I still vividly remember the first time my newborn mimicked my facial expression. I was sticking my tongue out at her just to see if she would do the same…and she did! Just days old and she was already “communicating” with me. It was at that point that I was sure that one: my child was a genius and two: it was also at that time that I realized that she was a little sponge taking in the world around her.
Being an avid reader I would sit with her and read my books aloud to her just so that she could hear the words. I always talked her though the world and read up on new techniques of teaching babies to interact with the world around them. I taught her to sign, since babies can mimic sign generally before they develop speech. This helped her, I believe, to become a calmer baby because she could better interact with the world around her. Another thing that I noticed was that the interaction and repetition of the signing helped to reinforce the words and they quickly became part of her initial core vocabulary, words such as; more, light, apple, cheerio, mother, father, and work.
Being a working mother I had to send her to infant daycare, a decision I did not take lightly. I chose the daycare centers that I wanted her to attend before she was born. Unfortunately, the daycare that I wanted her to attend would not take her until she was one year old. For the first year of her life she was in a very institutional setting. The daycare center separated the children by age, which was not at all my preference. I was the only mother that would visit her child at lunchtime. I would read to her, sing to her, and play basic games with her so that she would have some language interaction beyond that of the daycare staff.
Her real language development started the exact day I switched her to the daycare I originally wanted her in. I chose the daycare because it was small, in a house setting, state run, and children of various age groups were not segmented by age, they all interacted together in a much less institutional setting. I am a huge advocate for letting children of various age groups interact with one another, because this is how the real world operates and it challenges them to want to develop. The very first day she came home from the new daycare she was “talking” more (be it baby garble, she was focused on her voice and being heard.) She also used her hands to express herself beyond the basic baby signs I had taught her. She wanted to be one of the big kids; her world grew far beyond the infant room to a world of social hierarchy. Another thing I found interesting about this interaction was that she was learning the good with the bad (again just like real life.) Suddenly the world wasn’t about Dora, Barney, Plush toys, and rattles. Her world opened up to a realm of monkey bars, table manners, and creative negotiating techniques. She became a very imaginative and interesting child and I worked to develop these traits by reading to her and working on art with her. I think the mix of the two both helped her creativity blossom while hard coding complex language skills in a fun way. I recommend tactile books for toddlers so that they can feel what different textures mean giving a tangible association between the work, developing a memory that can be accessed by a picture, feeling, and a word; rough, crinkly, soft, sticky.
Other books that I found essential in her language development skills were rhyming books, such as Dr. Seuss. Her favorite was The Pale Green Pants and (I kid you not) she could recite it verbatim before she could even read. In fact, I read to her so much that I almost believed that she recognized the words. Case in point, she loved superheroes and when Iron Man came out, she was all about Iron Man…but she pronounced it as it was written phonetically leading me to believe that she was recognizing letter sounds and associating them to words long before she was truly taught the sounds of each individual letter. People would always marvel at how articulate she was for her age which I can attribute to many of the above factors in her learning development. Being an only child she also had a lot of adult interaction, probably more than the average child. This is where I stress the importance of not shielding children too much, don’t talk down to a child or dumb down language for them. While kids are cute, I strongly believe that baby talk stunts their learning and cognitive development. Talk to your child like an adult and respectfully listen to them because this is the foundation and precedence you are setting for them as they move into adulthood. My daughter is now an active ten year old and I would have to say that learning and growth is a continual life process, but the foundations are set in early life so it’s so very important to communicate with your babies and to combine that communication with different experiences. Along with the rhythm of speech early on it’s important for babies to associate words with actions, emotions, taste, and physical sensations in order for them to truly grasp the concepts of the words they are learning. Allow them to be creative, learning isn’t black and white and it certainly isn’t only two dimensional. Don’t institutionalize your baby at a young age, let them interact with children of different age groups. Read to your child, and as they get older let them read to you! Finally, don’t talk down to your children or dumb down your vocabulary so that it’s at “their level.” Doing so only serves as a disservice to them.
- More talking, longer sentences help babies’ brains develop language skills (triblive.com)
- Talking to babies more helps their brains, study finds (ctvnews.ca)