Toddlers Language Development
My 13-year-old niece visited us the other day. While my 17-month-old daughter and my niece were playing, my daughter handed out a few pieces of wooden strips to me and said, “This for you Amma”; she pulled out a few more and gave it to my niece saying “For Akka!”
Communicating with my toddler has become quite easy and these past couple of weeks there has been a huge explosion in my daughter’s speech. From making sounds to attempting to say the word to saying the word to saying two-word phrases and to making a sentence, we have come a long way! Of course, the syntax is still not in place, but it will happen in due time.
From birth to six years of age, children are at a wonderful phase where their learning is effortless, provided they have been consistently exposed to rich language. Those who are aware of the Montessori philosophy would be aware of the phrase “The power of the absorbent mind!”. During the first six years of a child’s life their brain is like a sponge, simply soaking in everything that is around them, be it good or bad, direct or indirect, they are constantly processing, learning and adapting to the ways of life around them.
Life is unpredictable and each child is different from the other; there are children who walk or talk sooner, there are those who hit the milestones at the right benchmark and there are those who get to it later. Irrespective of the timeline and different abilities, what matters the most is the acceptance the child receives from the family for the way s(he) is today.
However, being aware of the child’s absorbent mind, it is wonderful if we, as a family, make an effort to help the child by being a ‘prepared adult’ in her/his developmental journey. To be honest, it is not hard but quite enjoyable and effortless once it comes naturally to you. All we need to do is simply expose, involve, read and describe!
If it is of any help, here is an overview of my daughter’s language learning journey:
When our daughter was still in utero, my husband and I made an effort to speak, sing and read to her. When my sister was expecting, I used to sing and read books to her pregnant belly quite often. Surprisingly, for someone who is fond of children, books and singing, I found it quite challenging to do all of them regularly for my baby. My husband made up for it and believe it or not, it does wonders. However, there was one song that I sang to my child repeatedly throughout my pregnancy. Once she popped out, I sang the same song to her often and I definitely felt that there was a familiarity for her seeing her reaction.
First off, it’s never too early to introduce children to books. Having said that, we introduced a few high-contrast books to our daughter when she was only three days old. I still remember the day we shown her the first book. We were still in the hospital, it was 6:30 in the evening and she was done with her feed and was up crying; my husband gently placed her on the toppocino (a baby-sized mattress that helps them transition from womb to world) and placed the high-contrast book, that we had purchased, in front of her, just a couple of inches from her face. As her gaze turned towards the book, she stopped crying immediately. She was engaged with the book for a couple of minutes as my husband and I were standing beside her and soaking it all in, simply mesmerized! Ever since then, there has been no turning back for us.
Month on month, the way we introduced books and the way she interacted with them evolved. When she was still in the supine position, we would lie next to her and read. When she could hold her head still, we had her in our laps, for short periods, to read to her. When she could roll over or crawl, we read to her while she was in that position. When she started to sit, we had her sit beside us while reading. Now at 17 months of age, she likes to sit by herself and explore the books at her book corner.
Music and Singing
For most parents, singing comes naturally. From the time they are born, singing to an infant is such a wonderful way to bond! They can relate to a song that you have been singing while they were still in your womb! When I was pregnant, I read, in a Montessori guide’s blog, about singing a few same songs to your baby often, till they are three months old. Just around the time they are three months old, they begin to recognize the song and turn towards you whenever you sing it! I tried it with my daughter, and it worked! I can’t express my joy at seeing her reaction.
During the initial months, while I was nursing my baby, I found it very convenient to reach for my phone. Since the baby sleeps for most part of the day, knowing the importance of skin-to-skin contact and the short bonding window that I had, I used the time to sing to my baby. However, when she dozed off and was nursing for long stretches, I would have a book or my phone in hand, to kill time and forget the back pain! Today, she hums and tries to sing all the songs that we have been singing to her repeatedly, since birth.
When I say music, it’s purely about listening music sans the video. Of course, we have our Bollywood and regional songs to listen to but listening to the classics is a wonderful way to not only acquire language, but also a beautiful way to understand the rhythm and notes in music. During the initial months, I used to play Western and Indian classical music to my daughter at a low volume, and as the days went by, we explored more genres and music in other languages (even Mongolian, why not?). Today she loves to hum, sing and move to the rhythm of any music we listen to.
Naming and Describing
How often are we guilty of replacing names of things with “it”? Keeping that in mind, when do we feel that it is the right time to start naming and describing to world around us to our child? Truth be told, it can be from day one! “Oh look, you have soiled your diaper, let’s clean you up.” “Let’s unfasten the buttons of your diaper, now I am taking a wet wipe to clean you up.” “Let’s put the dirty wipe in the dustbin, the soiled diaper and clothes in the laundry basket and let us go to the bathroom and wash ourselves up” and so on and so forth.
I believe that naming and describing our emotions and our experiences to our children, is like having a conversation. We are communicating our thoughts through speech and in doing so we are respecting them as intelligent beings and enriching their language learning abilities, being a rich, warm and loving source of knowledge.
I’ve often come across people who didn’t know what aspects to name or describe to their children. Well, it’s quite simple, every action can be described using precise words of the objects and actions used. Another thing that I loved doing with my daughter, during the initial months, was to sit in a park or garden and describe all that was happening around us. The animals, birds, insects, people, sounds etc. It helps the child to comprehend when we make an effort to speak slowly and clearly.
Having considered all the above things, I can’t stress enough on the usage of precise / exact language with children. They are so cute! and more often than not, without our knowledge, we kind of tend to modulate our tone in a sweet, childish way while speaking to them. And it doesn’t stop there as we take it further and use baby words! “Can you see the doggy?” “Do you want some bikkie?” “Look at the froggy leaping!”
Learning language comes naturally to a child. Their hormic need to develop themselves by absorbing everything in their environment includes language and during the first three years of life, they are unconsciously soaking in all the distinct words and sounds in their environment and thereby forming the different patterns of speech in a language. The usage of precise language binds the child’s experience together and later on, helps her/him to express themselves articulately.
A repetitive exposure to language in the above ways, creates sensorial impressions for the child and lays a strong foundation for writing and reading later on. So, if you haven’t already started, it’s never too late to start reading, singing and conversing with your child. For some of us, it comes naturally, for others it takes time, but the effort surely pays off in the end.