A child’s language journey from birth through age five

One of the first experiences young children have is listening to their environment, especially to the voices of their parents.  Even while in the womb, babies are hearing and learning the nuances and rhythm of the language(s) spoken by their families and communities. Newborns often recognize the sound of familiar voices. A colleague was commenting just this past week that her nephew, although in a neonatal unit, recognized the sound of his father’s voice when he came to visit!  This newborn, Sammy, actually turned toward his father as he grasped his father’s finger!

Children's books in a box

Access to books is important for early literacy development

In an earlier blog, I urged all parents to talk with their children as often as possible.  It is widely recognized that parents are a child’s first and most important teacher. Sammy’s relationships with his parents are at the heart of his development and learning. The interactions parents have with their child are powerful and long-lasting. Thinking of Sammy’s reaction to his dad, it’s readily apparent that his family began speaking to him while he was still in his mother’s womb. Sammy’s family will continue to speak to him every day, all day long. He will learn that language is a reciprocal relationship because he’ll coo and his parents will respond. This back and forth exchange is sometimes referred to as the “serve and return” process. Harvard University’s Center of the Developing Child does extensive research on the developing brain.

As you can see, relationships and responsive interactions are very important. Sammy will easily acquire language (listening and speaking) just from being spoken to, being read to and playing in a stimulating, playful environment. Possessing a large word bank is a very strong predictor of future reading success. Every experience children have helps to build their vocabulary (words). Play with your child! Sing, dance, blow bubbles and explore. As soon as your child can open his hand, (think of Sammy and his Dad), he’ll begin grabbing things…rattles, fingers, your blouse when nursing. He’s exploring with his sense of touch.  Give him different textures; I liked using foods: cooked pasta, cooked rice and even gelatin cubes. Knowing your wee one will try to put everything in his mouth – having edible objects keeps him safe!   Think of the words he’ll learn: squishy, sticky, and jiggly! The more senses your child uses, the faster he will learn new concepts. JumpStart.com’s Baby Activities has many suggestions for parents and infants!

When parents expose children to a variety of environments, from beaches to grocery stores to zoos, children learn new words in real settings. All of these experiences help children make real life connections between vocabulary (words) development and their meanings (understanding). In order to be a successful reader, children need to know and understand a wide range of words and their meanings.

If you have an infant or a toddler, you may be interested in Connecticut’s Guidelines for the Development of Infant and Toddler Early LearningAlthough this is a “hefty” document, it thoroughly details typical milestones your child will exhibit in three-month intervals for their first year, and six month intervals for their second year (toddler).


Deborah Watson is the Academic Program Manager for Post’s Early Childhood Education program. Watson has more than 35 years of experience in the field of education and has been teaching at the college level for 17 years. Watson has a Master of Science in Elementary Education from Central Connecticut State University. Watson has a sixth year in Educational Leadership from the University of Hartford.



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