Animals Can Impact Language Development in Young Children.
July 14, 2016 Speech & OT of North Texas

Animals Can Impact Language Development in Young Children.

Posted in Uncategorized

Clare and Puzzle

There are basic strategies that we know will help enrich language development in young children.  For instance, we know that it is important to really listen when your child is trying to communicate, whetherthrough verbalizations or gestures. We know it is important to be intentional about regular time to communicate with your child one-on-one. It is also important to get on your child’s level, face them and give attention to what is drawing their attention at that time, whether it is a toy, a book, or a lady bug.  It is also important to let your child finish their communication before you respond.  These are all good strategies that will help you child with language and cognitive development.

Puzzle birthday kisses

When we think about interactions with young children, it is important to build your communication around activities or experiences that are meaningful for the child.  The more they are excited about something, the more you can build an interaction around the event at hand.

At Speech & Occupational Therapy of North Texas, we frequently complete an interest inventory for our young clients.  We want to be sure that we build high-interest experiences into each session.  It is important for families to know how important motivation is for development.  Sometimes parents give their child high interest activities or toys so that they can occupy themselves while we prepare a meal or put in a load of laundry.  This is understandable.  However, we can miss out on the most important opportunities for language enrichment if we do notintnetionally join our children in the excitement or interest in their preferred activities throughout the day.

What Does This Have To Do With Animals?

More than you would realize.  Most children are very drawn to animals.  In fact, research has shown that young children prefer watching or playing with animals to playing with other favored activities.

“Taken together, these results suggest that young children are very interested in live animals, compared to toys, even when the animals are not moving and cannot be touched. In addition, their parents help to direct interactions towards the animals more, by talking about them, gesturing towards them and asking questions. And, as the authors put it, people “may find these results surprising, as they suggest that children prefer snakes and spiders to a group of highly attractive toys.”(LoBue, 2014)

So families should use this knowledge to be intentional about language enrichment activities and animals are a perfect focal point. Children internalize language through back-and-forth interactions with the parents and other important adults in their lives. When a child shows interest in something, whether, through a gesture, a sound, or a word, parental responses provide feedback that reinforce and encourages early language learning.   Since we know that children are very drawn to animals, we can use this knowledge to set up optimal opportunities to reinforce communication.

Do you have a pet?  Great!  You can describe your pet, talk through the routine of feeding your pet, talk about where your pet likes to sleep and what toys your pet likes.  You join in with your child’s interest and comment or expand on whatever they are doing regarding your pet.  So if you child is petting the dog, you describe this event, “You are petting Chipper’s back.  He likes that.  He looks so happy!  He is wagging his tail!  Dogs wag their tail when they are happy!”

Of course, you aren’t restricted to pets, but they are an obvious choice if you have one.  But you can visit the zoo, or visit a neighbor’s pet.  Or visit parks where you have noticed an abundance of squirrels or bunnies.

The key is to be ready to respond intentionally to any interest your child shows in animals.  Use of animals for language development may become more important if you have a child with limited interests since it is likely he or she may still be drawn to animals.  Child-directed interactions provide the best opportunities for language development as adults join into the child’s natural spontaneous interests.

Of course, the main idea is to look for opportunities to join your child in high interest activities and then foster interaction and language learning around that experience.  Animals are just one great way to tap into a child’s interest.  Preferred toys, books and activities all provide great opportunities for language enrichment. Be intentional with language enrichment!

Speech & Occupational Therapy of North Texas utilizes a therapy dog, Puzzle, in many occupational therapy sessions.  All of the clients are drawn to this gentle labradoodle!

Please call us at 972-424-1048 to learn more about our speech and occupational therapy services.  We provide therapy in Plano, McKinney, and Frisco.

For more information about early language development, visit: