The more help your child gets from you, the better his language skills will be. You’ll have a real treat, seeing how well he progresses, and knowing you’re giving him the best start possible.
Nevertheless, some children have problems learning language. Sometimes a child takes longer to reach language goals, or he becomes stuck at one stage and can’t seem to move on. Read the Monitoring section towards the end of the book, to check on the language goals you can expect your child to reach at different times during his early life.
If you think his progress in reaching these stages is slow, then get help straight away from your healthcare provider. Don’t delay.
Don’t “wait and see.” Early intervention is incredibly important, as it lets you, and the right professionals, help your child while his brain is at its most receptive. The first 3 years of your child’s life are precious.
If you have to wait for an appointment to assess your child, make sure you use the time to keep working on the five keys to your child’s success, by playing language games.
Just be sure that you carry out activities that he can manage and enjoy. Don’t rush, or try to push him on faster than he can go. Let him progress at a pace that feels comfortable for him. That way, you’ll go on giving him the best opportunities you can, even before professional help kicks in.
First Key: Attention Skills
Attention skills: infants
Your baby has all his five senses in place at birth. He can already see, hear, touch, smell and taste. He spends three busy years, growing and developing at an amazing rate. He uses his senses to take in the world around him, becoming familiar with this new place.
From the moment he enters the world, he has access to vast amounts of information. He can easily be overwhelmed. He needs to sort out all the new stimulation around him, and learn to attend to one thing at a time.
Later on, he learns how to shift his attention deliberately from one single thing that captured his interest, to something else, so he can listen and learn. Children who fail to control their own attention find it difficult to learn when they arrive in school. Nursery, preschool, kindergarten and infant schools surround a child with a busier, noisier environment. Help your child learn to attend to one task at a time to make it easier for him to cope at school.
Attention skills: the infant brain
Your baby has a billion brain cells at birth. These are just about all he needs for the rest of his life. However, he needs to connect the cells to each other, linking each neuron to a number of others. Links establish themselves as he finds out about new things and develops new skills, and myelin sheaths grow over the connections, stabilising and protecting them permanently.
Once the sheaths are in place, the rate of growth slows. As a result, your child has “critical periods” of development, when different aspects of his growth and learning increase most rapidly.
Scientists agree that your child’s first three years are the most critical for language learning, although he continues to develop his language skills rapidly until he reaches 10 years of age. Make the most of the vital first three years by understanding how best to help him make the brain connections that lead to the best possible language abilities.
Start as soon as he’s born. Use his five senses to build his language, beginning with the simple task of looking at your face.
Attention skills: baby activities: singing
Your newborn baby hears and enjoys music. He turns to gentle sounds, and moves his body. Use this sense of hearing and his natural instinct for rhythm and tune to help him develop his ability to concentrate.
Rock him or bounce him gently on your knee as you sing to him. No matter how croaky your voice may be, sing nursery rhymes or pop songs; whatever you enjoy most. Your baby doesn’t mind what you sing, but he loves to hear your voice and listening to you will help him focus his attention on sound. Much of his experience in the early months is visual or through his senses of touch, taste and smell. Singing helps him concentrate on his hearing.