International brain studies highlight that the infant brain is pre-wired and ready to take in a range of stimuli. The young developing brain requires continual interactions with adults which then results in richer thinking, and language development.
In the latest studies, it highlights that if the brain is not exposed to stimuli some of the neurons in the brain do not develop as quickly or efficiently as they should.
Early stimulation equals better brain function and easier acquisition of language skills. Brain studies now more than ever highlight the importance of exposure, practice and stimulation of experiences when children are young. In addition, research and data from within Australia indicates that children are moving into preschool and school without strong verbal language skills. This is a disturbing trend that schools are struggling with across the country.
Data indicates that families are spending less rather than more time together, talking, chatting, sitting around a meal table modelling and having conversations together. This is an urgent issue that needs addressing. Contemporary life, with the rush and hurry of events, work, schedules and little down time appears to be contributing to these trends.
Powerful research released this year has shown comprehensively that children learn optimally when they are engaged actively in rich play and interactions with adult support and guidance (Miller & Almond 2009). Importantly in this learning environment oral language increases significantly. In the past 10 years, the WALKER Learning Approach (Australian Developmental Curriculum) has been implemented in many schools across Australia in the early years of learning.
Babies are pre-wired to be fascinated with the human face.
Data indicates that this approach (which includes a mix of active play based experiences alongside explicit teaching) has significantly increased children’s oral language and also increased writing with purpose and meaning (Walker 2008, Walker 2007). Eminent scholars from the USA state strongly that strong oral language promotes strong comprehension which in turn promotes effective and sustained reading. They have reported that children with poor oral language often encounter difficulty around grade 3 or 4 when they begin needing to read more advanced text in various subjects. Their vocabulary deficit impedes comprehension and thus their acquisition of knowledge necessary to succeed across the curriculum (NAEYC Position Statement 2009).
Why is this important?
Low oral language means that it is more challenging for children to learn to read and write and comprehend what they are learning and reading. It adds to children’s frustrations if they are not able to communicate their needs or to learn effectively. Frustration in children can lead to feelings of low self esteem as well as misbehaviour.
Often we assume that because an infant is born without the capacity to talk, walk and understand like adults, that babies and toddlers are almost helpless blank slates that require minimal interactions between the adult and that our primary role is simply to change nappies and feed them.
This is not the case! It is vital and urgent that parents are talking with their young babies and toddlers.
The role of the parent and home life
Parents can provide many opportunities for their young infants and toddlers to become actively engaged in their thinking and language development by providing stimulating experiences and rich interactions.
Brain stimulation does not equate to teaching young babies and toddlers how to read and write and count to ten but it does require early interactions, conversations, play and relationships.
Promoting rich language and thinking skills.
1. Ensure that in daily routines such as feeding, nappy changing, dressing, bathing, you cuddle, tickle, caress, smile at, smooch, kiss and touch your baby and toddler. Touch and smiles fires up thousands of neurons in the developing brain.
2. During routines times, sing songs such as nursery rhymes, talk and chat with your child, talk about what you are doing, eg. “Now we are going to have a bath”, even though they won’t understand everything you are saying. This helps the brain develop awareness of language and communication.
3. Sing songs and speak in your own home language. Children will develop English more easily if they are surrounded in the rich language that the parent is grammatically correct in and familiar with. This is important for the child’s language and cultural identity. Avoid the mistake of thinking, because we live in Australia, we must speak English at home. Children are lucky if they become bilingual and having two languages is also great for rich thinking skills.
4. Make direct eye contact; engage the infant and toddler with your look. Babies are pre-wired to be fascinated with the human face.
Kathy Walker has been working with children, parents and teachers for over 30 years. “What’s the Hurry”, her book for parents, was an Australian bestseller and she has a new book on positive parenting due out in 2010. Kathy’s consultancy, Early Life Foundations, provides support to families, government, educational institutions and the corporate sector.
For further practical tips on promoting rich language skills, visit www.fisherpriceexperts.com.au