“During his first year, before communication with words is possible, a baby’s only hope of summoning help is to let out a piecing cry. Cry is an ancient alarm call that humans share with many other animals, and it produces a powerful parental response. Amazing baby, Desmond Morris, page, 107
Before babies are able to produce meaningful words they produce different sounds (speech) and find different ways to communicate their needs, wants and feelings. They communicate through crying, bubbling, smiling or body language (movement), etc. F was very determined to communicate from day one and didn’t stop until her needs were met. When she was born she let us know (as every new born does) with different types of cries that she was uncomfortable, overwhelmed, tired, bored, frustrated, lonely and hungry. It took me a long time to identify all the different types of cries, but now I am able to identify when she is in pain, hungry, frustrated, tired, etc. through the different sounds that she emits.
Language as well as movement is a crucial milestone in a baby’s development. It is important to talk to our babies in a respectful, rich, and clear way in order to help them in this process of communication. Language has to be present at all times; it also has to have a correlation with our actions and emotions so the child can be coherent when using language later on in life (means what he or she feels or says).
What is Speech and what is Language? A definition of these two words is given by Patricia McAleer a Language and Speech Therapist.
“Speech refers to the sounds that come out of our mouth and take shape in the form of words” Childhood Speech, Language and Listening Problems, Patricia McAleer Hamaguchi, page 8
“Language refers to the content of what is spoken, written, read, or understood. Language can also be gestural, as when we use body language or sign language. It is categorized into two areas: receptive and expressive” Childhood Speech, Language and Listening Problems, Patricia McAleer Hamaguchi, page 9
Language and physical care
A newborn’s vision is not very developed, yet, he or she has a very strong point of reference, his/her mother’s (father’s) voice which allows him/her to feel secure in this world during the first days of his/her life. While in the bath, hearing mine and her dad’s voice, , was the only way to get F to calm down and relax. Long before the child is able to speak or express him or herself he/she is capable of understanding. From the beginning I began to describe the actions I was performing to her e.g. I am undressing you because I am going to give you a bath (I talk to my daughter in Spanish since it is my mother tongue). In fact our best moments were at the change table, when she would look at my face while I talked to her for a long time, even after she was all dressed I would continue talking to her.
I didn’t do all that talking just because I like to talk a lot, I did it because I strongly believe that she was absorbing all that knowledge even though she wasn’t able to express it at that early stage. Now I am rewarded every time I talk to her and she shows clearly that she understands what I am saying to her for example when I say: I am going to rinse off your hair, please put your head back then she moves her head back or when I say: I am going to brush your hair; she tilts her head forward (most of the time when she is not too busy crawling around). When I say: It is time to change your diaper; she cries or crawls away because she doesn’t like to get her diaper changed.
Language and the environment
The environment is a rich tool to help our children develop language, since we can relate the words with the objects this helps the child associate complex words with concrete objects. Every time we walk around the house and F wants me to carry her I take advantage of this situation to name things that she cannot see when she is crawling or on the floor playing e.g. “Look, that is a rectangular mirror” or “Mom is opening the fridge, what do we have in here?” etc. Always taking my time to allow her to absorb what I am saying. When possible I allow her to touch the objects that I am naming, sometimes she smiles, sometimes she just stares at the objects for a long time. Now that she is repeating all kinds of sounds it is interesting to hear very accurate imitations of real words, such as gracias (tastas) Zeus (oosh) our dog’s name. mas (ma) more in Spanish.
Language, books and music
Music and books are very important for language development. There are many elements in music that are involved in language such as rhythm, tone. We sing to our daughter all the time, in fact when we are in the car and she is bored, lonely or tired we sing to her and she either sings back (makes sounds) or falls asleep. She absolutely loves musical instruments. It is interesting to see that she engages and plays them for a long time. Her favorite instruments now are the triangle and the xylophone.
Books are very important for language development (please read Christie’s blog post for reference of how to choose books for young children) since they provide a rich vocabulary and the images allow babies to associate words and objects. F loves looking at books, paintings and magazines. When she was 3 months old she loved to stare at our big Mexican painting full of red, green and many other vibrant colors. Now she points at the picture as l name the objects for her. She still loves it except that now she makes different sounds when she looks at it.
When choosing books for F I make sure that they have stories about family life, books with language that has a special rhyme, rhythm and poetry, and books that allow her to experience nature.
“Babies need someone to interact with them and encourage then in a loving way…..A baby needs to be actively engaged with people in order for the communication experience to be meaningful,….. The receptors in a child’s brain need to be stimulated, particularly during the early learning years. These receptors are stimulated when the child is touched, spoken to, and shown pictures, objects, places, and people. Without proper nurturing a child may experience learning delays, or speech, language, or listening disorders.” Childhood Speech, Language and Listening Problems, Patricia McAleer Hamaguchi, pages.11-12.
As Dr. Montessori stated in her book The Absorbent Mind “Man himself must become the center of education and we must never forget that man does not develop only at university, but begins his mental growth at birth, and pursues it with the greatest intensity during the first three years of life.”