A wave hello, a shoulder shrug, a wink of the eye.....non-verbal communication enhances and even changes the meaning of language. It can be as simple as saying ”come here” with outstretched arms versus simply saying, “come here”. We use it all the time.
As your baby’s awareness expands, his previously used system of vocalizations and non-specific body movements becomes inadequate to express wants and needs. And to our delight, our baby begins to use a more conventional system of communication, one that uses more specific movements and vocalizations ....that of gestures.
Waving is one of our child’s first steps in the adult world of shared understanding. Use of gestures and vocalizations engages multiple sensory inputs. The physicality of a gesture engages the motor cortex. Expressive and receptive speech are housed in two other areas of the brain (Broca’s area and Wernicke’s area). Some researchers believe that vocalizations only evolved to enhance the meaning of gestures. Regardless of ideology, by involving more than one sensory system, we are creating multiple pathways in the brain to augment the meaning of language. Your child experiences, “I hear it, I see it, I feel it” so that no matter his preferred sensory input, he has a greater chance to quickly grasp a concept.
In my work as a speech pathologist, we frequently utilized simple signs and/or gestures to help children who have delayed speech and language improve their communication skills. Using gestures serves three purposes: 1. It alleviates frustration of caregivers who no longer have to guess about wants and needs, 2. It alleviates the child’s frustration with attempts to communicate, and 3. Allows caregivers to provide speech models which enables the child to hear the word or words he is trying to say.
In addition to the simple signs we teach in Kindermusik class, find other ways to implement gestures in your daily routines. They don’t have to be official “signs” as long as they enrich yours and your child’s communication. “Smell” a flower, “swirl” your arms for the wind, “bump along” for a big truck. Discover opportunities to show your child how to have fun with language and, in the process, make them more interesting, creative, and articulate communicators.
Priscilla Kaszuk, Licensed Kindermusik Educator