don’t just say it once, try to say it three times.  This just speeds up the process of learning, as if someone was telling you a word in Portuguese three times, you would remember it quicker than hearing it just once.  If you go into the next room and again see your baby looking at a ‘fan’, say it again!  Your baby is obviously interested and will be open to learning the word for this.

Use your hands.  I’ve said it a few times already, but being visual helps your child to understand what you are really talking about.  Just moving your finger round in a circle, in the direction of the fan, helps to confirm to your baby ‘yes that thing moving around and around goes with the word I just heard…fan’.  Think about how a child might point to something in a corner of a room.  Sometimes you really can’t be sure exactly which item they are pointing at without more information.  This goes for your baby – make sure they know which word you are defining, by using your hands!  For those that are keen for more formal signs (for example, animals), go to and type the word into ‘sign search’ in the top right corner!

Define the word. The only way your baby will learn a word is by you saying that word/signing at the time.  For instance, you can say ‘daycare’ while you’re at home or even in the car, but your baby will learn the word much quicker if you say it when you are there, say at the front gate.  Yes, I have had to mutter/pick a quiet time to say ‘daycare’ a few times at the front gate to define it to my two!  The same goes for ‘home’, you could say it when you’re leaving daycare for home or better yet, say/sign ‘home’ at the front door or when you arrive in the garage.  If you forget, just take note to remember for next time!

'book!', 'eat!'...

‘book!’, ‘eat!’…

Even if your baby is closer to 12 months, take a look at the vocabulary list and think about whether your baby definitely does understand each of these words.  You might pick a few to point out each week.

The first vocabulary list

Here is list of words your baby might take interest in, or routines that happen every day (eg. changing nappies) that they will soon learn to understand:

light (probably one of the first things your baby will take interest in, give them the word! or a sign)

fan (in summer, it will surely catch your baby’s attention)


pet – teach them ‘dog’, ‘bird’, ‘cat’ at first until they have seen and generalised other dogs, cats, birds are also called this word, THEN introduce your pet’s name

up – picking them up, or pulling them to sit when on the change table

boo/peekaboo – ‘boo’ is a bit easier for your child to say back, eventually

eat – say when they are eating


bath – take a look at the sign on

finished – after the last drop of medicine, bathtime, changing nappy, eating


home – say this each time you get to the garage or front door

car – remember to define it, say the word whilst pointing at the car

TV – certainly not your baby’s first entertainment, but guaranteed they will show some interest in it before they should be watching it! Give them the word!

phone – easy to ‘sign’ this one

book – check out the sign for this

brush teeth – use a gesture too

change nappy – your baby will basically learn this as one word

wait – a good one to sign as you will be using this for ‘years’ to come!

swing – your baby will probably have good attention for this one, as soon as you put them in it

park/beach/other places they may take note of.  Give them a word!

Stay tuned for the next vocabulary list!

Waiting for the words to come…

Joint attention...tick!

Joint attention…tick!

Most parents have two big milestones in mind – first steps and first words.  Being a speech pathologist, I feel like I can comment on the latter!

The thing about first words, is that there is a wide range of ‘normal’.  Some children come out with a word well before 12 months, whilst others take a fair bit longer.  Really, before two years of age, anything goes……

Differences in development

  • Children’s brains can only focus on developing so many things at once.  Some children head straight to the gross motor development, getting crawling, whilst others focus on communication and are very vocal and social, whilst others focus more on cognitive skills, sitting back and working out how the world works.  And some do a bit of each at the same time!  Have a think about your child’s strengths – are they simply developing another area of their brain?
  • Children have personalities from the very beginning.  The extrovert baby will most likely ‘show’ their communication skills more than an introvert, who might understand everything and be taking it all in, but may not be as vocal.  Where does your baby fit?

Early skills

  • Babbling is a good indicator of future speech, particularly using different sounds – mama, baba, dada.  Is your little one babbling and are they making consonant sounds?  (ie baba, mama, dada not just
  • There are some important early communication skills that come before speech – eye contact, motor imitation (copying actions such as banging, throwing, waving), pointing and joint attention.  Joint attention is when your child focuses their attention on something (say a toy or book) but acknowledges that you are there too by looking back at you as if to say ‘this is fun’ or ‘wow did you see that’ or even ‘hey I need some help with this’.  If your child has any difficulty with any of these by 12 months, it is definitely time to start thinking about a visit to the paediatrician, even just to monitor them.
  • How much does your child understand?  Language doesn’t just involve talking but primarily understanding words, before using them.  Before words, children start taking in their surroundings and learning about the routines that happen each day.  Does your child understand what is happening in their day?  For example, after dinner they have a bath; when Mummy picks up the keys, they are about to go in the car.  Does your child understand a simple question, for example, ‘where’s Daddy?’, ‘where’s ball?’, ‘where’s dog?’.

The sign test

  • Start teaching your little one a couple of signs, for things that THEY might want or find fun to communicate back to you.  This might be ‘more’, ‘bath’, ‘drink’ or a word that relates to their interests, such as ‘ball’, ‘book’, ‘bird’, ‘dog’, or ‘music’.  Most children don’t need to sign the word ‘eat’, as generally their parents are offering them food before they would really need to ask for it.  You can find signs (in Australia) at  Here is an I raise my kids post with far more detail about getting started with signing.  Do I get on this baby sign bandwagon or not?…  And have a look at our sign of the week each Friday!
  • After 12 months of age, a child shouldn’t take more than a month or two to understand the sign and start signing back to you.  If they can learn to sign back to you, it will show you that they can and want to communicate.  This may hint at a speech problem, which means their brain is having trouble getting their mouth to make sounds and words (particularly if they haven’t babbled too much).  This is where signing becomes important to help your child communicate whilst they are learning to use speech.  If your child is using several signs really well and still no speech, this would be a good time to start looking into finding a speech pathologist. See another I raise my kids post, ‘We’re off to a Speechie – Finding a Brilliant One’.

Personally, I have worked with a good few children who have not been saying much at around 15-18 months, but then have developed on quite normally after that.  I have also had several parents that have said they were a ‘late talker’, not saying much at two but have ‘turned out fine’!  Ask around for how you developed, as late talkers do seem to run in families.

In the coming posts, I will give many tips to consider trying with your child to ensure they are being given the best ‘language environment’ to help them to learn to communicate.  Firstly, have a look at my post ‘You’re off to Brazil’ to have a think about what it is like to learn another language.  Your child is going through a similar experience and so it helps to take that into consideration when communicating with them (husbands and other family members too!).

If you have tried the strategies (that I will post about soon) and signing and there is still little speech by 18 months, I would start thinking about contacting a speech pathologist (there can be waiting lists) and also maybe a paediatrician, so that you can be on top of things by the time they are two.  Early intervention is the best thing that you can do!

Please comment if you have any other questions or would like more information on anything here.  🙂 Heidi