The earliest conversations babies have are with their bodies and their eyes. As their teachers coo to them and tell them how wonderful they are, babies thrust their legs in vigorous delight. As we hold babies in our arms for a feeding, their "conversations" often consist of staring into our eyes and curling their fists around our fingers.

As you croon to a baby and then pause, she learns to take her turn in responding vocally. Using open throaty vowels, babies will "talk" back in tune with your loving and animated voice tones. It is almost, as if the baby is "hard-wired" to understand turn-taking talk, even though she has no "words" to use when it is her turn to talk.

Toddlers often seem to lack turn-taking skills, in play as well as when talking with peers. This is true even though they have far more vocabulary than infants that they can use as they chatter away in phrases of two, three, and even more words. This seems puzzling, until we remember that toddlers are very centered on their own needs and experiences. Two toddlers seated at a table, creating with play dough, may seem to be talking together. Yet each child may be commenting on a personal experience or observation rather than responding appropriately to the message of his peer.

Teachers have two special goals. One is to assist toddlers to use turn-taking in conversations. The other is to help toddlers listen to the content and ideas expressed by another person, whether an adult or a playmate, and try to respond to the message they just heard, rather than add their own, unrelated message.  

Click here to view and download A Letter to Families (PDF)