Communication develops long before your child starts to talk. From before birth and beyond your baby is continuously learning language skills from interaction and playing with you! The early bonding and interaction you have with your child is essential to build the foundations for communication and learning.
The following pre-language activities can lend a hand and support your child’s language development skills. These skills are crucial as they help your child’s core speech, language and communication skills before talking.
CHILD LANGUAGE DEVELOPMENT SKILLS
ATTENTION, LISTENING & FOCUS
➢ For a child to listen and learn they need to be able to focus on something (e.g. your face 1st then an object/toy…).
➢ First a baby will look at the face of their parent/carer. Then they will show interest in a toy. This develops as they become more aware of sound and can turn to a sound source, then to a variety of sounds.
➢ Children learn by copying.
➢ A baby will copy and return a smile. Later s/he will copy a cough and then imitate clapping or nodding. In early conversation, a child will then copy adult talking by intonation and babbling.
➢ To learn to talk/say words children need to learn to copy adult models.
➢ Is the beginning of early conversation, where a child learns to wait, listen and respond to the other person. Your child will learn this in play and interaction with you.
➢ In play, a child will bang blocks together or roll a ball back and forth. They will join in social interaction by waving goodbye and take turns in conversation by babbling.
KNOWLEDGE OF OBJECTS
➢ Your child needs to learn that something still exists even when he/she can’t see it. This is ‘object permanence’.
➢ This skill begins around 6 months of age. For example, they enjoy dropping toys and looking for it (normally expecting you to pick it up!!) or playing peek-a-boo.
➢ A child will learn that there is more than the “here-and-now” or what they see in front of them. They will develop knowledge that things exist and remember them.
➢ In order for a child to learn a word they need to know that object exists.
CAUSE & EFFECT
➢ Children need to learn that there is a relationship between events.
➢ This begins as a child learns to anticipate that something will happen by associating it with an object or action. For example, an infant will anticipate mealtime when their bib is put on, or when they make a raspberry sound this will make the adult laugh and talk to them.
➢ This helps a child understand the world and how they can get things done.
➢ It is important for children to learn that when they communicate, their needs are met.
➢ A child explores and learns about the world through play.
➢ Children use their senses to learn (e.g. touch, taste, smell, sight).
➢ Early on a child will explore through mouthing, looking and feeling.
➢ Next, they learn they can do something with the toy (e.g. banging, shaking it). They learn this from you…by modelling.
➢ Children learn to understand that toys are a representation of the ‘real thing.’ They show this by using toys to ‘act out’ everyday experiences. For example, in the 1st 2 years, a child can do this by brushing the hair of a doll, or feeding a teddy.
➢ Later on Children will learn that words are more complex ways of representing ‘real life.’
CHILD LANGUAGE DEVELOPMENT: ACTIVE COMMUNICATION
➢ A child needs a reason to communicate. If they are motivated then they will let you know. Children need opportunities and time to communicate whether they are monolingual or bilingual language learners.
This happens when….
➢ Children are able to make choices. For example, a child will show they prefer a toy by: looking at the object, moving towards the object they want, pointing, pushing away the object or vocalising for something or someone.
➢ Indicate yes or no: They can communicate acceptance or rejection of something. For example, as an infant by closing their mouth and turning their head from food, by smiling or grizzling and then they might shake their head for “no”.
These skills are very important to enable your child to learn to speak and interact. Your child will learn to use these skills with you, their siblings, extended family, at baby groups, in Nursery, whilst shopping in the supermarket, at the park, and on the bus …everywhere. A referral to speech and language therapy maybe beneficial, if the child is not able to carryout the above activities.
Adapted from Pre-language Skills (Younger & Tuesner) for further articles on strategies to use with children at home or in school to support child language development see articles.