During the first two to three years of life, a young child achieves greater milestones than at any other time. This is the time he’ll learn to walk, talk, form attachments and ensure that his needs are met. More importantly, he’ll develop his attitude, or approach, to life. He’ll learn to meet new, or difficult, situations with confidence or fear, an approach that will effect the rest of his life.
Learning by Experience
From birth, babies respond to sound and touch. Through the comfort and security of their parents’ love, they form attachments that are necessary for emotional and social growth. This is the time for parents to enjoy holding their baby, touching, cuddling and singing songs (no matter how badly you sing!) to develop emotional bonds. A child who has developed a strong attachment with an adult will later be able to transfer that trust to others, and have less difficulty with separation anxiety when he first starts school.
A child is the product of his experiences. The more he is able to discover, the more nurturing experiences he has at home, the more prepared he will be to enter child-care or pre-school and relate his experiences there to the secure world his parents have shown him.
Independence comes with confidence and security. A child who knows he is loved develops these qualities naturally, when his parents allow him to try things on his own, to make his mistakes and learn from them. Independence depends on physical skills, social and emotional development, and expressive language skills, so it’s important to allow him to express his needs, wants and fears.
Create an Environment to Nurture Learning
Babies soon learn to focus and respond to visual stimuli. Home provides the impetus for learning through exploration and discovery. Providing a rich environment, filled with safe, attractive objects for him to investigate will help his development. You’ll notice that he propels himself towards things that interest and attract him so provide a safe environment for him to explore. He’ll refine coordination of legs and arms in an effort to balance, retrieve toys, and get onto things. He’ll practice hand-eye coordination skills as he reaches for, and grasps, things. Eventually he’ll start to build, placing objects on top of each other and knocking them down again. Let him run, climb and fall, refining skills as he practices them, and building the foundations for manipulation of writing instruments, colouring, cutting and pasting, all of which require precision, strength and flexibility.
Encourage your child to feed himself as early as possible. Start as soon as he can sit up unsupported and grasp the food, spoon or cup. He’ll soon be fully independent at meal times. Helping him, or preventing him from doing it on his own, will result in delayed physical skills. It may be messy at first, but his success will be well worth the effort in clearing up because he’ll be more confident and capable.
Physical success impacts language development, cognitive growth, social and emotional skills. Learning is just like creating a jigsaw puzzle. Each piece is vital to the whole.
Helping Language Grow The child who is talked to, read to and sung to, is encouraged to want to talk back and he’ll soon experiment with his own sounds. He’ll progress from cooing, through babbling, to those magical first words, which come faster and clearer if there is a caring adult to listen and “chat” to. The give and take of conversation is mastered long before he can talk back in words.
It’s important to speak to your child, from the start, in a wide range of full, unsimplified language. He’ll soak up the sounds, words and structures he hears. If you tell him to “wash hands” or “go shi-shi” you’re depriving him of the opportunity to store away standard English construction in his language bank for later use. Instead ask him to “come and wash your hands” or “go to the toilet.”
It’s fun, and beneficial, to keep up a running commentary as you do things together, describing what your baby experiences, while changing a nappy, getting dressed and eating meals. Extending children’s words into sentences helps them form sentences themselves. When he asks for “milk” trying responding in full language, “Would you like some milk?”
Talking down to a child, using baby language, or simplifying sentences, limits your child’s vocabulary, prevents him absorbing language patterns, and delays his understanding of sentence structure and grammar.
Creativity, Imagination, Wonder
Take your baby out and about and let him explore the world in a safe, trusting manner. A child who has felt the wind on his face and in his hair, will find a way to express it physically, by waving his arms or running energetically from one end of the room to the other. As he grows, he’ll refine his communication, using a combination of actions and words, until vocabulary grows and he can communicate in speech and, eventually, writing.
A child who feels wet sand under his feet will know how different it feels to dry sand, will be able to contrast them in language, but the child whose experiences have been limited has a diminished ability to express himself. Drama, music, stories, theatre, messy craft, painting, clay, water, sand, climbing, running and outings to extend the world, release your child’s creative side, allowing him to imagine, feel and express himself.
We are so lucky to share in the amazing learning that takes place in the first few years, watching a unique individual grow. These years pass so quickly! Enjoy them!
– Julia Gabriel August 2001
Books are Windows to Learning
• Even very small babies enjoy sharing books with an adult and start labelling things they see in them
• Young children are be able to relate their own experiences to the stories they read
• Read stories, poems and finger play rhymes to young children for exposure to a wide range of good language
• During the first two years of life, arrange a daily, predictable, reading routine to ensure that reading is part of a child’s life. Exposure extends vocabulary, interests, imagination, awareness and language structure.
• Children who are read to regularly are likely to continue the pattern and become good readers themselves