They can’t do it without you


Babies arrive into this world equipped with a brain that is primed to learn certain innate abilities.

One of the most fundamental is the ability for language development.

This alone, however, isn’t enough.

TWO more ingredients are needed:

  1. A language environment
  2. A responsive partner

What exactly does this mean?

Sadly, we have learned from a few cases of severe neglect that children need to be surrounded by language. Children who have been isolated from human contact during the important early years of language development simply fail to develop language.

An example is seen in “Genie” who was locked in a closet from the time she was about 1½ until she was 13. Genie never did develop normal language, even though she was immersed in schooling and care after she was found.

Other examples of less-than-ideal exposure come from children with deafness who are born to hearing parents (so they are not exposed to sign language). They don’t learn conventional sign language because they aren’t exposed to it, but they DO make up their own gestural language system, along with grammatically correct structures.

A school for deaf children in Nicaragua is another example of the importance of environment. Before the school opened in the 1970s, deaf children were isolated from one another, and thus lacked a common sign language. Individually, they developed “home signs” within their families. When they were assimilated with other children at school, however, an organic, shared sign language developed among the children. This language has become more and more complex as generations of children have passed through the school, and is now officially Idioma de Señas de Nicaragua (ISN).

So why do children need a partner?

They need feedback.

They need to interact with another person, through words, smiles, and encouragement.

When babies coo and babble, they mimic sounds they hear. And when they utter something that approximates a word — like mama — they get enthusiastic responses from people around them. It’s not surprising that they repeat such words.

This is one of the reasons that a screen can’t replace a person, even a screen that delivers educational content.

Screens don’t respond.

Also, to learn speech sounds they need to see the movement of the mouth and lips. Many television shows have voice-overs, and animated characters. Entertaining for sure, but no substitute for a person.

In doubt? Try this at home:

If you have a young child or toddler in your life, try ignoring them completely for 5 minutes. Look at your phone, check your email. Keep a tally of how many times your child verbalizes, looks to you, or gestures to get your attention (pointing). You will be assured that you are important to them.

One young mother of twins tried this, and she counted 24 and 16 separate attempts to gain her attention while she looked down at her phone.

Our world has become more and more dominated by screens, but children’s neurodevelopmental needs still include the need for people.

At least for now.

If you found this interesting or learned anything new, please let me know by giving it 💚💚💚.