We first learn to communicate by waving our hands around, making facial expressions, and using gestures; it’s our earliest form of symbolic communication.
The power of using gestures as a learning tool is immense for our children as they learn to convey precisely what they want by using their body language. From as young as ten months old, children begin to draw attention to themselves and point out what they want; but it doesn’t stop here.
There is a significant connection between using gestures and learning to speak, and the earlier a child is encouraged to use gestures, the greater their ability to speak by the age of three.
Before our children learn to talk, they naturally gravitate toward using gestures to express their needs. We may not recognise it initially, but young babies will use the same repeated mannerisms for something specific, such as an open-closed hand gesture for their milk bottle. This abstract way of communicating works wonders when we learn the associated meaning. We’re communicating!
The more these gestures are used and understood, the more our babies will develop additional and more pronounced gestures in order to talk to us non-verbally. Along with this communication, our babies build on social interaction, and their thinking skills are becoming much more refined even before they learn to speak.
As parents, we can do very simple things to encourage our babies to use gestures and continually develop their speech and language skills. Most importantly, we can model the behaviour by actively using the gesture and speaking the associated action or word at the same time. Our babies' rapidly growing brains will pin the two together, and they will learn the association very quickly, thereby developing their level of communication.
They will learn to imitate our actions which are likely to be quite messy at the beginning, becoming more refined the more we practice with them. We can prompt them to use the action by touching or moving their hand on saying the word or action. The gestures can be simple, such as shaking their head for "no" or pointing at something to draw attention. Waving is one of the first happy gestures parents are excited to see their young babies doing, and simply reaching for an item is a positive first gesture instilled in pre-verbal children.
Our children all develop at different stages and at a pace that suits them. If your child’s speech develops at a varying or slower rate to other children, encourage gestures as much as possible to ease their level of frustration of not being understood. Remember the importance of gestures as a useful communicating tool.