Learning Leader

Promoting Infant and Toddler Language Development

For infants and toddlers, research show that every word counts. By age three, children from more affluent families have heard approximately 30 million more words and know approximately 500 more words than their less affluent peers. Known as the “word gap, this separation can go onto have long-term effects on a child’s ultimate success in school and in life. Joining a national focus on the importance of the early years of life for children’s successful development, the Children’s Learning Institute is preparing all-new resources for parents and teachers who care for and educate children from birth to age three.

A landmark study, published in 1995, identified the “30 million word gap” and found that children need to hear new, unique words in rich language sentences and encouraging, rather than discouraging, conversations to build their vocabularies. Parents and early childhood educators are key to closing this gap, which research suggests begins as early as 12 months. Vocabulary and language disparities are evident by 18 months, and this gap continues to widen as the child develops. By age 3 and 4, it can be difficult to help children overcome this gap and catch up to their peers, placing these children at a disadvantage before they even enter kindergarten. Those who classify as English Language Learners are at an even higher risk of falling behind. ELL children from low socio-economic status families typically test 15 to 30 points below their monolingual peers in vocabulary and language comprehension skills.

During these first few years, it is essential for teachers and parents to play an active role in facilitating language development. Research suggests that caregivers need to expose children to new, sophisticated words, anywhere from 40 to 200 times, and present these words using child friendly definitions. Additionally, words must be used in a meaningful context and connect to a child’s personal experience. Building language skills at this young age does not mean talking at a child, but rather talking with a child to establish a meaningful conversation. Consider, for example, these two different conversations that children might hear at home or school:

“Go get that.”

“Let’s go find your ball. I think the ball rolled under the table or behind the chair leg. Can you find it?”

To give teachers and caregivers the knowledge and resources they need to foster development during this critical time, the Children’s Learning Institute is creating several research-based resources specifically designed for teachers of infants and toddlers. Thanks to the generosity of several private foundations and an expanded partnership with the Texas Workforce Commission, these resources will soon be available on our online platform CLI Engage to thousands of teachers in Texas.

CIRCLE Activity Collection - Infant/Toddler Edition

New infant and toddler activities will be joining our preschool CIRCLE Activity Collection. Aligned with the Texas Infant, Toddler, and Three-Year-Old Early Learning Guidelines, the activities in the collection will support young children's language and communication development, social and emotional development, physical health and motor development, and cognitive development. Throughout the year, we will add additional activities to the collection across all four domains.

Birth to Three Course “Talk with Me: Promoting Early Language Development”

This engaging course provides teachers with interactive, responsive strategies about how to facilitate language development in young children and includes video conversations with highly-regarded experts, authentic video examples to learn and model new concepts, and graphic demonstrations of skill development concepts. Teachers also have the ability to check themselves to immediately access their understanding of a new concept or course strategy.

We also encourage all parents and teachers of infants and toddlers to review the Texas Infant, Toddler, and Three-Year-Old Early Learning Guidelines to learn what children should understand and be able to do during specific age ranges, as well as what steps caregivers should take to support healthy development. Written by the Children’s Learning Institute in partnership with the Texas Early Learning Council, the Guidelines are available in English, Spanish, and Vietnamese.

Our important work to expand access to high-quality resources available for parents and teachers of young children will begin with these resources devoted to language development. In the near future, these resources will be expanded into other areas of child skill development, including social and emotional and cognitive development. These new resources will be representative of our philosophy to provide high quality, research-based tools including lots of video demonstrations to encourage teachers and parents to adopt new strategies to support children at school and home.


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