Watching as your baby begins to make her first coos, giggles and sounds is one of the most exciting periods of infant development for all parents. You may not realize it, but your baby has already started to associate various sounds and words with different objects and actions. In fact, babies begin to grow their language skills from the minute they are born, and adults play an important role in this language development!
Babies gain their oral language skills when adults name objects, narrate what they are doing to their baby and use mirror talk – which is when you repeat the sounds or words your baby says. Language growth really soars when adults play with language and incorporate fun, “ juicy” words when conversing with their toddler. Juicy words are usually multi-syllabic words that are fun for children to say because the sounds roll around in their mouth. (Dinosaur names are good examples of juicy words.) The next time you see a butterfly outside on your walk, describe to your infant how it is flapping its wings and soaring through the sky, or name the parts of its body, like its antennae, to incorporate some juicy words into your conversation with your young child.
Here at The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis, Babyscape offers many opportunities for you to work on developing your baby’s oral language skills. Babyscape caters to infants and toddlers and is a part of our larger early childhood exhibit, Playscape (located on Level 3), which serves families with children ages five years and younger. Babyscape offers a variety of sensory experiences in which you can talk to your baby about what she feels, sees and hears. You and your baby can also gaze out the floor-to-ceiling windows onto Meridian Street and describe what types of cars and buses you see driving by the museum.
While your infant’s sounds and babbles may not yet make sense to you, your baby already knows what she wants to say; her vocal chords just haven’t fully developed yet. One technique we encourage staff to model for adults in Playscape is the use of Baby Sign Language. Baby Sign Language is a simplified form of American Sign Language (ASL) that is adapted to the motor skills of developing toddlers and infants. Simple signs for words such as “more” and “all done” help your baby communicate her wants and needs to you before she is able to verbalize them. Using Baby Sign Language at home is one more great way to help develop your child’s language skills. You will be surprised by how fast she catches on!