Learning language begins even before birth. Noam Chomsky believed that while in the womb our brains are being hardwired to process language (BBC Radio 4, 2015). After birth children’s ability to develop communication skills relies on quality interactions with parents and carers.
The first 5 years of a child’s life are critical in determining the outcomes for children as they grow into adults. Shonkoff (2009) asserts that as children grow older the brain begins to lose some of its plasticity making it much harder to recode the neural pathways already laid down. Consequently, early interactions with carers are a crucial part of building the foundations for their future learning (Early Childhood Australia, 2016).
What is the central role of parents and carers in young children’s cognitive development?
The most important responsibility for parents and carers regarding their child’s development is to build responsive relationships with children. When caregivers engage in warm affectionate interactions with children and respond consistently to children’s attempts to communicate, children are far more likely to experience higher quality developmental outcomes as highlighted by the 21st Century Families initiative (South Lanarkshire Council, 2011). Another key component to responsive relationships is supporting and extending on children’s interests (Landry, 2014).
How can parents and carers support their babies and toddlers as they learn to listen and speak?
- Consistent positive interactions with children
- Respond enthusiastically to children’s communication attempts
- Read cues and follow up on interests
- Talk them through your actions eg“We are going to have a bath now. Let’s wash your tummy.”
- Read books or tell stories using props.
- Singing and music
- Point out different signs and symbols around you e.g. street signs
- Art and Craft/Drawing
(Fellowes & Oakley, 2014)
The quality of language development for young children hinges on the quality of the relationships they experience with parents and carers (Fellowes & Oakley, 2014). Parents and carers who provide children with responsive interactions are helping to scaffold children’s communication as well as having a positive impact on all areas of a child’s development. Through these quality early interactions children’s children will lay the foundations for the potential outcomes later in life.
BBC Radio 4 (2015, January 22). Noam Chomsky on Language Acquisition [Video File]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Cgpfw4z8cw
Early Childhood Australia (2016, August 3). Brain Animation | The Frameworks Institute [Video File]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UmxoiU87dp8&list=PLs5uqwJIALQu0i439U9ctA-yZaNtW5WYQ&index=4
Fellowes, J., & Oakley, G. (2020). Language, literacy and early childhood education eBook (3rd ed.). Oxford University Press. ISBN: 9780190319366
Harvard Graduate School of Education (2009, October 1). The Science of Early Childhood Development [Video File]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tLiP4b-TPCA
Landry, SH. (2014). The role of parents in early childhood learning. Encyclopedia on Early Childhood Development [online] Tremblay RE, Boivin M, Peters RDeV, eds. Tremblay RE, topic ed. Retrieved from http://www.child-encyclopedia.com/parenting-skills/according-experts/role-parents-early-childhood-learning.
South Lanarkshire Council (2011, June 3). 21st Century Families – giving childhood back to children [Video File]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pCTW_nWqnTY