By the age of one, children:
  • have started to imitate words

  • are just starting to use a few spontaneous and deliberate words

  • 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 result of:

  • 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 master new skills

  • the opportunities they have had to explore their environment without restrictions.

Influences on the positive outcome: Getting ready for language and learning

Appropriate stimulation
Positive parenting skills
  Safe and varied environment

Note: These influences are also listed in the drop-down list above. Please use this menu to navigate within this page.


Appropriate Stimulation

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)

Children’s 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 word sounds. At around one year of age, children speak their first words.

Children learn much more than language during their 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 but achievable.

  • 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, peek-a-boo. 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 Mothercraft’s 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 in the third trimester of pregnancy and continues until the child is three (227) and is open to all parents. This program has improved children’s 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 children’s 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 parent’s readiness to respond to their children’s facial expressions and body language are central to their children’s 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 children’s 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 child. (286)

Support and knowledge of what children need to promote their positive development can help parents develop positive responses to meet these needs.

  • 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 feel comfortable and confident caring for their babies help them 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. (237)

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. Homevisitors 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 Mothercraft’s 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 bored.

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 children’s toys and label toys as age appropriate.


Aware of any innovative programs, legislation or initiatives that 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), that illustrate work done in this area. After reading this section of the site, click on the icon below and share your ideas.

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