Early Communication in Young Children
After babbling and scribble writing, the "next big step" in language development on these parallel tracks deals with categories and representation. In oral language, babies begin to use everything at their disposal to communicate their needs and desires. This can be in the form of grunts and sounds, shaking the head, and especially pointing and eye gaze. These signals are important because they herald the beginning of babies' ability to intentionally communicate. Though these babies are still pre-verbal, they are creating perfect opportunities for language learning. "These episodes are 'hot spots' for vocabulary learning...Since mothers often put their babies' intentions into words (Oh, it's the cheese you want!), babies are hearing words for precisely what they are focused on at the moment" (Golinkoff & Hirsh-Pasek, 2000, p. 71).
Through their continued exposure to the sound patterns they are hearing in these language learning contexts, babies begin to recognize patterns and find words in the language streams swirling around them. Once they put meaning into these units they recognize, they are more than simply patterns, but true words. Now babies recognize these words, but are still grappling with how to actually produce them. At this stage, it is absolutely essential that parents and caregivers honor the communication attempts of their babies. Numerous studies show that parental responsiveness to babies' communicative efforts contribute to language growth (Bruner 1983; Sachs, Bard, & Johnson, 1981; Schiefflin & Ochs, 1983).
Just as babies acquiring oral language show a recognizable stage where they are becoming active communicators, young children acquiring written language show parallel - and equally important - growth. In the beginning representation stage, they are beginning to use the page as a communication device. Young children at this stage are moving beyond scribble writing and producing symbols on paper to represent meaning.
Just as it is absolutely essential that parents and caregivers honor the communication attempts of their babies, it is vital that caregivers and educators honor these early written attempts. It is still language that we are nurturing, though it is in written rather than oral form. Our responsiveness to young children's written communicative efforts stimulate interest and show children they have agency through their print.
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