There are 6 crucial school readiness domains to think about when talking, singing and reading to babies and toddlers. Here’s #2 of the 6.

Last week, information about the first crucial school readiness domain, receptive language, or language understanding, was provided as a way for parents to feel empowered and to think more deeply about “why” the advice of “talk, sing and read to your baby” is so important.  This week, the focus is on expressive language, or language use, which is also necessary for children to be successful in school.

There is an Operation Ready by 3 “rule” called the “Understanding-Use Rule” for children who are 6-36 months of age.  The rule tells us that a child will begin using a word approximately 6 months after he solidly understands what it means, as long as he has the ability to physically make the sounds in the words.  A child’s ability to make sounds will happen at different points in development, based upon his individual speech development, but the key point here is that when she understands a word well, she will use it.  The “Understanding-Use Rule,” identified by Operation Ready by 3 in 2012, after observing countless babies and toddlers, is the reason why we need to speak to our pre-verbal children with words that they will eventually be able to use or “say” for their first words.

Countless examples of this rule can be given.  For example, if a 6-month old understands the word for “doggie” (which can be observed when she looks at the family dog when someone asks “See the doggie?”), the rules tells us that the baby will begin using the word “doggie” (or an approximate or simplified form of the word, such as “daw,” “daw-dee” or “gaw-ghee”) around the age of 12 months.  An example can be given as well for a toddler.  A 19-month old child who follows the direction to put his shoes “under the chair” each time he hears it clearly understands the meaning of the word “under.”  However, he will not begin using the word to talk about something being “under” something else until 6 months goes by, around the age of 26 months.

The Operation Ready by 3 “Rule of 3’s” for vocabulary expansion is also important for building a child’s expressive language that he will need to be successful in 21st century classrooms.  The “Rule of 3’s” tells parents, caregivers and early childhood educators that in order to expose a baby or toddler to as much vocabulary as possible for language understanding (and, eventual, use 6 months down the line in development), speakers should say 3 things about whatever or whomever they are talking about.  Therefore, if a caregiver is talking about a dog nearby, she might say, “Oh, this doggie is black.  He is small too.  The black doggie is a small doggie.” By using the “Rule of 3’s,” parents, caregivers and early childhood educators are able to introduce an abundance of words on a daily basis that the baby or toddler will then use 6 months later.  Limited exposure to words at 6 or 24 months of age, for example, results in limited language use at 12 or 30 months of age, respectively.

So, let’s ask ourselves again:  why do we “talk, sing, read” to babies and toddlers?  It’s because these activities build connections in their brains that lead to the expressive language development of the following skills, each of which is an absolute necessity for school readiness:

  1. Use a wide variety of vocabulary words from many different categories of words (e.g., action words, location words, describing words, etc.).
  2. Use mostly accurate grammar and sentence structure (e.g., plural “s”, verb tense markers, compound sentences, etc.).
  3. Respond to a variety of question forms accurately (e.g., a “what” question is answered with a noun,  a response to a “why” question begins with “because” or “so,” a “how question is answered with a sequence of steps that tell how to do something, etc.).
  4. State the functions of objects (e.g., to say “Daddy, the oven is for cooking pizza, but not for cooking noodles”).
  5. State objects that go with other objects (e.g., “Mommy, a shovel goes with a bucket because you scoop up sand and put it in the bucket”), that people go with objects (e.g., Mrs. Smith sits at her desk) and that people “go with” other people (e.g., Mommy is a doctor and she works at the hospital with the nurse”).
  6. Use connecting words (e.g., but, so, because, when, then, before, after, and, since) to say long and complex sentences.
  7. Use connecting language to tell stories, to explain what happened, or to tell what will happen (e.g., “I saw the man that lives next door and he drives red car and his dog was running but the man can’t catch it” or “I’m gonna go downstairs and get my doll”).
  8. Use social language to engage and interact with others in an age-appropriate way and to express a sense of humor (e.g., A child asking a friend “Do you like my hat?” while balancing a book on her head).
  9. Create a purposeful interpretation of the world around her and then be able to talk about it (e.g., I see the fast choo-choos on the computer).
  10. Explain his answers, reasons, ideas, opinions, etc. to demonstrate that he can think critically (e.g., “I can’t do it because I am not big  But I am growing!”).
  11. Use clear, concise language to describe something he has created and to explain how or why he created it (e.g., “I made this for you, Mommy.  Are you happy?”).
  12. Use clear, concise language to explain his likes, dislikes, preferences, methods that help him learn/understand, etc. (e.g., “I like cheese pizza but not pepperoni”).
  13. Use clear, concise language to lead others (e.g., a single person, a small group, a large audience) by way of any skills such as commenting and responding appropriately to the ideas of others, sharing his own ideas, compromising, and taking responsibility.
  14. Use language to create, critique, analyze, and evaluate multi-media (e.g., “The mouse is not clicking on the picture,” “The game is loading,” “I want to color the pictures on the website, but the printer is not working.”).
  15. Use clear, concise language to reflect on his own learning, including by analyzing his successes and failures, breaking learning down into small steps, and discussing how he would improve on his learning the next time.

To be sure, once parents and caregivers know the expressive language skills that are needed in classrooms after the age of 36 months, they are able to be more conscious about how to talk, read and sing to babies and toddlers from 0-36 months of age.  They can plan activities (or be spontaneous while feeding, bathing, etc.) armed with the “why” behind choosing certain words, certain books or certain songs which are beneficial and crucial to school readiness. 

Related resources regarding building expressive language skills in babies and toddlers for school readiness by 36 months of age:

**Check out the OperationReady by 3 website at for more information about parent/caregiver coaching and classes designed to get babies and toddlers ready for school by 36 months and/or to contact Operation Ready by 3 with questions and comments.

**Follow Operation Ready by 3 on Twitter: @Readyby3

Cindi Zarpas Stevens is the creator/founder of Operation Ready by 3 (her mission) and the president of Norfolk Speech & Language Services, Inc. (her day job that pays). She is a mother of 5 (her unpaid, 24-7 job). In her work as a writer (her passion), she supports parents, caregivers and early childhood educators as they navigate Babyland and Toddlerland with greater consciousness, ease, confidence, expertise and joy. She thinks the best job in the world is talking to parents, caregivers and educators about babies and toddlers (they’re amazing, fun and adorable) about ideas such as sharing power with their child (it’s peaceful and positive) while at the same time having power within themselves (it’s affirming and empowering) to be the best parent, caregiver, and educator they can be in order to get the children in their lives ready for school by the age of 36 months (to make the world a better place).


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s