Focus on the Baby Room by Catherine Jackson

17th August 2017

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These 7 strategies will Encourage Language Even Before They Can Talk

If you think that you don’t have to concern yourself with language development until the 3-5 year olds’ room, think again. The four cornerstones of language development must be in place before any words will come, which means it’s never too early to have a Communication Plan for a child.

Last year I trained Early Years Practitioners to support and identify language difficulties. Initially, pre-schools only sent staff from the 3-5 room; gradually, the two-year-old room staff began to attend. But it was only when the baby room staff began to attend that I felt really happy. After all, language and communication begins before birth and babies develop important skills for language development well before the first words come.

Interestingly, staff in the baby room was completely on the ball about which children they had concerns. Yet all the advice suggests that the babies are too young to be worrying about language: even 2:0 is a little young to be worrying about language development, as children all develop at different rates… yadda yadda yadda.

But let me repeat: Baby room staff know when there is an issue – they can tell if a baby is communicative or not even before the words come. Yet, they’re being told: wait until they are 3:0 years old. Wait until it’s really obvious there is a communication problem before you do anything. Even though we know early intervention is best practice.

So, thank you baby room staff, for recognising when something is not quite right. Now, let’s do something about it!

Here are 7 simple strategies on how to encourage language development even before the words arrive:

  • Ditch the dummy

Dummies have their uses for soothing and for sleep, but unless they are sleeping or need soothed, babies don’t need dummies. In fact it’s probably easier for you to wean a child off its habit of using a dummy for sleep than for the sleep-deprived parents so, if possible, ditch the dummy altogether by six months.

  • Encourage the Babble

Now that the dummy has gone, encourage that wonderful babble by repeating it all back to your baby. If they are silent because of an over-reliance of the dummy at home, demonstrate babbling “bub bub bub” for bubbles. “mmmm” when eating food. “Up up up” when picking them up.

  • Get the idea of turn-taking going

Imitate what they do non-verbally –– whether it’s ‘pat pat’ on the table or rolling a ball to and fro, when they get the idea of ‘my turn your turn’ this will translate into verbal conversation later.

  • Encourage Eye Contact

Be at their level (that might mean lying on your belly so you’re face-to-face or bringing them up to your level by sitting them in a highchair.) Play peekaboo, pull silly faces, bring toys up your face; basically anything to get that connection. Babies are not getting the eye contact they need due to parents being on their phones yet it’s crucial for effective communication.

  • Use repetitive language emphasising the key words

“Shall we change your nappy? Where is your nappy? Here’s a clean nappy.” That way babies make the connection between that clean (or smelly) white thing on their bum and the word “nappy.”

  • Support what you’re saying visually.

Use gestures, signs, intonation – basically anything that gets you connected.

  • Wait for them to respond

If they knock a cup over, wait to see their response – they’ll look at the cup, look back at you and then you give them the word “uh oh.” If you blow bubbles, again wait for them to respond or do something first, then give them the word “bubbles.” Yes, babies need to hear language but they need to get a word (or a smile, a gesture, a look) in edgeways too!

By using these strategies, you are beginning to build the foundation cornerstones for language: Attention, Eye Contact, Turn-taking and Babble, after which… verbal language will follow.

Do you have a baby about whom you are concerned? Decide with your colleagues which strategies you are going to implement and then keep a record (sign up here to get your free pdf of a Baby Communication Plan) Connect with my community on Facebook and let us know which tips work best!

And if you’re heading to the Midland’s Childcare Expo in September be sure to sign up for my seminar on supporting language development – it’s not just for the 3-5 years room staff!

To pick up weekly tips to support speech, language and communication from Catherine, click here.

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