It is widely recognized that communication is at the heart of child development- be it cognitive, social, emotional or behavioral (Vygotsky, 1978). Children’s early communication signals consist of bodily movements, facial expressions, gestures, cries and coos. These early signals eventually become speech-like sounds, then words, and then sentences. Children develop these more adult-like and more easily recognized ways of communicating through exploring their environment, through hearing and seeing models (other people talking), through turn-taking in games, play, and talking, and by practicing.
Usually by a child’s first birthday, he or she may say a few clearly understood words. Most children begin putting words together around their second birthday. Children develop speech, however, at different rates. Communication development involving listening, speaking, gesturing, reading, and writing continues throughout life and requires access to all aspects of the child’s world. Children’s preferences for communication with others change as they grow, and similar changes occur rapidly during the first three years of life.
Newborn babies rely on making sounds that let others know that they are experiencing pleasure or pain. From birth to three months, babies smile at parents when they come into view. They repeat the same sound a lot and “coo and goo” when content. Cries differentiate, meaning the baby uses a different cry for different situations. For example, one cry says “I’m hungry” and another says “I have a pain”. From four to six months, babies are usually making gurgling sounds or engaging in vocal play when they are happily occupying themselves or being played with.
At this stage babbling becomes more frequent and babies may almost sound as if they are producing actual speech as they make bilabial sounds like “p,” “b,” and “m. ” Babies use gestures and sound to indicate their needs and wants and may make very urgent sounding noises to prompt caregivers into action. By seven months, the sound of a baby’s babbling usually changes to include more consonants and vowels. Around this age a baby may speak their first words, either clearly or unclearly, and babies use speech as well as other sounds to get and hold others’ attention.
Often at this stage babies are just experimenting with the different sounds that their mouths can make and don’t necessarily have meaning attached to what they are saying. They may also start to learn how call out to others and attempt to wave. These behaviours continue until the child is a year old. Between one and two years of age, babies accumulate more and more words each month and will occasionally ask two word questions like “Where ball? ” “What’s that? ” or “More chippies? Words become clearer throughout this year as the baby uses initial consonants more frequently. While around other children the same age or even older children who are not engaging the baby, the baby will typically engage in individual play without much concern for their surroundings- so much as a caregiver is present. They gain an interest in cause-and-effect games (e. g. if someone responds to what the baby says or does, they’ll repeat it to see if they get the same response). When babies are learning to walk, their talking development often slows down temporarily.
By 18 months toddlers attempt to vocalize to music, have learned how to say “no” and have about twenty words in their vocabulary. They usually know and use their own name, talk to themselves using made-up words, and start to imitate two-word phrases. During the toddler years babies change and grow rapidly, and between two and three years old babies start to become children. Their vocabulary explodes and grows until it seems as if they can come up with a word for nearly everything they encounter through assimilation.
Utterances are usually one, two or three words long and family members can usually understand them. Toddlers may ask for, or draw attention to something by naming it (“Elephant”) or one of its attributes (“Big! “) or by commenting (“Wow! “). Between 26% and 80% of the child’s speech is intelligible to others. At this age children tend to play near other children playing, but not necessarily with the other child. Around three years of age children start to play with others at the same activity, but they do not usually work together towards any goal.
Working together during play, for example building a castle with blocks, does not normally occur unless prompted or until the child is about three and a half years to four years of age. During the child’s third year of life sentences become longer as the child can combine four or more words. They talk about things that have happened away from home, and are interested in talking about pre-school, friends, outings and interesting experiences. Speech is usually fluent and clear and strangers can usually understand what the child is saying most of the time.