Baby development expert Gill Connell explains how to get your child talking about and understanding the world around them.
I often hear parents chattering about how proud they are of their little ones’ new learnings and the rate at which they absorb new things. Of course, in the early years everything in their world is new and our babies are hard at work, busily making sense of it – gathering data, analysing and comparing what they have learned. As well as learning new things, babies spend their day trying to figure out how to communicate what they are seeing, hearing, feeling, touching and tasting. Communication is the key that transforms their individual life experience into a shared learning experience. Your baby loves to show you what he is doing, what he has found. All communication is a two-way street and your role is imperative. You are the key to helping him understand and make himself understood.
A recent study from the University of Kansas looked at the effect of daily exposure to real words and real talking on a young child’s eventual academic success. They found that not only quality, but the quantity of words spoken, makes a difference. The study showed a direct link between a child’s academic performance and the number of words spoken in their home, from birth to age three. In fact, they estimate a young child needs to be exposed to 30,000 words per day.
Here are some ideas to help you lift your quota!
- Turn off the TV and any screen that is on when your child is up and about. Research tells us that children learn language and vocabulary from you – not screens! A screen is a distraction.
- Repetition is the key. At first, words are just a noise to baby. But when he hears the same words over and over he eventually figures out that the noise has meaning.
- Face to face is important. He watches your mouth and tries to mimic the shapes your mouth makes.
- Chatter about the day. Even if you don’t get a response, talk to your little one. Ask him how his day is going. Did he enjoy his lunch? Tell him about the weather outside.
- Use your words. Narrate his everyday experiences. Give him labels for people, places and things. This can happen at any time or anywhere: while doing chores or on a trip to the zoo.
- Try to talk in sentences and not in words. Use ‘nutritious’ words to describe his world. Aren’t the colours of the flowers brilliant. That raspberry tastes a little sour. The more you use descriptive words, the better the picture of his world.
- Meaning is learned when he hears words in context.
- Sing simple songs and rhymes as they offer great opportunities for expanding your
- little one’s verbal reach. The rhythmic patterns support his emerging sense of language while giving him new words and sounds to play with.
- Use correct grammar and pronunciation. Your child won’t know the difference but will imitate you.
- Use gestures while you talk. This may give him important cues to communicate with you physically before he can actually verbalize what he wants. e.g. raise your hand if you want him to stop.
- Read many different things. Remember, hearing words is the key. Read the newspaper, a magazine, his books, the power bill.
- Be inventive. He is learning that not only are you saying words, those squiggles on the page actually mean something!
- Remember: Language + Experience = Understanding (Connell/McCarthy, A Moving Child Is A Learning Child). To fully understand words, your little one needs to hear them in context. Hearing the word while he sees the real object helps him make sense of it.
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