You waited 9 long months to meet your precious bundle. You took countless classes about how to get through labor and what breathing techniques work best to make it through contractions. You learned top tips for breastfeeding and what to pack in your hospital bag but no one taught you how to interact with your straight faced, brand young baby.
Here are 5 simple ideas for how to encourage language development in your newborn starting right from birth.
- Sing to your baby
- Read to your baby
- Talk with your baby
- Narrate for your baby
- Play with your baby
Sing to your baby
Singing is a natural tool that parents use in their daily routine to calm and soothe their upset babies. Singing isn’t only beneficial to calm a baby in the middle of a meltdown, it can be one of the most important things a parent can do in the first weeks to help baby's brain development. Nursery rhymes and children’s songs are rhythmic in nature and present a different prosody (the patterns of stress in language) and intonation (the rise and fall of the voice). This is otherwise known as sing-song voice. A new study suggests that your newborn baby benefit in many ways from singing to them. When you change your baby’s diaper perhaps you always sing the same song or when you're getting them strapped into their car seat. This can give them a sense of routine for what is coming as well as “teaches” them about what is being done. You can also change your tone of voice for variety and variation with higher-pitched voice. Another good example of singing for language development would be the song “Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes” while touching the corresponding part of your baby’s body. There is a connection being made that the word you are saying is referring to the part of the body and baby learn the name of things. Sure your newborn may not understand the words and the fact that they mean something, but their brains are being stimulated and your singing is capturing their attention. You can do songs like pat-a-cake, or the wheels on the bus and move their arms and hands for them to help them engage and get some movement in for them as well!
Read to your baby
Reading is such an integral piece of the puzzle when it comes to language development and literacy skills. Not only is it a nice way to pass the time when you’re not sure what else to do with your baby, but the interaction with your newborn is one of the best ways to trigger those neurons to step into action. Children's books with animals and animal sounds such as Moo Baa LaLaLa or Touch and Feel Animals are great ways to get your baby’s attention through different sounds rather than words.
These sturdy boar books are sorts of ways to encourage baby's speech development over time. These will catch your baby’s attention and may just be some of your child's attempts at first words. Picture Books with simple sentences with rhythm and rhyme like Chicka Chicka Boom Boom or Brown Bear Brown Bear What Do You See are perfect for incorporating rhythm and rhyme into reading. Newborns only see in black, white, and gray at first so using books with high contrast such as Look, Look! or Hello Baby Animals are great options to keep your child's interest as you expose them to new words. While it may seem silly to read to a newborn who can barely stay awake long enough to listen to the whole book, there is research that shows that children whose parents read them one picture book a day hear 78,000 words per year. That means that by kindergarten, age 5, these children are exposed to 1.4 million simple words compared to their peers who were not read to and have had exposure to fewer words. So if you are wondering if there is even a point to reading to your infants who don’t really understand, just remember, this special time, is preparing these young babies for success in the future.
Talk with your baby
Sounds simple right? The key here is to include your baby in the conversation. Now you may be wondering how to include a newborn in a conversation when they don’t converse or even react for that matter. Here are a few ways that you can talk with your baby rather than to or at your baby.
- If your baby looks at something on the opposite side of the room you could say, “do you see something? I wonder what it is.” You can then talk about your surroundings and point out the colors of objects or things that are big vs little.
- If your baby startles from a noise you could say, “Oh wow that was a loud noise! What do you think it could have been? I think it was maybe the broom falling down or a car door closing.”
- If your baby starts to fuss you could say, “Oh what's the matter buddy? Are you having a hard time? Let’s change your diaper and fill up your belly.”
- If your baby makes a noise that sounds like a word, roll with it and expand upon it! For example, your baby may say “da” to which you could say “oh dada is in the backyard mowing the lawn.”
Showing your baby that their signals and sounds (cooing, eye gaze and eye contact, movements) provoke a response from someone will motivate them to continue communicating in order to, some day, get their wants and needs met.
Narrate for your baby
Have you ever listened to a commentator at a sports game and thought, ‘man he is really giving us a play by play’? That is how it should feel narrating for your baby. Hearing you talk not only strengthens your bond with each other, but is great for encouraging language development. Here is what narrating might sound like in the scenario of diaper changing:
“Ok buddy it's time to change your diaper! Let’s go over to the changing table. Let’s lay you down now and grab a clean diaper. Lets unzip your outfit, ziiiiiip! And take out your legs. One leg, two legs! Ok where are my wipes? Here they are! We have to take one out!”
You get the idea. Tell your baby everything! Put on a cooking show for your little cutie and explain all of the steps you’re doing to make a delicious dinner. Go on a walk and talk about what you’re seeing as you pass by trees and cars and houses. If you feel like you’re giving too much detail or that you’re talking too much you’re doing everything right! This constant language exposure paired with the actual actions and events that are taking place make it a very rich language experience.
Play with your baby
Babies learn through play. For newborns, play time can occur in the daily activities like tummy time, bath time, diaper changes, and feedings. Games like peek-a-boo, itsy bitsy spider, this little piggy, and tickling have simple, repetitive phrases that become familiar to your newborn. They may even start to expect or anticipate what is coming if these “games” accompany the same activities or routines every time. Play can be a fun way to encourage meaning to tasks and routines.
While it may be difficult to imagine that language skills start to develop as soon as your baby is born, it is something that every parent should take advantage of. Language exposure at this age is simple and can be done through singing, reading, talking, and playing with your baby. I know in the early days of parenthood it is hard to think of adding one more thing to your agenda, but when language exposure is built-in to the tasks and routines already being done, it makes things much more manageable. Language development for newborns doesn’t have to be difficult! Keep doing what you’re doing and when in doubt, talk it out!