A study from the University of Washington’s Institute for Learning & Brain Sciences (I-LABS) in Seattle said that babies as young as seven months old are mentally working out the mechanics of how to form words with their mouths; the New York Times ran an article emphasizing the importance of the quality of words spoken to children, beyond just the quantity of words. And, NPR’s Science Friday interviewed Fred Genesee of McGill University in Montreal, about his study that suggested that “early impressions of language are much more durable than scientists predicted.”
And while the NY Times story looked at the implications of social-economic factors, and Genesee was studying international adoptees…both articles point in the same direction. “Words you hear as infant, even in womb, can stick with us until we’re adults, even if we can’t recall them,” says Genesee.
For Marlies Gramann, Speech-Language Pathologist and Senior Director of JCFS Chicago's Integrated Pediatric Therapies, that means “talk, talk, talk to your child!” IPT works with children from birth to tween years to provide speech, occupational and developmental therapies for early child development and children with developmental differences. “Never underestimate the growth of your toddler's comprehension,” says Gramann,” even if you don't hear him/her use the words you are saying.”
Here are five ideas from Gramann to make it easy to talk to your child throughout the day, to support their early language development.
- Even before your baby can form words, answer your baby's "sounds" and babbling as if they were words; as you respond and mirror them, this back-and-forth interchange is positively reinforced, and can grow into the idea of give and take in conversation.
- When helping your toddler or preschooler's articulation, put peanut butter in their mouth (if he's not allergic—in which case soy nut butter is a good substitution) in the spot where the tongue touches the roof of the mouth. For example just behind the front teeth for a d or t sound.
- Repeat words, or give details, "your red sweater is so pretty. Your sweater is red just like the apples on the counter."
- Add to your child’s comments. If he says "dog", you can add to this with; "yes, that's right, a big brown dog who is catching a ball.”
- Play “Simon Says.” It’s a great game for building comprehension; toddlers and preschoolers need to build their ability to follow 1, then 2, then 3-step directions. "Simon Says, throw the ball to me and then pick up the doll.”
Gramann says the use of language can only help. “Say out loud what you are doing, describe things around you and don’t be afraid to use big words, All of this helps to build vocabulary in your child.”
Photo credit: toddlerparentingadvice.com