Lois Bloom and Margaret Lahey, describe language,"as a means to communicate and express ideas, representing objects, events and relationships in a systematic way where rules govern the combination of words and sentences."
Language is a complex system that develops in the context of the social relationships of the child. Language goes beyond the production of "words" for it is the way in which we share ideas, share feelings and represent the contents of our minds to our communicative partners. Language is the way we make ourselves known to others.
Important Precursors to Language: In order to develop language, there are many critical precursors that emerge between 0-12 months of age, prior to the expression of first words. In the first year of life the child is developing a foundation for communication based on developing capacities for: intentionality, shared attention, affective engagement, reciprocity and the building of ideas and meaning. These are developed in the context of playful interaction with caring parents and caregivers, either through gestural, non-verbal affective exchanges or pre-verbal sound making.
Building intentionality: Intentionality is a cornerstone for language development. This means supporting a child's ability to experience themselves as competent communicators. As communicative partners, we want to accept any communication as intentional (eye gaze, gaze shifts between people or objects, facial expressions, body proximity, gestures - reaching, pointing, showing, vocalizations, and approximations of words) and give meaning to their early communication, by responding and encouraging more of the same.
Supporting Shared Attention: Shared attention happens when the child can bring something to your attention with curiosity and delight, as if to say, "Look!" Early on, children appeal for shared attention with another through gaze, gestures and sounds. You respond and together are sharing interest around the same idea, demonstrating "mutual engagement." In DIR ® we join the child around their interests ("following their lead"), and thus we are able to validate their experience and intention. As we support and sustain shared attention with the child, they in turn can share and expand on their interests further.
Support sound making and social communication: By mirroring back, imitating with joy and variation of rhythm, a child's tone and volume, you help a child to understand that sounds and social communication are meaningful. By establishing a continuous flow of back and forth playful sound making you lay foundations for the flow and rhythm of communication central to social relationships.
Support Reciprocity: When children gaze lovingly at communicative partners, vocalize with enthusiasm, and use their gestures and bodies to initiate and respond to their partners, they are engaged in the dance of reciprocity. Relationship formation and early communication development depends on reciprocity. Our responses to a child's first stages of communication and intent give meaning to sound production, shared experience. We lay the foundation for their very first "circles of communication."