Now that older children are back at school after the summer break, it is the perfect opportunity to spend some quality time with the youngest member of your family, enjoying the relative peace and quiet both at home and out and about. With the increasing pressures that school can bring you may even be starting to think about how you can best prepare your little one for the challenges that lie ahead, particularly in regard to literacy. Indeed there is a growing market encouraging parents to formalise this early years learning, both in childcare settings and in the variety of toys and games designed with developing literacy in mind. So you might be relieved to hear that there is a very simple, scientifically proven way to lay the foundations of effective communication for your child: babywearing.
A child’s ability to communicate begins long before they are able to speak. Every single interaction a baby has in their first few weeks and months of life starts to build their literacy and communication skills, and the rate at which babies and toddlers can develop an understanding of language – both words and non-verbal cues – is really quite staggering.
But in order for them to learn, they have to be able to watch and listen – when people are communicating with them, and when people are communicating with each other.
Research scientist Dr Suzanne Zeedyk carried out a really fascinating study into the impact of parent-facing and forward-facing prams on language development. Her hypothesis – borne out by the research – was that the direction a pushchair faces has a significant impact on how much parents interact with their baby. In fact babies in parent-facing prams experience double the amount of conversation. Taking this further, her findings also showed that children were twice as likely again to be talked to if they were carried rather than in a pushchair.
I’m sure that is something that all of us who enjoy babywearing can relate to – I know for me one of the most delightful things about keeping my first baby so close (and continuing to do so as he became a toddler and a preschooler) was the near-constant interaction, and it is something I particularly cherish now with my second child.
Dr Zeedyk goes on to say:
“Once we get this far in the discussion, it becomes easy to realise that the logic applies to other forms of baby transport, especially slings (baby carriers)… Slings keep a baby close to a parent’s body, and thus in constant reassurance. This is why many parents choose to use them. Giving slings away to families living in ‘vulnerable circumstances’ would probably make a great health intervention.”
The National Literacy Trust, who commissioned the research, explain why this early communication is so important:
“Babies and young children reach out for interaction through babbling, facial expressions and gestures. If they do not get a response, or the response is inappropriate, then the brain’s architecture does not form as expected.”
Early years educator Alana Robinson elaborates on the particular benefits babywearing can bring for language development, saying:
“When you wear your baby, they are generally right at your mouth level… This allows your baby to hear every word you speak… Not only can they hear your words, but they can feel the vibrations in your body, see the shapes you make with your lips, and how you use your tongue. They hear the emphasis you put on certain words and the tone of voice you use, and feel how you react to the words being said.”
The first three years in a child’s life are the most important for language development, with the foundations being laid that will help them grow into effective communicators. In fact the National Literacy Trust explains further that:
“Neuroscience has revealed that the synapses in a child’s brain multiply 20-fold between the birth and 3 years of age, a rate that is faster than at any other time in life.”
It really is quite amazing when you stop and think about it.
So as you wear your baby (or your toddler, or your preschooler), enjoy the closeness and the conversation – and the knowledge that you are helping to lay solid foundations for their confident use of language for many years to come.