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Supporting the Communication of Infants and Toddlers: Environments and Experiences

It is important to provide a variety of experiences to support infants' and toddlers' communication and language skills. This lesson describes how you can create language- and communication-rich environments, including engaging interactions and experiences.

  • List examples of ways you can support infants’ and toddlers’ communication and language development.
  • Explore resources that provide information on supporting the language and communication development of infants and toddlers in your care.
  • Discuss how you can support the language and communication skills of infants and toddlers 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 an infant and toddler caregiver, you play an important role in each infant’s and toddler’s communication and language development. The environment makes a difference in how they develop and learn new skills and depends in large part on the caregiver creating responsive, engaging learning opportunities within the environment.

Reflecting on Communication and Language Learning

Knowing that your environment contributes greatly to infant and toddler learning, one of your starting points can be to reflect on the language and communication development of the infants and toddlers in your care. You can start with your observations, communication with families, the developmental screening and assessment information you collect, and questions about each infant’s and toddler’s development and the interests and discoveries they are making. For example:

  • What sounds is each infant using?
  • What languages is the infant or toddler learning at home? To which language is the infant or toddler most responsive?
  • Are there words or phrases that the infant or toddler is learning at home that are different from communications with the caregiver?
  • How does each infant or toddler communicate that he or she is hungry, tired, bored or ready for play?
  • How is each infant or toddler enhancing in language and communication development?
  • How does each infant or toddler communicate with peers? Adults?
  • How does each infant or toddler respond to books? Being read to? Being shown pictures?
  • What types of books is each family reading to their infant or toddler?
  • 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 infant or toddler in your care develops language and communication skills while considering other areas of development, culture, and temperament. This process can help you and families gather information and work together to support the development of language skills for infants and toddlers. It will also assist with your planning of responsive environments to foster communication growth.

Supporting Communication for Infants and Toddlers

As an infant and toddler caregiver, you also become an infant’s and toddler’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 infants and toddlers in responsive and meaningful ways throughout the day. Take a moment to think about the responsive care you provide and the ways it affects infants’ and toddlers’ language and communication development.

The handout, More Than Baby Talk, outlines ten practices that support language and communication skills of infants and toddlers. The table below highlights the practices that are presented and defined within the handout. In addition, you will find the research evidence that supports the use of each practice along with strategies and ideas for using the practice with infants and toddlers.



Get Chatty

Engaging in conversations with infants and toddlers

Be a Commentator

Giving descriptions of objects, activities or events

Mix It Up

Using different types of words and grammar

Label It

Providing infants and toddlers with the names of objects or actions

Tune In

Engaging in activities or objects that interest infants and toddlers

Read Interactively

Using books to engage infants’ and toddlers’ participation, point to and talk about the illustrations

Read it Again & Again & Again!

Reading the same books multiple times

Props, Please!

Introducing objects that spark conversations

Make Music

Engaging in musical activities

Sign It

Using gestures or simple signs with words

After reading the handout, it’s likely you continued to think about the developmental possibilities in communication and language for infants and toddlers. Each infant and toddler develops at his or her own rate, and within a language-rich, responsive environment, the possibilities are endless!

Some infants and toddlers 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 have a specific plan to help them meet their personal goals, and very often these infants and toddlers will need changes or adaptations to daily routines, their care environment, and curriculum. The Kids Included Together (KIT) program can be a valuable resource for ideas.

Below is additional information to consider as you continue to plan for responsive and engaging interactions, environments and experiences that support the infants and toddlers in your care.

What I Know About Their Development

Young Infant (Birth to 9 months)

Young Infant (Birth to 9 months):

What I Know About Their Development

  • They notice different sounds.
  • They coo and make sounds.
  • They babble around 9 months.
  • They look at pictures in books and listen to the adult's voice as they read.
  • They enjoy touching pages of a book; may want to chew on books.
  • They enjoy listening to music and adults signing songs.

Young Infants with Disabilities

  • Read out loud to infants and monitor your pace and tone - consider lying on a quilt next to them on the floor and hold the book so they can see it (consider larger books with pictures for an infant with a visual impairment).
  • Encourage and offer opportunity for infants to touch the pages and photos within cardboard and cloth books.
  • Use sign language with infants who may have delays or when called for within their Individual Family Service Plans. (IFSP)

Cultural Considerations

  • Ask families about a special book or song that is in their home language - invite the family to share with all infants in your care setting.
  • While rocking an infant and preparing for naptime, sing their special song from their culture.
  • Learn words and names for familiar objects in the infant's home language.
  • Record a family member reading a book in their home language - play it as you look at the book with an infant.

Additional Strategies: Responsive Environments and Experiences

  • Point to objects as you name them.
  • Listen for and list all of the different sounds you hear infants using - invite parents to add to the posted list with the sounds they are hearing at home.
  • Encourage peer babbling by placing infants safely near one another.
  • Display books in all areas of the room, including by the door for families to use during hellos and goodbyes.
  • Display or create small photo albums that include photos of each infant's family, you, peers, and familiar objects.
  • Sing lullabies to infants as you rock them to sleep.

In addition, consider the following approaches to supporting and fostering communication and language development in infants and toddlers:

  • Provide a sensory-rich environment filled with verbal interactions, singing, books and simple pictures on the wall
  • Create opportunities within the environment for infants and toddlers to observe one another and interact
  • Explore with infants and toddlers 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/water table, look in a mirror together
  • Take infants and toddlers 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 (Rogow, 2022):

Media Literacy Action

Experience Example

Access: You can support children's ability to locate and use media by...

Labeling symbols, colors, and images

Comprehend: You can help children understand basic media messages by...

Adding books and magazines to the dramatic play area

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)

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 alouds

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 adults

Inquire: You can demonstrate for children how to use questions to analyze media messages by…

Providing accurate representation of people, places, and experiences

Communication and language development at all stages is a complex process and involves other areas of development, such as cognitive skills, and is enhanced by input from the environment (family, caregivers, peers, experiences, activities, etc.). Communication and language help us think, learn, problem-solve, remember and understand what we experience. Next, watch the following video about experiencing communication through book reading.


Experiencing Communication: Book Reading

Watch this video to see infant and toddler teachers foster communication and language development through book reading experiences


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 infants and toddlers, consider the following:

  • Be responsive to communication attempts and build and extend on what infants and toddlers are saying.
  • Follow infants’ and toddlers’ cues and preferences.
  • Include new words during your conversations with infants and toddlers.
  • Add songs and fingerplays into daily routines.
  • Read to infants and toddlers daily. Select and display books and other printed materials that represent a variety of cultures, languages, abilities, family structures, and life experiences.
  • Create opportunities for small groups of infants and toddlers 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!”
  • 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 the various routine pictures.


Review the Communication Scenario activity. Read through the scenarios and answer the questions. Think about the unique ways the infants and toddlers are communicating and how you might respond as an infant and toddler caregiver. Then, share and discuss your responses with a trainer, coach, or administrator.


Download and print the handout, More Than Baby Talk, from the Learn Section. Choose one of the strategies highlighted within the article to try with the infants or toddlers in your care. Then, complete the Supporting Infant Toddler Communication Development activity.  Observe and think about how you might respond as an infant and toddler caregiver to support their communication development. Then, share and discuss your responses with a colleague, trainer, coach, or administrator.


The process of exchanging information


Which of the following are questions you might ask a newly-enrolled family about their infant’s or toddler’s communication?
A parent is concerned about her toddler’s communication. She asks you what some possible “red flags” might be. What do you say?
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.

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: P. 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.

Rogow, F. (2022). Start with wonder, then add inquiry: Developing young children’s media literacy. The National Association for the Education of Young Children.

Yu, C., & Smith, L. (2012). Embodied attention and word learning by toddlers. Cognition. 125(2):244- 262.