Speech and Language in Early Childhood Development - Mindstretch School
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Speech and Language in Early Childhood Development

Shared by Sarah Morris – Speech and Language Therapist.

Early speech and language development skills are necessary for, and fundamental to, communication development. I list five key skills below. These skills are learned through frequent interactions between an infant or toddler and an adult (a parent or caregiver). Infants and toddlers need communication partners to help them explore, develop, and expand their language skills.

It’s said that children are like sponges, absorbing most of their learning and fundamental skills within their first seven years of life

Early Language Development Skills

  1. Eye Contact is one of the earliest communication abilities. It establishes during infancy when a baby and parent look at one another. Eye contact is used during requesting, greeting, and directing someone’s attention. 
  2. Joint Attention is sharing an experience. This experience is shared by an infant and an adult, where both of them look at and engage with the same object or thing (e.g., both infant and parent looking at and engaging with a shaker). It helps to develop both language and social skills.
  3. Turn Taking is a skill that begins during interactions and play between an adult and an infant or toddler. The skill evolves from a motor- or play-based skill, where each player has a turn with an object (e.g., the adult shakes a shaker and then encourages the toddler to have a turn). Turn taking continues back and forth multiple times. The motor skill eventually develops into a communication skill when each player takes turns with speech. The next step is then to work on developing a two-way conversation.
  4. Motor Imitation is a first step in beginning to imitate speech. Before a child learns to copy sounds or words, they learn to copy movement or actions (e.g., banging two blocks together). By working on motor imitation skills, you can also improve eye contact and general social interaction.
  5. Sound Imitation is established after developing the motor imitation skills described above. Toddlers explore their skills and will start to copy sounds. Basic sounds (e.g., ‘beep-beep’ or ‘moo’) are easier to copy than whole words (e.g., ‘car’ or ‘cow’). Children learn sounds with movement and action, and with lots of repetition (e.g., blowing bubbles and saying ‘pop-pop-pop’ while combining this with the motor skill of popping the bubbles).

Work through this list with your infant or toddler and have fun with it. Know that speech and language is a process that naturally takes time.

Speech and Language in Early Childhood Development - Mindstretch School

Concerned About Your Child's Speech and Language Skills?

If you’re concerned that your infant or toddler’s basic language skills are not where they should be, consult your Paediatrician or a Speech and Language Therapist. It’s important that any difficulties be assessed and managed early to prevent or correct any speech and/or language delays.

It’s also important to consider hearing and vision. In most cases, infants’ hearing and vision is assessed just after birth. However, these abilities may change as a child grows. Please monitor your child’s hearing and visual abilities as these skills are fundamental for learning and developing speech and early language. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Is my infant or toddler locating sound?
  • Responding to their name?
  • Following basic instructions?
  • Looking at and responding to objects that move?

If you have any concerns that your child’s hearing and/or vision might be compromised, I suggest you consult with your Paediatrician or contact a Paediatric Audiologist (hearing) and/or Optometrist (vision).

Here to Help

Thank you for your time and commitment in reading this article. Please feel free to contact me if you would like any advice or help relating to speech and language development.

About Sarah

Sarah is one of three experts who provide speech and language therapy to Mindstretch scholars, on a consultancy basis. She is the founder and owner of Room to Speak, a private practice in Seapoint, Cape Town.

Sarah tailors the therapy to the needs of the individual. She aims to make her therapy fun and enjoyable, while also being functional and purposeful.

Learn more about the Mindstretch way here: Our Approach.

We’re grateful for the excellent results that Sarah achieves with Mindstretch learners.

Speech and Language in Early Childhood Development - Mindstretch School

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