The thrill of a baby’s first real smile and the joy parents experience when they hear the first coos and gurgles is hard to top.
Babies begin communicating to get attention from their parents (usually by crying!) but also to understand how this big new world in which they’ve arrived works. Parents facilitate this learning—here’s how to support your baby’s language development.
Simulate conversation with your baby by responding when they make sounds. Most babies will catch on to the game quickly, and they may gurgle and laugh. If your baby makes a “raspberry,” make one back. This introduces the concept of the back-and-forth of conversation.
Describe your day to your baby. Just continuously talking will help your baby begin to learn words and understand the concept of spoken language as communicating information.
As you move through you day, talk about what you’re doing and why. “Let’s go pay some bills” or “Mom is going to work on her computer now!” are perfectly fine. It doesn’t matter if you’re describing routine activities: you’re still exposing your baby to language.
Treat Gestures as Communication
Some babies will make meaningful gestures before they’re able to form the words that go with them.
If your baby points at you, point at yourself and say “Mama.” If your baby waves, wave back and say “hello” or “bye-bye.” When your child points at an object, say the name of the thing: “Here’s the cup!” or “Do you want the rattle?” These responses will help your baby develop language that goes with gestures.
Read and Tell Stories
Start with simple cloth books with vivid pictures, and just say the names of the objects or animals shown. You’ll be introducing your baby to the joy and importance of reading. When your baby is able to, let them turn the pages.
You can later move up to “my first dictionary” kinds of books and books with pictures of things your baby enjoys, such as animals, toys, colors, and numbers.
Telling stories is a wonderful way to connect with your baby while encouraging their interest in language. Tell stories you can act out, making big facial expressions, sounds, and gestures. Repetitive stories that circle back to the same idea, such as Goldilocks and the Three Bears, encourage your child to appreciate the rhythm of language.
The same is true of songs and poems that provide aural stimulation and a sense of the nonverbal aspects of communication: rhymes, melodies, and variations in pitch and volume are all parts of understanding the power of language.