By the age of one, children:
- have started to imitate words
- are just starting to use a few spontaneous and deliberate
- are skilled at using gestures to communicate
- initiate different tasks
- can engage in deliberate experimentation and have
some sense of cause and effect in specific situations (53)
These newly acquired skills are a result of both physical maturation
and experiences in the care of attentive and loving adults over the past
12 months. Language development and eagerness to try new things are the
- how frequently children's parents have spoken with
them and responded affectionately to their attempts to babble back
- the stimulation which has been provided by toys
and with every day activities
- the encouragement parents have given as their children
to master new skills
- the opportunities they have had to explore their environment
Influences on the positive outcome: Getting ready
for language and learning
||Positive parenting skills
||Safe and varied environment
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The first noises children make - cooing and babbling - appear to be genetically
programmed and occur as they gain control over their mouths, lips and
vocal cords. The sounds and the words that children eventually make are
a result of the language which is spoken to them (53).
Childrens brains are ready to begin the process of language learning
at birth. When adults speak to infants the sounds they make activate the
language area of the brain and strengthen specific neural connections.
As specific sounds are repeated hundreds of times, these connections get
stronger and eventually an auditory map is formed and the brain is "wired"
for language. By the time infants are 12 months old, if they have been
spoken to a lot, their auditory maps will reflect all the sounds of their
native language, and the basic building blocks for further language development
will be in place (11).
Experience counts. The more children are spoken to, the more words they
will recognize and, as they get older, the more words they will use (11).
For very young infants, what the parent says is irrelevant. It is hearing
the words from an adult who is smiling and paying attention to them that
is the important experience. An affectionate response encourages infants
to carry on babbling, and continue in their language development.
By about nine months, children recognize and respond to a few words such
as their names. The high-pitched, singsong speech style of parents seems
to help babies connect objects with words (53,11).
At 11 months, children are starting to associate words with objects by
hearing them repeatedly in different situations, and they are imitating
At around one year of age, the children speak their first words.
Children learn much more than language during the first year. They are
developing fine and large motor skills and using them to learn about the
world around them. Like language, new motor skills evolve in a predictable
sequence according to a biological time table and they are developed and
refined through practice. Parents encourage this development by creating
an age-appropriate, child-friendly environment that stimulates children
to touch, hold, and manipulate objects. They teach children when they
are ready to try a new skill. They help them to complete tasks that may
be beyond their current capabilities and praise them for a job well done.
They encourage children to experiment with new toys. They are sensitive
to what interests them and build on those interests.
All of these experiences help build children's confidence that they can
succeed when they try new things. Not only the skills learned, but the
positive associations with learning provide a solid base for the preschool
years and beyond.
- Provide things that stimulate all of the children's
senses - different textures, shapes, colours, and sounds.
- Arrange experiences that are novel, safe and challenging
- Allow children to have as much freedom as possible
to explore their environments, while ensuring their safety.
- Play games - pat-a-cake, singing nursery rhymes,
Provide positive feedback in many different ways - mirroring actions
or facial expressions, mimicking sounds.
- Speak to children often, even though they are too
young to understand. Children learn the sounds and rhythms of language
before they speak.
- Read books out loud with your children.
- Community resources assist parents both to understand
the learning needs of their child and to meet those needs.
- Toy lending libraries not only loan toys to parents
but also provide parenting information.
Infant stimulation programs bring together caregivers - usually mothers
- and their infants to learn more about positive interaction.
- Mentoring programs link experienced parents with
new parents. They help inexperienced caregivers feel comfortable with
their infants and model affectionate, stimulating parenting skills.
An example of such a mentoring program is Canadian Mothercrafts
Parent Companion program.
- Multifaceted initiatives provide a range of parent
education and support services. A well researched example of this type
of initiative is the Parents as Teachers program that begins with the
third trimester of pregnancy and continues until the child is three
(227) and is open to all parents. This program has improved childrens
intellectual and social skills and participating parents become more
informed about child development and child-rearing practices than non-participants.
Many parents must return to work long before their childrens first
birthdays and leave them in infant child care. The quality of the child
care they receive has a significant influence on their healthy development.
Provincial governments have the authority to set standards for child care.
Where such standards are set they are based on minimal, rather than quality
expectations. Even so, the majority of children, including infants, are
cared for in unregulated settings (53). Research on unregulated settings
is limited, but existing studies suggest that caregiving in regulated
homes is of higher quality (53).
Government policies influence access to, as well as quality of child
care, including infant care. Quality child care is labour intensive and
therefore expensive, ranging from $6,000 to $10,284 a year in a 1993 study
(53). Across Canada, parents absorb most of this cost. Some governments
provide subsidies to low income families. However, in the past decade,
fees have increased, family incomes have not kept pace with those increases,
and the availability of fee subsidization has decreased (53).
Government policies in the following areas have an impact on parents
access to quality care for their infants:
- Direct subsidies to parents, based on income, to
assist them to purchase quality services
tax credits that reduce the cost of child care for parents
- training and assistance to care providers to establish
and maintain quality environments for children
- regulations that set quality standards and processes
to monitor the quality of all child care
Positive parenting skills
Children learn by interacting with people. Parents are
the most significant source of stimulation in the first year of life.
How responsive parents are shows how emotionally available they are to
their children. A parents readiness to respond to their childrens
facial expressions and body language are central to their childrens
language and cognitive development (114).
A child smiles. A parent smiles back. A child gurgles and a parent sings
a song. A child bumps his hand and receives a hug and soothing words.
The positive emotional tone of these actions and reactions set the stage
for childrens learning.
Parental mental health is one of the strongest risk factors for problems
in children. Emotionally healthy parents are more likely to be able to
respond warmly to their baby and to be emotionally available to their
Support and knowledge of what children need to promote their positive
development can help parents develop positive responses to meet these
- Families can ensure mothers are supported.
- Prepare and plan for how the household will be managed
with a baby.
- Learn about healthy child development and what can
be done to promote it.
- Community initiatives that help parents understand
the needs of their babies and to feel comfortable and confident caring
for their babies help them to establish warm and responsive relationships.
While some parents actively seek information and opportunities to learn
about parenting new infants, seeking help beyond immediate friends and
family is not the norm in our society. The process of reaching out to
new parents is important.
- Family resource centres exist in many communities.
They vary in the range of supports they provide, but are staffed by
people who are warm and accepting; who can help answer questions asked
by new parents; and who model good parenting behaviours themselves.
Their goal is to build a respectful relationship with parents reinforcing
and building on existing strengths. The range of services these centres
offer may include a drop-in centre, scheduled events for parents to
get together, and structured programs for infants and parents. They
provide supportive, non-threatening, accessible, and informative services
- Homevisiting programs are designed to provide support
and develop the confidence and competence of parents. Various studies
have shown that well designed homevisiting programs can improve the
physical, social and emotional well-being of families (41).
- Homevisiting is most often used with families who
have the greatest need for support such as young, single mothers, families
with few economic resources, and families who may not regularly access
other community services. Home visitors need to be well trained and
supported. Their successful interaction with the family depends on their
ability to establish a positive, trusting relationship with them (22,
41, 87, 148).
- Infant stimulation programs provide opportunities
for parents to get together with other parents and their babies, and
learn new skills from a trained leader. Many of these programs train
parents to observe their babies, to consider what it is their babies
are experiencing and/or trying to communicate, and to adapt their responses
to the needs of the infant.
Mentoring programs link experienced parents with new parents. They help
inexperienced caregivers feel comfortable with their infants and model
affectionate, stimulating parenting skills. An example of such a mentoring
program is the Canadian Mothercrafts Parent Companion Program.
Safe and varied environment
Infants explore the environment using their senses. When they are attracted
to something they naturally touch, taste, push or pull. Toys or other
objects within their reach need to be examined to ensure they can be safely
handled. Once children are mobile, dangerous items need to be moved from
cupboards or drawers that are within their reach.
Mobile children need space to explore. Having a room that is child-proof
will allow them to use their muscles. It also gives them opportunities
to move close to or away from the security of their parents or caregivers.
Young children need variety. If things are too familiar they can be quickly
"The right learning
toy for a baby at any age is one that produces pleasure
and excitement and is safe" (64
- Ensure toys are safe
- Ensure children are supervised when they become mobile
and start to explore
- Child-proof the house
- Encourage and support the development of safety regulations
for childrens toys and label toys as age appropriate.
Aware of any
innovative programs, legislation or initiatives which
are relevant to this positive outcome?
This is your chance to let us know!
We are always on the
lookout for specific strategies proven to be successful
(or showing promise), which illustrate work done in
this area. After reading this section of the site, click
on the icon below and share your ideas.