Language Activities for Infants and Toddlers – Nomenclature Basket

Maria Montessori observed that children are in the sensitive period for language from birth to age 6.  This means that they are innately interested in hearing new words and trying them out for themselves.  For young toddlers, like L, they are absorbing new words like a sponge.  At first, they may only demonstrate receptive language — they understand what you are saying to them, but do not respond with words.  As they grow into older toddlers, they begin demonstrating expressive language — they can tell you what they want and use words by themselves.

Beginning at birth, you can help satisfy your child’s yearning for language by talking to her all the time.  Tell her what you’re looking for as you’re walking through a store.  Point out new objects and tell her their names.  We always use real words with young children — for example, in our house we say “dog” instead of “doggy,” “toilet” instead of “potty,” “water” instead of “wa-wa” — because children want to talk the way we do.  You would look pretty silly if you said, “Hey, honey-bunny, does Katey-watey want a little wa-wa?” to another adult.
One of the first language works on the shelf in a Montessori classroom is a nomenclature basket, like this one I made for L.
This basket simply consists of a group of objects (usually of the same type:  animals, vegetables, utensils, etc  like these) for naming.  In the classroom, we present the “Three Period Lesson.”  In the first period, we say, “This is a       (horse)     “.  That’s it.  This period can last a long time for the child demonstrating only receptive language.  In the second period, we say, “Where is the      (horse)     ?”  and the child points to the horse.  This period also lasts a long time, and you can do many variations:  “Put the horse on your head.”  “Bring me the horse.” “Put the horse in the bucket.”  Once your child can correctly do the action you are suggesting to the correct object, she has mastered the second period.  At 16 months, this is the stage L is in currently.  In the third period, we say, “What is this?”  and the child names the object.  This period bridges the gap from receptive language to expressive language.  L is able to do this with a few objects, but definitely not all of them yet.
Once the nomenclature basket is mastered, change the objects!  L is always excited to find new things in her basket, and she brings each object to me excitedly to hear its name.  The next step is a matching work, using a basket full of pairs of objects — more on that later!
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