Babies and toddlers are like little sponges soaking up sounds and speech. Before the age of three, there appear to be times where exposure to language and sound is received more readily by the brain. It’s so important to make sure these periods are filled with friendly talk and interesting noises. If they aren’t, a baby’s language development could be delayed.
Babies thrive on communication from their first cry through to smiling and other facial expressions, kicking and waving, cooing, gurgling, babbling and pointing. It’s good to get close to little ones, let them see your face, down at their level – even lying on the ground.
When you tell them what’s going on and what you notice about them, they do listen and take it all in. They love your sing song voice, your songs and rhymes and playing peek-a-boo. Leave little spaces in your talk for the baby to join in or start the conversation. Ask them questions, tell them what you see. You may get a gurgle for an answer. Look at books together.
By their first birthday, babies will usually recognise a few words, babble strings of sounds and turn to look when they hear their name called. This is the time for action songs, waving as you say ‘bye bye’ and working hard to interpret what children want when they point and make noises. Babies learn language through play, interaction and repetition, so anything to support this works well such as ‘ready, steady, go’, with balls and ‘all fall down’ with brick towers.
Babies love treasure baskets, full of things they can explore and tell you about – let them show you what can be done and talk to them about what they are doing.
By 18 months, babies will usually be talking – perhaps 20 words or short phrases. These are usually the things they hear a lot such as ‘milk’, ‘doggy’, ‘more’, ‘no’ or ‘coat on’. Pat-a-cake is a good game to play, as well as pretending to talk on a phone. Telling them what an object is when they point to it, for example, ‘banana’ can help, as can repeating a word when they try to say something, so they can hear its name clearly.
One-year-olds enjoy sharing books and talking about the pictures in short sentences and spending time outside, talking, listening and exploring. By two years, toddlers will usually use over 50 single words like ‘juice’, ‘car’, ‘biscuit’ and be starting to put short sentences together with two to three words, such as “more juice” or “bye-bye daddy”. They will ask simple questions such as “what that?”, “who that?” and understand as many as 500 words as well as instructions like “go and get your coat”.
Two-year-olds like to feed their dollies or pretend to drive a car, usually making noises and talking while playing. It’s really frustrating for them when they cannot get their message across. Interactive books with flaps and different textures are great at this age as well as remembering to let toddlers initiate conversations. Repeating and expanding on what children say is helpful. If a child says “car” you can say “mummy’s car” or “blue car”. This shows them how words can be put together.
Sounds in baby and toddler rooms at nurseries should be carefully considered. They are usually vibrant busy places with a range of background noises but children also need time and quiet to build their listening and concentration. Remember, too, that our spoken language makes up approximately 10% of our communication and the other 90% is done through our body language – don’t slump with a sad face!
Finally, think about how you give a voice to children who’ve yet to say their first word. How about an activity book with photos of all your resources so children can point to the ones they want to play with or take outdoors? You could use props during song time so children can choose the prop for the song they wish to sing.
Try compiling photographs of children and staff so they can pick out who they are going to play with, sit next to or share a story with. And don’t forget to observe non-verbal children closely so you can pick up on signs or signals they use to tell you what they want and need.
Thank you to NDNA for this inspiring blog post, it is a summarised extract from NDNA’s publication, Brilliant Babies. Available here or to view the rest of NDNA’s publications visit www.ndna.org.uk/shop