How to talk more to babies and why you should

Published on Tuesday, 25 September 2018
Last updated on Thursday, 30 January 2020

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Children in ECECs would seemingly have more opportunity to hear language than children in home environments, simply by virtue of the fact there are more people around them for more of the time.

However, research from Macquarie University has shown this is not necessarily the case. A study reported in the Sydney Morning Herald has shown that there are big differences in how much early childhood educators talk to babies and toddlers with some saying 50 words per minute and others recording as few as 10 words per minute.

SMH Associate Professor Sheila Degotardi said lower levels words per minute could be a risk factor for a child's development as they are not receiving the language exposure they need.

Dr Degotardi told the SMH that watching other people have conversations was not enough for a child's language development and the most effective kind of talk was frequent, direct, and went beyond instructions to discussion of things that interested the child.

"It builds their ability to engage in and take in conversation, so they become language users as well as language learners," she said.

According to the SMH the researchers followed almost 60 children, aged two or younger, at their early childhood service, and recorded the number of words they heard from adults over three hours. A quarter of the children heard fewer than 11 words per minute.

The researchers found that educators that used many words also had higher-quality interactions with the children. There was also a link between quality talk and highly-qualified staff, with more qualified staff using a greater number of words.

"In rooms where they had higher-qualified educators, the children we observed were getting more talk and higher-quality talk. To me that speaks to the importance of qualified staff in bringing up the capacity of all the educators," Dr Degotardi told the SMH.

How can educators easily and more naturally increase their communication with babies and young children?

Talk about actions as you are doing them: use words and full sentences to describe and explain what you are doing with a baby during nappy changes, feeding time, and nap time. These close personal interactions provide a great opportunity for quality one-on-one exchanges, even within the busy atmosphere of an early childhood centre.

Talk about actions as children are doing them: use words to describe what the baby is doing, such as climbing, crawling, pushing, sliding, filling, dumping, throwing, catching, kicking, bouncing, sliding. "You are stacking blocks. The tower is getting very high!"

Put feelings into words: when you see children cry, grow joyful, excited or giggly describe their feelings with words and full sentences. Giving children words to describe their feelings can make it easier for them to express their thoughts and emotions down the track and reduce frustration levels.

Use "Serve and return" interactions: pay careful attention to the ways that babies are communicating with you and when a baby makes a sound, repeat and expand that sound. Responding to a baby's sounds and words and expanding on them helps them learn about verbal interactions and how to hold a successful conversation.

Build secure relationships with each child in your care: the best way to do this is to respond to a child's cues. Even though they can't talk yet, babies have many ways of telling you what they need. Children feel safer and more secure when educators learn to read these signals and respond quickly to the messages sent by the children.


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