(19th February, 2015 NZ Listener - By Sally Blundell In Education)
Talking to children is crucial for their development – but today there’s alarming evidence the new generation suffers from a lack of interaction.
“Now my love, can we sit you on your mum’s lap? There we go, good girl.” Nine-month-old Anna Collins fixes her gaze on Christchurch Plunket nurse Victoria Woods. She leans in as if for an intimate conversation.
“Good girl. You’re doing fantastically. Mum, mum, mum – do you make this noise?” Anna gurgles, lifts her arms in the air, wriggles her feet, then pauses like she’s waiting for a reply.
Over the next 20 minutes, Woods maintains a steady if seemingly one-sided conversation with Anna, asking questions, pausing for a response, blowing raspberries, validating the sounds and actions of her young charge, providing a running commentary for each check and change while asking questions of Anna’s mother, Terhi Sinisalo. Anna keeps a constant watch. She glances up at her mother, checks her sister playing on the slide in the next room, smiles at the photographer.
All good. She turns back to Woods.
“Did we see some teeth?” Anna gives a wide gummy smile.
This is the art of language. Long before a baby articulates his or her first word, the groundwork for communication is laid in this intimate repertoire of chit-chat, repetitions, intonations, gestures, pauses and eye contact. It’s modelled in Plunket clinics and home visits around the country (last year Plunket saw 91% of all New Zealand newborns) and practised in homes at bedtime, feeding time, ideally any time within those all-important first 1000 days of life when young children acquire the foundational language skills necessary for spoken language, cognitive development, literacy and social skills.
“A baby arrives in the world recognising the sound of their mother and their father,” says Plunket’s national parenting adviser Brigid Wilkinson. “In the first six months of life they’re picking up all the subtleties of language – the patterns, the rhythms, the way the mother moves her lips, how language is used in the house.”