There are 6 crucial school readiness domains to think about when talking, singing and reading to babies and toddlers. Here’s #3 of the 6.

In the last 2 weeks, information about the two crucial school readiness domains of receptive and expressive language was provided as a way for parents to feel empowered as well as to support them in digging deeper as to why the advice of “talk, sing and read to your baby” is so important.  This week, the focus is on speech production skills, which are so necessary for children to be successful in school.

Speech, or articulation, is defined as the physical act of moving muscles in order to produce the sounds of a language.  Muscles used to produce speech sounds are controlled by the speaker’s brain, which is why brain development happening from birth to 36 months is vital to being a good speaker.

There is a typical path of speech development as a child learns to control the muscle movements needed to speak.  First, the child must learn to control his airflow.  Speech sounds are produced when a baby or toddler breathes out from his lungs, not as he takes air into our lungs. Once a baby or toddler has learned to control airflow, he then learns to control his talking muscles in the following order:  1) jaw muscles, 2) lip and face muscles, and 3) the eight interwoven muscles of the tongue, which allow the tongue to move in any direction (FACT: the tongue is the only muscle in the human body that is not covered by skin!).  Once a baby or toddler achieves control of these “talking” muscles, he must gain control over the order in which he “assembles” the speech sounds.  In other words, he must learn to sequence the speech sounds in a certain way in order to produce words in his language(s).  For example, if a toddler says the word “mix,” but produces the word as “misk,” then the sounds he produces are considered “out of order” or “out of sequence.”

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 speech sound development which is necessary to produce words, phrases and sentences for speech.  The following skills are an absolute necessity for school readiness by the age of 36 months with regard to speech/articulation:

  1. Speak clearly so that 90% of what is said by the child can be understood by unfamiliar listeners (e.g., the cashier at the grocery store, a man at the bus stop, a grandparent who only sees the child every couple months, etc.).
  2. Speak clearly so that 100% of what is said can be understood by familiar listeners (e.g., parents, caregivers, siblings, grandparents who see the child every week, etc.)
  3. Use all talking muscles to speak, including muscles for breathing and for speech (i.e., jaw, lips, face and tongue).
  4. Sequence speech sounds in an age-appropriate manner (e.g., “rocketship,” not “shocketrip;” “ball,” not “lob”, etc.).
  5. Use words of many syllables (e.g., hamburger, Tyrannosauraus rex, birthday cake, etc.).
  6. Use pacing, rhythm, and timing of speech, such that words are not all “jammed” together (e.g., I’mgoingtomyhouse) and/or such that there are not pauses in unexpected places in longer phrases and sentences (e.g., I’m not ——- going to my——-house).
  7. Use appropriate inflection, or pitch changes, and volume for a variety of language uses, including, but not limited to: asking questions (rising pitch), making demands or gaining attention (louder than typical volume), expressing surprise or excitement (loud and happy-sounding pitch), or whispering a secret (turn off vibration of speech muscles, including vocal cords).
  8. Controlling airflow as it moves up and out of the lungs, through the mouth, and towards the listener in an easy and smooth way (e.g., control of airflow in the sentence “I-I-I want, I want, I want, I want to g-g-g-g-g-g-g-g-g-o home” would not be described by a listener as “easy and smooth”).

To be sure, once parents and caregivers know the speech/articulation 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 by the age of 36 months. 

Related resources regarding building speech/articulation skills in babies and toddlers for school readiness by 36 months of age:

**Check out the Operation Ready 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).


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