Conversation starts at birth. Although unspoken, any mom knows that there are many "words" said in the minutes following a wee one's arrival: through touch, looks, sounds, and yes, words from mom's and dad's mouth. I can say, when looking back at real pictures and the ones engraved in my memory, that my children all had something to say when we first met them, and what they had to express was strong.
But conversation is something that needs to be practice and fine tuned. The child needs to learn how a conversation works, what it does, and how important it is. And this is being done firstly through the signing, the eye contact, the responding to cues and calls of an infant.
Montessori defined a sensitive period for language starting during the first year (that goes on to the 4-5th year). The child at that point needs to hear voices, real ones in order to understand and absorb language. We all have heard of the child that was raised in the jungle amongst monkeys, once back into civilisation, was never able to talk (and walk) properly. He had missed the window of language. Of course, this is an extreme case but I think it really show the power of the sensorial periods and the urge for the children to work through them.
E is entering a new phase in language development. He is very much wanting to talk to us. To have this conversation we have been practicing for a while now. And although he still says no word, we sure understand what he is saying! This started at the same time as pointing. Well, I think pointing is what started it all actually. That really was an incentive for us to name things, things that we know he has seen or has an interest in. And that led him to answer by trying to imitate what we say: when he points he babbles and has different intonation in his voice. So we are practicing conversation with him. And it is SO fun!
How to help them in this area? Here is what we are doing:
- Answer, using a tone that matches his own
- Name what he is pointing at
- Point ourselves to things we want to him to take notice into
- Get closer (if he is in our arms) or let him go closer in order to be able to touch, explore or connect with the thing/ person he is pointing at
- Make sure we make eye contact if possible (because we value eye contact when we talk)
- Let him watch a conversation (between 2 person) AND also let him interact in it if he wants to
- Make sure we read books and look at many images that we name to expend his vocabulary (the one he sees...). Words being the basis of conversation, it is important to expose our children to all words big and small but most importantly correctly said