Infants & Toddlers: Activities That Encourage Gesturing
Pointing is a powerful gesture for babies. Model pointing gestures as you carry a baby in your arms, walking toward a shelf with an interesting toy. Talk about the toy you are both watching and walking toward. Be responsive when a baby begins to use that wonderful pointing gesture to draw your eye to what she is interested in or desires. Exclaim, "Yes, I see what you are pointing at! You really like to see the new flower opening up on our plant!" With your prompt attention to their signals, you are helping babies develop verbal communication.
For young babies, tie an interesting mobile safely over the crib so that they can kick at it and watch the objects spin. These gestures that keep the objects spinning will help the babies feel empowered-masters of their actions.
Show babies simple hand gestures that will be easy for them. For example, the hand motions in the patty-cake nursery rhyme. For older babies, try the gestures for "The Wheels on the Bus" song. Babies love to join in as they sit close to you in a group. You can sing the song and provide exaggerated, cheerful gestures that go with each stanza.
Use words that stimulate babies to perform a specific gesture. For example, say, "Show me what is in your hand." This teaches a baby that she has to open her closed hand to reveal what she is clutching. Doing so, she begins to associate that gesture with your words.
Model loving gestures for babies. Hugging a teddy bear, tenderly wrapping a dolly in a blanket, blowing kisses, and happily waving bye-bye are prosocial and loving communications that Baby will learn easily from a nurturing teacher-you!
Keep in mind that toddlers are vertical and mobile. They may not have much language, but you can help them learn lots of gestures. You can hold out your hand so they will take it and walk you over to a shelf where a toy is too high up for them to get by themselves. Be sure to add words: "Thank you for coming to get me to walk over to the shelf, honey. Now I see what toy you want me to get down for you."
Play large-motor games that involve sequences of gestures. The game "Head, Shoulders, Tummy, Toes" is a good example. Toddlers also love the game ring-around-the-rosy, or the variant "Sally go round the sun; Sally go round the moon; Sally go round the chimney pots every afternoon. Boom!" In both circle games, toddlers fall on the floor at the end with great grins! These games allow them to communicate with peers. Don't be discouraged if toddlers' hands come unlaced throughout the game. Gently help them hold hands together time after time.
Remember that certain gestures or movements are difficult for toddlers. You want to present materials that might make those gestures easier. Pouring water from one container to another requires wrist control that may not develop well until almost 2 years of age. Help toddlers by providing larger plastic cups at the water table so they get pouring practice. Praise them for their attempts!
Play gestural copycat games while toddlers are seated and waiting at a table (for their snacks to be delivered, for example). You can hold out your hand and spread your fingers wide, then bunch your fingers together. Can the toddlers copy your gestures?