A mind once stretched with a new idea is forever enriched
-Ralph Waldo Emerson
Language development from the Montessori perspective begins at 18 weeks. That is, 18 weeks after conception. That is when an unborn child begins to hear.
How do we foster a love of language in a child? The Montessori approach side steps the flash cards and “baby genius” type videos and instead turns to a more holistic approach.
Language is the most beautiful cultural tradition we pass down to our children. From the earliest days a small baby can be soothed with the recognizable voice of a loved one. From those early beginnings, the whole family plays a critical role in a young child’s language development.
Reading to a child is essential for good language development, but did you know that holding a child gently but firmly (such as hugged while reading) will cause the child’s brain to release serotonin? This is the body’s sleep/happiness drug. Exposing your child to a wide range of printed text such as simple story books, non fiction books such as National Geographic and poetry will start your child on the path to a life long love of language. Don’t give up if your child does not sit still, or seem interested in the book. Try a good variety to find your child’s interest.
The same goes for singing. Your child does not know that you are a terrible singer. They have loved your voice since before they met you. Sing short songs such as nursery rhymes or make them up. Have your child do some actions.
I’m writing this post one, because language development is a passion of mine, but also because Quentin has advanced language skills for his age and we often get questions about what we did to get him to speak like that.
My answer is the same every time. We did nothing. No flash cards. No crazy DVD’s. We just speak to him. All day long. Every day. I try to get the skeptics to see it a different way. What if you dropped out of the sky and landed in a foreign country. A country so foreign that you couldn’t even begin to recognize or understand the language. How would you learn to communicate? You would have people speak slowly to you. You would have them repeat words. You would get them to use lots of hand gestures. You would immerse yourself in all forms of the language.
This is what we did with our boys.
Everywhere in the house there is language. Music, books, singing, talking. We are also the primary voices that Quentin listens to. He does not watch any media.
When we talk to him, we talk slowly if the concept we are talking about is new. We use REAL words. There are no “doggy’s” or “fishy’s” or “bubbas” here. But there are dogs, (and even Dalmatians) and goldfish and bottles. Even when baking, we use the opportunity to expand and enrich Quentin’s vocabulary.
“What is that?” Those three little words are the key to a hole world of language.
I recently had the extreme pleasure of connecting online with Nahal, a mother of a 1 1/2 year old boy, and a Paediatric Speech and Language Pathologist. Nahal is also the founder of Coos Babble Talk. Like me she is passionate about introducing language to children, but unlike me she is a professional. If you are in the California area, Nahal hosts group classes for children and their loved ones that focus on introducing language comprehension and expression through play. Regrettably I am not in the California area and so I seek out her website and her Instagram feed for inspiration regarding language activities to try with Quentin.
Since most parents know the importance of books and such, I asked Nahal for some other ideas to keep in mind when communicating with your child.
Some unexpected things parents can do to encourage early language development:
1) imitate your child – Children learn imitation through you. Imitating actions turn into imitating language
2) Look at your child, make eye contact when cooing, babbling, or talking.
3) Keep it Simple – Focus on common verbs and nouns that will help express a want or need. “I Want Ball!”
Thank you so much Nahal for your input with this and for your beautiful blog.
There is literally a whole world of language out there. The Montessori message in all of this is don’t underestimate your child. If you want them to say Dalmatian to you, you have to say Dalmatian to them.
The only language men ever speak perfectly is the one they learn in babyhood, when no one can teach them anything
14 Replies to “”
Fantastic post! This is really great to hear; I was marvelling about Q’s awesome verbal ability (you posted a vid on insta where he described his day – so cute, and so clear!) — I’m wondering how to encourage F to love language, and find I’m talking to him constantly, and just explaining what I’m doing, or what sounds are happening in the house — drawing his attention to hearing the cardinals chirping at the bird feeder. I also find this helps me connect with the present moment and keeps me mindful of the moment 🙂
It is an amazing connection we share when we stop and listen to the world around us. We read with Anthony and Quentin from the first days, usually while I was breast feeding. Just poetry that spoke to us at first, then childrens books like the Beatrix Potter series. Then story books when they were a little older. They got used to sitting with us to read and it became a natural thing. The same with music, and listening to nature outside. This to us is a much more natural way of sharing a love of language than flash cards.
I think you’re doing a lot of what you need to do to encourage a love for language. Like Beth mentioned music is also such an important way to support the development of language, singing, listening to music, rhymes etc. Are great.
Introducing a rich vocabulary. Children especially around 18 months to 3 yrs old are able to pick up very complex words so don’t simplify. If you know the specific name of a bird or flower, give them that. Don’t laugh at their effort or correct. You may just repeat what you think they said.
Lovely post. I am always very impressed with Quentin’s language skills and ability to express himself. I will check out Nahal’s website and instagram feed right away.
Thanks for writing this, Beth! What a great post. I think I don’t speak enough to Charlotte, especially when it is just the two of us at home together. I am a deep thinker so I get so lost in my thoughts that I forget to speak to her. I need to make a conscious effort to speak to her more as I know it will aid her language development. She is 16.5 months and babbles constantly, though I can hardly ever understand what she is saying. A few of her words are recently starting to be more clear. Like you, we have also avoided flashcards or any language developing programs. She doesn’t watch TV at all either. We read lots of books (though we ought to read more) and listen to music and talk to each other. I will admit that I have been anxious about her language development but I relax and know that she will develop on her own time so long as I provide lots of opportunities. Again, thanks for posting. I so enjoy watching Quentin grow on Instagram. 🙂 You have such a lovely family and a lovely home.
It will happen in it’s own time. However keep tabs and offer lots of opportunities. Children are all different. Around 16 months a child ideally says a few words. But “words” means any sound that specifically means something. So: “da” for something and “ga” for something are words and should be counted in the words she says. Go slow and repeat. Think of it as I talked about in the post. She is a foreigner in your land. Help her get your language.
Thanks for the response. I do need to remember to slow down and repeat myself when necessary. She is comprehending so much at this point, we can tell. She does say quite a few words, some of which are comprehensible. I wish I could understand everything so I could repeat the word she is trying to say. Oh well. I will repeat what I can understand.
She really clings to the words she does know. She says inquisitively “where’d dad (or someone or something else) go?” whenever someone leaves or something is gone. She says “dad” and “mom” and “all done.” We taught her one sign – “toilet” – and she uses it to communicate a huge number of things it seems. I think she is excited that it gets our attention or something. She isn’t in training pants yet but we take her to the toilet often.
Anyway, I will continue to offer lots of opportunities. Thanks for your post and your advice. 🙂
Hey Beth, I’m so glad I finally got here to read your post. It’s relevant to me because Jasper was fairly delayed in his speech and is just now starting to catch up (three word sentences, etc) — which makes Quentin’s verbal skill extra-amazing to me.
What’s been useful for me all the way along is to provide opportunities for Jasper to hear language in diverse settings as you’ve described, and then to relax, knowing that his absorbent mind is taking it all in.
I’m also glad to have the introduction to Nahal’s work — fascinating stuff.
Great post, Beth!
Also that first picture of Quentin is too handsome!
Thanks Meghan. The other extremely important fact to remember is exactly that: the Absorbent Mind. Many things are happening all at once. The child’s body is under a huge transformation. Words may be put on hold because walking is taking precedence. It’s important to remember that movement comes from a very different part then the speech centre of the brain. The different parts most often take turns expanding. This however doesn’t mean that the Absorbent Mind stops. The child is still taking everything in.
You’re right, Beth, thanks for reminding me of that — and anecdotally I’ve seen that a lot of kids seem to excel in either language or movement. It certainly applies in our case!
A late repy to your post, I hope you don’t mind. I’ve come across your blog via How We Montessori.
I have been looking for information on teaching language the Montessori way, however, I have been struggling to findi advice for multilingual children. I’m German, my husband is Portuguese and we speak in English with each other. We live in Portugal now and are expecting our first child around Christmas time.
I was wondering if you had any resources I could look up on multilingualism, not just bilingualism?
Thanks very much in advance & best wishes,
Just FYI, I did all of these things and I’m a teacher with a Masters degree in Elementary Reading and Literacy and my child still has a speech delay. I still believe reading to my child and speaking to him a lot helped him to have an excellent comprehension of what is being said to him if that makes sense. He understands so much, however speech delay is not caused by the parents’ actions generally speaking, in my opinion. Of course, in extreme examples where language is completely withheld from a child, they will not acquire it, but my point is I imitated early coos, I read to my child A LOT, I used nonfiction books, I followed Montessori, we had almost zero screen time ever, and he still has a speech delay. I don’t believe my actions are why, I believe it’s just how he has developed on his personal timeline and there is nothing wrong with that. He will speak when he’s ready. I guess my point is, just because your child has amazing speech and you did these things doesn’t mean that’s why other children with speech delays don’t have these results. 🙂 I just wanted to share my perspective and I truly appreciate you and other bloggers letting us peek into your lives and learn about how you use Montessori etc. Thank you for being so public with your life! Much love! 🙂
Hi Nikki, yes of course, speech delay often has little to do with a parents actions but I don’t feel the post implying otherwise.
Like all things Montessori a parents role is to provide opportunities that will spark in a child a lifetime love of learning. Children with speech delays are no different and many have just as much love of language as a child without a speech delay.