I’ve thought about this before: What makes my con­ver­sa­tions with babies dif­fer­ent from oth­er car­ers? Why have the babies and chil­dren I’ve cared for indi­vid­u­al­ly made excel­lent lin­guis­tic progress? This week I realised what makes the dif­fer­ence and how that exper­tise can be incor­po­rat­ed into a day­care situation.

When I’m hold­ing an old­er infant who is curi­ous about the world around them – looks up at lamps, fans, trees out­side – I always com­ment “Isn’t that a pret­ty .…..?”, “Look at the wind blow­ing the trees” or some­thing sim­i­lar­ly rel­e­vant. With­in a cou­ple of times of com­ment­ing, often on the same day (!) a young child will look at the object when I com­ment on it! 

It’s amaz­ing! Sim­ply by com­ment­ing ‘clear­ly’ on what they are inter­est­ed in a young baby has used his ‘recep­tive lan­guage’ abil­i­ties, they have already ‘learned’ a word and filed it away in their tiny brain. 

Sim­i­lar­ly, doing actions com­bined with the word allows an infant to learn the mean­ing of those actions — like ‘up’ and ‘down’. Which is why there are so many action rhymes for babies! The sim­ple tra­di­tion­al ones work best of all. Actu­al­ly they should be called ‘inter­ac­tion rhymes’ because it’s essen­tial that they should be par­tic­i­pat­ing WITH an adult!

The oppo­site of that sit­u­a­tion is when an adult says “Don’t climb over the ottoman, walk round the oth­er way” and then prompt­ly lifts the child up and over the ottoman! This action and state­ment are not relat­ed and the child learns noth­ing, except that they can break all the adult’s ‘rules’!

This is how lan­guage is, or is not, taught. Which is why a high per­cent­age of young chil­dren, even some 3 year olds, have no recep­tive language!

As a side note, one of the fac­tors in the suc­cess of The Ear­ly Start Den­ver Mod­el to com­bat autism is: one on one time with babies singing nurs­ery rhymes and action rhymes!

Unfor­tu­nate­ly it seems that one needs a Bach­e­lors Degree or high­er in a relat­ed field to even train as a ‘prac­ti­tion­er’!

What real­ly needs to hap­pen is that child­care work­ers (those on the bot­tom of the ear­ly edu­ca­tion teach­ing rung) are taught small ways to inte­grate The Ear­ly Start Den­ver Mod­el into their days with children.

Of course this would only be done if the focus was on the true needs of young chil­dren and NOT — drum roll please: PROFIT! 

Dare I even sug­gest that a 1:6 ratio of care­giv­er to babies isn’t a good thing espe­cial­ly when so many babies are going into full time care at 6 weeks to 3 months of age? 

I believe such an impov­er­ished lev­el of care for 10 or more hours a day is at the very root of why we are see­ing so many devel­op­men­tal delays in young children.

There it is – anoth­er answer to devel­op­men­tal delays! 

When speak­ing to a baby or young child use words which are total­ly relat­ed to what they are inter­est­ed in – not what you as the adult ‘think’ they see or are inter­est­ed in = con­ti­nu­ity of knowl­edge­able carers/teachers.

Then scaf­fold (build) the child’s lan­guage from what they already know = con­ti­nu­ity of knowl­edge­able carers/teachers.

Make chil­dren the focus of our work, not aca­d­e­m­ic qual­i­fi­ca­tions and prof­it = con­ti­nu­ity of knowl­edge­able carers/teachers.

Sim­ple aware­ness can real­ly work on the ground floor in ear­ly care. Here’s an example:

Yes­ter­day a father came and cheer­ful­ly greet­ed his 8‑month-old son. I looked at the baby and said “Daddy’s here!” and despite the fact that he was look­ing in the right direc­tion he didn’t rec­og­nize his father! 

Then I looked up at the father and real­ized his face was in total shad­ow because of the light behind him! I told the father: “He can’t see your face, move round behind me” and then the baby showed a smile of recognition!

Years on I now under­stand the dif­fer­ence between how my sons and the oth­er chil­dren I cared for one on one learned their language.

I under­stood what they were look­ing at, what they saw and what cap­tured their inter­est then I scaf­fold­ed on that knowl­edge day after day because — they had the con­ti­nu­ity of a knowl­edge­able carer/teacher — ME!