Skip to main content

Supporting the Communication of Children: Environments and Experiences

It is important to provide a variety of experiences to support children’s communication and language skills. This lesson describes how you can create language- and communication-rich environments that include engaging interactions and experiences.

  • List ways you can support children’s communication and language development.
  • Explore resources that provide information on supporting the language and communication development of all the children in your care.
  • Discuss how you can support the language and communication skills of children with special learning needs in your care setting.


“The basic building block of good communications is the feeling that every human being is unique and of value.” - Unknown


As a family child care provider, you play an important role in the communication and language development of each child. Language is at the core of all components of communication. Without language, we would have a very difficult time expressing our thoughts and feelings. The learning environment should be filled with elements that support language and communication development. You can help create a language-rich environment in your home by being thoughtful in your activity plans and materials selection. The goal of creating an environment rich in language is to encourage a love of language in all children. When children are surrounded by language, they will most likely have positive feelings and emotions about language and literacy.

Reflecting on Communication and Language Learning

Knowing that your environment contributes greatly to learning, a starting point can be to reflect on the language and communication development of the children in your care. Think about your observations, what families tell you, the developmental screening and assessment information you collect, and the interests and discoveries each child is making. For example:

  • What language or languages is the child learning at home? To which language is the child most responsive?
  • What sounds is each infant using?
  • What type and length of sentences does the child use? Does he or she take turns in a conversation?
  • How does each child communicate with peers? Adults?
  • How does each child communicate that he or she is hungry, tired, bored, or ready for play?
  • How is each child developing in language and communication development?
  • How does each child respond to books? Being read to? Being shown pictures?
  • Does the preschooler or school-age child recognize basic concepts about print, like holding books upright, turning pages, pointing to words and pictures?
  • What types of books is the family reading to each child? Why types of books are families encouraging older children to read?
  • What writing experiences is the child having? Does the child try writing or scribbling letters? Does the child seem to understand that print has meaning?
  • How are other areas of development being supported through books and reading?

By asking these questions, in collaboration with families, you have an opportunity to document and learn how each child in your care develops language and communication skills while considering other areas of development, culture, and temperament. This planning process establishes a responsive environment for you and families to support children as they develop language skills and learn new ways to communicate their needs and wants. It is your responsibility as a family child care provider to arrange your learning environment to meet the needs of each individual child where they are in their development.

Supporting Communication for Infants and Toddlers

As a family child care provider, you also become each child’s language and communication partner. Infants grow from turning their heads and responding to familiar faces and voices to being able to express their thoughts, feelings, and experiences in words as toddlers. This amazing development occurs primarily through the interactions and experiences created by adult caregivers who use communication and language with children in responsive and meaningful ways throughout the day. Take a moment to think about the responsive care you provide and the ways it affects children’s language and communication development.

The handout, More Than Baby Talk, outlines ten practices that support language and communication skills of infants and toddlers. The below highlights the practices that are presented and defined in the handout. The handout also contains research evidence that supports the use of each practice along with strategies and ideas for using the practice with infants and toddlers.

Get ChattyEngage in conversations with infants and toddlers
Be a CommentatorGive descriptions of objects, activities or events
Mix It UpUse different types of words and grammar
Label ItProvide infants and toddlers with the names of objects or actions
Tune InEngage in activities or objects that interest infants and toddlers
Read InteractivelyUse books to engage infants’ and toddlers’ participation, point to and talk about the illustrations
Read it Again & Again & Again!Read the same books multiple times
Props, Please!Introduce objects that spark conversations
Make MusicEngage in musical activities
Sign ItUse gestures or simple signs with words

Supporting Communication for Preschoolers

You have amazing opportunities to spark language and conversations in your interactions with preschool children. There are countless times throughout the day for you to encourage children to talk, read, and write.

The first step in creating natural opportunities for communication is getting to know the children in your program and how they communicate and use language. You should use this information to make decisions about experiences you want to provide or strategies you want to use. Think about the daily routines and experiences or activities taking place in your program: what opportunities for communication are natural in those routines? For example, during snack time, you can ask children questions about their favorite snacks, ask what they like to eat at home, or engage them in conversations about colors, textures, or tastes of different snacks. You may also provide them with choices of food items, or arrange the environment in ways that promote children’s communication. You can, for example, provide children with smaller portions of snack items to create opportunities for them to use language to ask for more if they want more. You may also purposefully place some food items out of their reach so they can ask you, or peers for them.

With careful planning, you can adapt and embed communication strategies into multiple experiences and routines in your family child care. As children in your program learn new skills, you will continuously assess their progress and adapt your strategies to promote their development.

Supporting Communication for School-Age Children

The physical environment of your family child care plays an important role in all aspects of your program. There are many factors in the physical environment that allow for and promote communication skills in school-age children. The environment is made up not only of physical materials, but also a healthy and supportive atmosphere. The combination of the physical space and the feeling of belonging that children receive from their learning environment helps school-age children continue to develop their communication skills.

The physical environment can help promote communication in a variety of ways. Some examples:

  • The layout of tables, chairs, and seating areas can help facilitate conversation.
  • A library or quiet area with comfortable seating can encourage literacy and reading.
  • Areas with a variety of writing materials available can promote writing skills and language development.
  • Dramatic play areas can help spark conversations and imaginative play.
  • Word walls, labels, and descriptions can help develop reading, writing, and vocabulary skills.

Creating a healthy and supportive atmosphere for the learning environment can help to promote communication in a variety of ways. Some suggestions:

  • Create an environment that is supportive and safe for children to express their feelings and thoughts.
  • Have a zero-tolerance policy for bullying, name calling, teasing, or any other behavior that could make a child feel unwelcome.
  • Be a model for communication by displaying good communication and conversation skills: speak clearly, be respectful, make eye contact, and use positive body language at all times.
  • Be clear with expectations by communicating them both orally and in writing. For example, you may want to post a graphic on the wall that illustrates "we listen to each other" with words accompanying a picture of ears (preferably with a range of skin tones to accent the richness of human diversity.)

Providing a Language- and Communication-Rich Environment

Consider the following components of language- and communication-rich environments.

Responsive caregiver

Respond to children’s language and build on their ideas and interests. It’s much more important to focus on their ideas than on their grammar. If children use words incorrectly, simply model appropriate language and continue the conversation. For example, if Julia says, “My grandma gived me a book,” you could respond, “It’s so nice your grandma gave you a book. What’s it about?”

Frequent use of developmentally appropriate models

Children need to hear, listen to, and use language throughout the day. You can promote development by using language that is at or slightly above the child’s level. Being aware of the level of complexity of the language you use is important to remember when communicating with young children. As children get older, you can use more words in each sentence and introduce new vocabulary words.


Intentional providers purposefully select and use appropriate language and literacy with children. This means that during your planning—and considering children’s needs—you make decisions about words or sounds to use; new vocabulary to introduce; ways to describe events, materials, or feelings; and how to adapt activities and experiences to address the special learning needs of children in your program.

Environmental print and books

Remember to provide multiple opportunities for children to read and see books and print around your family child care setting. This includes reading frequently to children; labeling spaces or objects; labeling in different languages that represent the backgrounds of children in your program; having lots of books readily accessible; rotating books and materials based on children’s interests and experiences; creating an inviting area in your home where children can be read to, read quietly, or read with other children; providing activities that involve drawing and writing; and embedding experiences that involve playing with sounds, words, and letters in activities and routines.

Family involvement

Acknowledging that families are children’s first and most significant teachers is critical for your work in family child care. As highlighted in Lesson Three, involving families in children’s communication development is essential for learning.


Using repetition means that you provide children with frequent language models, particularly when teaching new vocabulary words. In language-rich environments, repetition happens throughout the day. Use the same words in fun ways (e.g., through songs or games) to describe daily routines or events, label feelings or materials, etc. Repetition ensures children have varied and multiple opportunities to learn new words or new uses of words. Repetition is also important when teaching new concepts.  Children need time and practice to learn new skills such as letter recognition, rhyming, counting and sorting, or print awareness. To master a skill, children need to experience to the concept multiple times across multiple domains. 

Supporting Communication for All Children

Rules: Quiet voices, walking feet, gentle touches, listening ears

Some children in your care may have conditions that affect their language and communication development, including developmental delays, autism, neurological and perceptual disorders, or vision, hearing, speech, or language impairments. Children with individualized family service plans or individualized education plans have a specific plan to help them meet their personal goals, and very often these children will need changes or adaptations to daily routines, their care environment, and curriculum.

Use different ways to communicate information with children. For example, visuals like picture schedules or photos showing steps of hand washing provide children with a sense of predictability, and they provide opportunities for interactions with print.

Other children may need different supports. For children with hearing impairments, you may have to adjust the speed or sound of your voice, speaking more clearly or at a slower pace. You may also have to check more often to see if children understood what you said. Children with visual impairments may use Braille, large print, or oversized picture books. Other children may require the use of assistive technology. This may include communication devices that enable them to explore their surroundings and interact with others.

Keep in mind that children who have difficulties communicating do not necessarily have disabilities or special learning needs. You may need to make accommodations or modifications depending on children’s skills and experiences and what is developmentally appropriate.

As you have been reading throughout this course, it is critical that you get to know the children in your program to be able to support their successful participation in your program experiences. Make sure all children and families feel welcome and involved. The Kids Included Together (KIT) program can be a valuable resource for ideas. You can also consider CARA’s Kit: Creating Adaptations for Routines and Activities. These resources from the Council for Exceptional Children Division for Early Childhood provide practical, real-world ways to help children succeed in their environments. See the References & Resources list (below) for information about these materials.

In addition, consider the following approaches to support and foster communication and language development in all children:

  • Provide a sensory-rich environment filled with verbal interactions, singing, books and simple pictures on the wall
  • Explore with children and talk about what you’re seeing and doing together—for example, look out a window and highlight what you see, play with water together in tubs or the sand and water table, look in a mirror together
  • Take children outdoors for nature walks—talk about where you are going, what you are seeing and hearing; name objects along the way
  • Take time to learn about and respect families’ understanding of and beliefs around communication and language
  • Demonstrate an interest in and curiosity about the environment

Developing Language through Media Literacy

The use of digital technology and non-screen media is quickly becoming an important tool with which we form our personal identities, build relationships, and express our values. Like traditional forms of literacy, media literacy helps children develop new skills and attitudes, expand their creative thinking, and become effective communicators in today’s world. Consider the following actions to promote media literacy skills, knowledge, and habits in children and youth and the experience examples for each age group (Rogow, 2022):

 Media Literacy ActionInfants & ToddlersPreschoolersSchool-Agers
Access:You can support children's ability to locate and use media by...Labeling symbols, colors, and imagesDiscussing common symbols from the media and their meanings (ex: a magnifying glass means “search”)Designating children who are more experienced with technology to teach others and help answer questions.
Comprehend:You can help children understand basic media messages by...Adding books and magazines to the dramatic play areaMaking book selections based on the information on the cover (title, author, illustration, summary)Answering questions with a question in order to teach children how to find answers
Communicate & Create:You can encourage children to express themselves using multiple layers of media by...Watching short video clips on a topic of interest (ex: firefighters preparing to leave the station)Inviting guest speakers via video conferenceInviting guest speakers via video conference
Engage & Explore:You can influence children to use media for purpose and enjoyment by...Identifying connections between pictures in books and tangible objects during read aloudsUsing old technology such as keyboards or digital cameras in dramatic play areasTaking apart broken computers or radios to discover their loose parts
Evaluate:You can teach children to ask if media is the right tool for a task by...Creating guidelines for technology use in the classroom with other adultsDiscussing book preference and choices with childrenEvaluating advertisements (their meaning, feelings toward the message, etc.)
Inquire:You can demonstrate for children how to use questions to analyze media messages by...Providing accurate representation of people, places, and experiencesSharing personal observations and setting aside time during activities for children to ask questionsDiscussing the difference between sources such as the internet versus books


Communication Every Day All Day!

Watch this video to see providers embedding language and communication in daily experiences and routines.


Responsive and engaging environments are characterized by intentional and frequent use of developmentally appropriate interactions and experiences, including opportunities for spoken and written language. In your daily interactions with children, consider the following:

  • Create a visual schedule that highlights your specific daily routines. The routines can be shown through pictures and simple words and displayed at their eye level. You can refer to the picture schedule frequently throughout the day and point to and say the various routine pictures.
  • Be responsive to communication attempts and build and extend on what children are saying.
  • Follow children’s cues, ideas, and preferences.
  • Include new words during your conversations with children.
  • Create opportunities for small groups of children to be near each other or to play together. Encourage them to notice one another during activities by saying, for example, “Carol has the horses and they’re eating food. I think these horses feel very hungry!”
  • Embed language games, songs, and rhymes into daily routines.
  • Ask children questions about their feelings, actions, interests, or life happenings.
  • Read to children frequently. When selecting books and other printed materials, make sure they represent a variety of cultures, languages, abilities, family structures, and life experiences. Children are more likely to engage in conversations when they see themselves and their families in these materials.
  • Offer children opportunities to practice language and literacy skills in the different interest areas. Books, magazines, maps, or other printed materials should be available in every interest area. Consider, for example, providing maps, books or magazines in the block area for children to use while building or constructing or in the dramatic play area for children to engage in imaginative play.
  • Model good communication skills. Take the time to reflect on how and why you communicate, especially within the learning environment.
  • Encourage a love for language as often as possible. Create an environment that is rich in language and literacy.
  • Remember to give children turns to communicate. Oftentimes, adults talk and talk and forget to give children opportunities. It may be hard to stop and wait for children to respond, but doing so promotes communication and conversation skills.


Review the Communication Scenario activity. Read through the scenarios and answer the questions. Think about the unique ways the children in your program are communicating and how you might respond as a provider. Then, share and discuss your responses with a trainer, coach, or family child care administrator.

Having a robust library of children’s books available and including many opportunities to read to young children supports their language and literacy development as well as other areas of development. Providers working toward their CDA credential should use the CDA Children’s Book Bibliography activity to create a list of developmentally appropriate children’s books for their program.  


What are you doing to promote the communication, language, and literacy development of children in your program? In this section, you will find two inventories you can use to examine your current practice.

Click on the following link for an article promoting literacy from the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC):

Next, read and complete the attached document. Then, share and discuss your responses with a trainer, coach, or family child care administrator.


The process of exchanging information


Which of the following can be a tool to help children with special needs understand the program and communicate about their routines?
Which of the following may promote communication for school-age children?
True or false? Communication and language development can be positively influenced by a child’s environment.
References & Resources

Committee on Integrating the Science of Early Childhood Development. (2000). From Neurons to Neighborhoods: The science of early childhood development. Washington, D.C.: National Academies Press.

CARA's KIT: Creating Adaptations for Routines and Activities from Council for Exceptional Children: Division for Early Childhood.

Copp, S. B., Cabell, S. Q., Gabas, C., Slik, D., & Todd, J. (2022). The Rising Star Scaffolding Guide: Supporting Young Children’s Early Spelling Skills. The Reading Teacher, 76(4).

Council for Exceptional Children Division for Early Childhood. (2022).

Girolametto, L., & Weitzman, E. (2002). Responsiveness of Child Care Providers in Interactions with Toddlers and Preschoolers. Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools,33(4):268-281.

Hart, B., & Risley, T. R. (1995). Meaningful Differences in the Everyday Experience of Young American Children. Baltimore: Paul H. Brookes.

Hoff E. (2006). How Social Contexts Support and Shape Language Development. Developmental Review, 26(1):55-88.

Horst, J. S. (2013). Context and Repetition in Word Learning. Frontiers in Psychology. 4:1-11.

Horst J.S., Parsons, K.L. & Bryan, N.M. (2011). Get the Story Straight: Contextual repetition promotes word learning from storybooks. Frontiers in Psychology,2:17.

Huttenlocher, J., Vasilyeva, M., Cymerman, E., & Levine S. (2002). Language Input and Child Syntax. Cognitive Psychology,45(3):337-374.

Kids Included Together (KIT). (2022).

Lewis, V., Boucher, J., Lupton, L., & Watson, S. (2000). Relationships Between Symbolic Play, Functional Play, Verbal and Non-Verbal Ability in Young Children. International Journal of Language and Communication Disorders,35(1):117-127.

Mol, S.E., Bus, A.G., & De Jong, M.T. (2009). Interactive Book Reading in Early Education: A tool to stimulate print knowledge as well as oral language. Review of Educational Research,79(2):979-1007.

NICHD Early Child Care Research Network. (2000). The relation of child care to cognitive and language development. Child Development,71(4):960-980.

Piasta, S., Justice, L., Cabell, S., Wiggins, A., Turnbull, K., & Curenton, S. (2012). Impact of Professional Development on Preschool Teachers’ Conversational Responsivity and Children’s Linguistic Productivity and Complexity. Early Childhood Research Quarterly,27(3):387-400.

Yu, C., & Smith, L. (2012). Embodied Attention and Word Learning by Toddlers. Cognition, 125(2):244- 262.