Age: 6-9 months

psychological research: Do babies understand speech?

Do babies understand speech? What does the psychological research say - yes! Infant verbal understanding

Do babies understand speech?

I saw this interesting research paper today (1) about whether babies as young as 6 months understand that speech is used to communicate information (rather than random, interesting sounds that come out of our mouths).

 

→ Babies at 6 months appear to understand that speech transfers information between people

Some people might think – but of course! Others might think, wow, that’s early to understand such a thing.

 

 

 

The study also mentioned that:
  • Previous research (2, 3) has shown that 12 month old children can understand that speech transfers information, even when the speech is unknown or a new experience for them.
  • By 6 months, babies prefer speech over other sounds (4)
  • They also associate speech as coming from people, rather than other animals, for example (5)

 

What the experiment did:

The researchers looked at:

  • Whether 6 month olds could recognise that speech can communicate something about an object.
  • In the experiment the baby watched an actor reach for one of two different objects. There was also a second person present. Next, the actor could no longer reach the objects, but the second person could
    • so they either “spoke” to the person (they actually spoke a nonsense word, not a real conversation)
    • or made a non-speech communication (a cough).
  • The second person would then pick up one of the objects (there was a “target” object and a “non-preferred” object)
  • The results showed that babies looked at the actor for longer when they reached for the non-preferred object than the target object when they made the nonsense word, but not when when they coughed.

The study concludes that at 6 months, even though babies have a very small receptive vocabulary, infants have some abstract understanding of the communicative function of speech. This understanding may help with their development of language and knowledge.

Conclusion
Six-month olds infer that a vocalization that takes the
form of speech, even without any previously established
meaning, can communicate information about an object…….

 

…… even before knowing many words, infants can already use their understanding of the abstract role of speech in communication to evaluate the outcome of communicative interactions. (pg7)

The main points:
  • babies understand that speech is used to communicate and has a communicative function before they build their vocabularies and start to speak.
  • understanding that speech is used to communicate may happen before the child develops language, and this understanding may also provide a mechanism for early language acquisition:
  •  Babies start to learn quite early on that speech transfers information and may use this abstract understanding to learn about the meaning of individual words (6)

 

interesting!

 

References:
  1. Vouloumanos, A., Martin, A., & Onishi, K. H. (2014). Do 6-month-olds understand that speech can communicate? Developmental Science, pp 1–8
  2. Martin, A., Onishi, K.H., & Vouloumanos, A. (2012). Understanding the abstract role of speech in communication at 12 months. Cognition, 123 (1), 50 – 60. 
  3. Vouloumanos, A., Onishi, K .H., & Pogue, A. (2012). Twelve-month-old infants recognize that speech can communicate unobservable intentions. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America , 109 (32),12933 – 12937.
  4. Vouloumanos, A., & Werker, J.F. (2004). Tuned to the signal:the privileged status of speech for young infants. Develop-mental Science.  7 (3), 270-276
  5. Vouloumanos, A., Druhen, M. J., Hauser, M.D., & Huizink, A.T. (2009). Five-month-old infants’ identification of thesources of vocalizations.  Proceedings of the National Acad-emy of Sciences of the United States of America,106 (44),18867-18872.
  6. Waxman, S.R., & Leddon, E.M. (2002). Early word learning and conceptual development: everything had a name, and each name gave birth to a new thought. In U. Goswami(Ed.),The Wiley-Blackwell handbook of childhood cognitivedevelopment (pp. 102-126). Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell
For further references in relation to infant cognition and communication see this page here from the infant cognition and communication lab

Toy tray play

toy tray play baby

We had some fun today putting some of the Little Lovely’s toys on a large tray lid and letting him explore them all and push them around of the tray. Toys included a variety of textures, shapes and sound making items, and objects to mouth. It seemed to entertain him for a while! It was probably a novel experience for him as his toys and items are not usually presented to him like this. They are either on the floor, in a box or part of a treasure basket.
Rotate and alternate the toys for something different each week or day.
baby-brain.co.uk psychology resource, perspective and blog on motherhood baby toy tray play

Having fun with toys presented on tray

 

food glorious food

baby-brain.co.uk psychology resource, perspective, blog on babies and motherhood. weaning tales, baby food, highchair

Baby at the table

So the Little Lovely (LL) has been trying out solids for about 2.5 months now. He is regularly eating a meal or two a day, more like two meals actually. I was unsure of how much milk to give him on top of this and whether to drop a milk feed and replace it fully with a solid meal. He seems to have a very good appetite and, other than making some faces at the first few bites of new food, he seems to eat anything he is offered.

 

The weaning literature seems to say stuff like “don’t worry about portion sizes at the moment – your baby will tell you when they have had enough” – and other things like the start of weaning being more about baby trying out and tasting different foods rather than about giving solid food for nutritional purposes. That’s all well and good, but LL will eat A LOT of anything he is offered and usually stops only once the food has run out. So, for example, if I offer him a 120g pouch of food he will eat it all, and eat any additional food that I offer afterwards. I can’t find anywhere how much in one meal an 8.5 month old is supposed to have, because it usually says the usual about “your baby will tell you when he’s full….etc”. Well, ok so am I supposed to stuff him with food until he’s sick? because that’s what it feels like will happen if I keep feeding him.

baby-brain.co.uk weaning tales psychology perspective & blog on motherhood, babies

More Food Please

 

Anyway, I called up the NCT breastfeeding helpline to speak to someone about whether I should drop a milk feed and just have LL on one morning and one evening feed a day (2 feeds/day total). They were very helpful. They told me that he should have 4 feeds a day and will need approx 600ml of milk (formula or breastmilk), and even when he is one year old will still need a pint of milk a day, although at that point he could have cow’s milk. She said about weaning not being meal replacement but about being complementary to the milk, and over time the percentage of food to milk will change, with him having more food and less milk, but for now he gets his main nutrition from milk. She was speaking from a generic perspective, however, and said things that I don’t really think apply to LL such as about baby not eating that much at the moment etc, and that he needs calcium and the like. I told her that he ate a 90g pot of yoghurt today, so would that give him enough calcium? I asked. She thought it would.

He has also increased in weight from the 50% percentile at birth and the first 2 months or so, up to I think above the 90th centile, although I haven’t had him weighed for a few weeks. So, I’m still not sure about portion sizes and want to ensure he isn’t eating too much seeing as he needs 4 milk feeds on top of it!

Anyway, for dinner today he had butternut squash and pear. He seemed to like it. lots left over for the freezer.

baby-brain.co.uk psychology resource & perspective on motherhood and babies, and blog. weaning tales. baby food

Butternut squash and pear home-made baby food

Baby Play Gyms

I wanted to include things like play gyms and other apparatus, but wasn’t sure what category to put them under! I suppose they could come under sensory play, but also involve motor skills and creative play, to name a few. So here are some miscellaneous play elements:

 

Baby play gyms - developmental benefits

LL in his play gym

— Play Gyms — 

I was fortunate to be given a play gym from a friend with a one year old who had two play gyms and didn’t need one any more. She also didn’t want it back because they had a lot of baby stuff, so that was very nice. I don’t know if I would have bought one, or maybe I would have bought one a lot later and I think I would have really missed out. I got it when the Little Lovely (LL) was probably only a couple of months old and I have to say it’s been a GREAT piece of equipment. We hang lots of different toys from it, and alternate the toys. At 5 months he can usually knock or pull most of the toys down, but still seems to enjoy it. At earlier stages he was just lightly batting at toys in an uncoordinated manner, then grabbing, then grabbing with both hands, then trying to stuff them in his mouth. I really hope it’s aided his development in terms of sight, motor skills, been FUN and also importantly, for me, occupied him for a little while meaning that I could go do stuff like eat my breakfast!! (Something that was not possible for the first few weeks, or longer).

 

concentrated bapping - bap bap
concentrated bapping – bap bap
Our gym now has lots of stuff attached to it. It wasn’t always so complicated looking and we started with just one or two hanging toys that jingled when they moved.
From doing some brief research, gyms do indeed have developmental benefits: here is an article by “Mama OT” (a paediatric occupational therapist) on the Developmental Benefits of Using a Baby Play Gym. The article outlines some of the cognitive, visual perception, grasping and reaching skills, gross motor skills, self-awareness and sensory stimulation benefits of play gyms. 

 

s he crossing the midline? reaching for a toy on opposite side of body

Is he crossing the midline? reaching for a toy on opposite side of body

What I found of particular interest in the article was about gyms facilitating baby’s skills in bringing their two hands together at the midline of their body, such as while holding or reaching for a toy on the gym and therefore reaching across the midline of their body. Think of the midline as an invisible vertical line that runs down the middle of the body. Crossing the midline would involve touching one side of your body with the other, for example when you scratch your left ear with your right hand. I remember the occupational therapist that ran the baby massage classes I went to with LL talking about this and some of the exercises we did where LL “crossed the midline” by touching his left hand to his right foot and vice versa while singing a little song about a cheeky monkey.

 

The article writes that crossing the midline activity strengthens the Corpus Callosum (structure in middle of the brain involved in communication between left and right hemispheres), and is significant in learning to crawl and development of bilateral skills (using both sides of the body at the same time, e.g. using both hands together). Of course, other activities also help baby practice crossing the midline, like play and activities that we picked up at baby massage. Here’s a link to further information on crossing the midline with children.

 

What’s for dinner, baby?

Weaning Tales, Food Ideas. baby-brain.co.uk: Psychology resource and perspective on babies and motherhood

what’s for dinner, baby? Toasty dinner

yum yum – organic brown toast with organic butter cut into baby clutch size pieces, and leftovers from an organic baby food pouch of peaches, pear and baby rice that we had earlier today for lunch! I’m still in the “i’m only getting organic and good stuff” phase. But I don’t think it will last long – in a similar vein I planned to eat mainly organic and healthy fruit and vegetables during pregnancy, but that didn’t last long either! I was soon on the chips. I cut out diet fizzy drinks though. I think I read a paper about large consumptions of diet drinks and an association with early labour. I will have to find the study and I think it was associated with quite a large quantity of drink though.

I’ve also finally ordered a high chair, so the Little Lovely can eat his food and we can continue weaning without having to use his bouncy chair. I do like the look of Montessori weaning tables, however, but i’m not sure where to buy one and I don’t know if LL can/would be willing to sit in one yet. More on the Montessori method and weaning here (How we Montessori), including pictures of weaning tables (apparently people make their own, if they can’t find one commercially), and here (At Home with Montessori). Here’s a nice little video of a baby sitting at a weaning table eating and some of the Montessori related thinking and process relating to eating and weaning, from the Full Montessori (good name!). Ceramic or glass bowls/kitchenware is also used in the Montessori method because if it falls and breaks, then baby witnesses and learns the consequence. A trip to the charity shop is in order maybe for some cheap and cheerful bowls that you don’t mind breaking then?!

Maybe I shouldn’t have ordered that highchair…..

What’s for dinner, baby?

Yum yum, tonight I have made red lentil and sweet potato mush for the Little Lovely. Boiled up the lentils, steamed the sweet potato over the lentils, blended, added a bit of the lentil water because the consistency was too thick. Then popped into pots and put a couple in the fridge for the next few days and the rest in the freezer. Hope he likes it. Trying to offer non fruit or overly sweet options to him. Although, the potato is sweet, but not too much. We’ll see how it goes down. He always makes a terrible face the first time he tries something new but then doesn’t mind it after a few more bites.

Let’s go shopping

So the last few days we have been shopping for a sofa and other furniture. There are far too many sofa choices and it’s difficult with a nearly 7 month old. I also didn’t plan/time things well (as I usually find) when out and ended up having to feed him on a sofa in one of the furniture shops. At least it meant I got a good feel for the sofa though. Fortunately, the place was empty apart from me (not many sofa-shoppers around on a Friday afternoon, suppose they must all be at work and come out at the weekends, which is why I wanted to get to the shops before the hoards descended on the weekend).

Back to feeding for a moment though, this is a problem i’ve found with feeding “on demand”; it makes it difficult to plan and have a consistent schedule because you don’t know exactly when you will be required. That said, from monitoring the Little Lovely (LL) there are some patterns to his eating and sleeping so it is possible to predict his hunger and tiredness somewhat. I’m also trying to get more consistent “breakfast”, “lunch” and “dinner” time feeds in because we have started to introduce solids. I’m not replacing any milk feeds with a solid feed yet but I am trying to introduce a more solid lunch meal by giving LL some food after his lunch time milk feed. So far he has tried various fruits and vegetables including banana, carrot, pear, apple (puréed and mushed up) and baby rice (it’s a bit like instant porridge). He also quite likes rice cakes, however, these are meant for 7 month and older babies (he is almost 7 months and has 6 teeth) (please consult your health care professional and make up your own mind about whether your baby is ready for a particular solid food)

  • note to self – write about our weaning experiences – “weaning tales”
baby-brain.co.uk sofa shopping with baby in tow

How to occupy a baby while sofa shopping?

Anyway, back to sofa shopping. It wasn’t that easy with a small child in tow. Fortunately, there were lots of faux living room “set ups” in the shop with sofas and a nice rug so I put him down on the rug with some toys (making sure there was no coffee table for him to bang his head on) whilst I tried out the seating options. It worked somewhat; he was safe on the rug and meant that I didn’t have to keep picking him up and flopping down on a sofa with him.

We were able to go shopping because one of our regular baby classes has finished. A lot of classes seem to stop for summer and run during school term dates. I’m not sure how relevant this is to babies as they do not have “summer term” because they are not at school. I also have no other children, so I don’t have any children at home on summer break that I need to stay home to look after so I don’t really understand why so many classes stop for the summer. It’s very annoying and disappointing because LL and I still need activities and events to entertain ourselves with. I keep meaning to write something on the psychological aspects and maybe benefits of these classes. This would include benefits for the parent as well because it gives you something to do, get out the house, is social, active, gives you ideas and tips for baby related activities, and many other things that I’m sure are connected to good mental health of mothers (and fathers too).

  • note to self – write about the benefits, or relevant psychological aspects of attending baby/toddler classes.

Anyway, after all his patience and visiting a department store to look at yet more furniture, I treated LL to a stroll into the toy department where he enjoyed some puppets and soft toys.

baby-brain.co.uk psychology resource and perspective on motherhood - entertain baby after shopping trip with toys & puppets

Reward – toy & puppet fun

Tooth’s Company

Ok so as I thought might happen The Little Lovely does have a second Upper Lateral Incisor coming in, to the left of his upper front teeth. Yay. Tooth for the price of one, again. At least he is being efficient with his teething, but seeing as this has happened 3 times now (two teeth coming in within a day or two of each other) maybe this is normal?!

Teeth and Other Developments – Crawling, Teeth and Talking

What? I like to sit with my legs like this | baby development teeth and talking - Baby-Brain.co.uk psychology resource, perspective & blog on motherhood

What? I like to sit with my legs like this

The Little Lovely is now 6 months and 3 weeks. I discovered he has another new tooth today, on the top to the right of his newish front teeth (his Upper Lateral Incisors, apparently). He’s following the appropriate “tooth appearance in babies order” again, although this time I can’t see a second tooth coming through on the other side. Maybe it will turn up in a day or two, like what happened with his other teeth (see the tooth for the price of one posts here and here about his bottom and upper front teeth).

This might explain why he had some poor sleep during the week and wanted to get up at 5:30am on a couple of days. I’m afraid 5:30am is not “morning”, it is not a time that should exist where I should be up in the “morning”. But, I had to because LL didn’t want to sleep any more. He used to want to get up at about 8:30am. This then changed to 6:30am and then down to 5:30 amand even 5:10am last week. I’m starting to feel sorry for the lady I spoke about in the Sleep Lady post where her baby slept through the night but wanted to get up at 5am every day. I previously didn’t have much sympathy because her child slept through the night and at least she got uninterrupted sleep for several hours. Don’t worry, LL is still not sleeping through the night, but I can now appreciate the woman’s complaint a little more (although I’d still rather LL slept through the night and woke up at 5am than wake several times during the night and get up later at 8:30am).

Ok, and so other than teeth and sleep, what else is LL up to? He is mostly crawling backwards, and has been for some time now, but can now bring a hand off the ground when in a crawling position and do something with it like hit the floor or hold a ball now. He can stretch out and lunge forward a bit. He can’t crawl forward traditionally but will do a strange improvised-movement-thingy where he sits, moves onto all fours and a crawling position, stretches, then goes back into a sitting position but will be sitting a bit further forward than he was to start with, so over time he can actually shuffle himself across the floor.

And...push! (baby mini pushups) baby development teeth and talking - Baby-Brain.co.uk psychology resource, perspective & blog on motherhood

And…push! (baby mini pushups)

We also witnessed him pushing himself up today onto his feet for a few seconds, although can’t stand at all. He was also doing some massive push ups a few weeks ago (baby push up; picture on right), and now sits with his legs in an odd position as seen in the picture above. Maybe this is for more stability?

 

baby development crawling, teeth and talking - Baby-Brain.co.uk psychology resource, perspective & blog on motherhood

Sit..shuffle into crawl…crawl and shuffle a bit… now i’m further forwards!

He’s also started to get more vocal; I think his first words might be dadada as he is making similar sounds now. This has developed in the last few days. Of course, there’s the issue about whether it’s a proper “word” or language if the speaker does not consciously assign any meaning to it (dadada is just a sound he makes because he is developmentally able and ready to make it – it doesn’t mean he is saying daddy or means dad). Meaning comes a bit later, apparently at about 1 year old, according to this article about talking from the baby center. I found this article from the Child Development Club on “is my baby trying to talk to me” (written by a Speech-Language Pathologist specialising in early intervention for infants and toddlers) to be quite interesting on this topic. She writes that:

The difference between babbling and talking hinges on intent and meaning. 

And so if a child is actually using a word they are using them intentionally with the purpose of communicating with you. However, adults and parents assist the child in developing meaning behind their communications by reflecting meaning back and reinforcing and confirming communications. For example, the article writes that the development of a child’s communication can depend on how you react. If your baby smiles when you pick them up and swing them around, he might be smiling because he likes it and it feels nice. Baby might not be intentionally trying to communicate his happiness and feelings to you. However, we see the smile and because we are insightful and experienced adults, we interpret that to mean that he is a happy baby and likes it when you swing him. You therefore continue to swing him and baby learns that a smile lets you know that he likes something or wants more of it.

The author outlines that in a similar vein, when babies smile, babble something or wave their arms about like they are waving “hello”, they are probably not intentionally communicating something to us at first, but after a while these babbles, smiles and waving become more intentional because of the way we react to them. It’s similar with verbal communications such as a general dadada babble, where we might respond and confirm by saying “yes daddy, da da da” – and point to daddy, or play a game of “where’s daddy” or something – dadada then becomes daddy and baby begins to understand that his sounds can be meaningful. So, from what I understand, it looks like parents construct meaning with their children. At least until the child mixes more socially and picks stuff up from others. And so, the article finishes with this:

And remember, treat your baby’s vocalizations as if they are meaningful and your baby will begin to understand the power of speech.

Thank you for reading – Teeth and Other Developments – Crawling, Teeth and Talking – Baby-brain.co.uk –  psychology resource, perspective & blog on motherhood 

Water Sensory Play Idea

If you want to try this at home be more careful than me!

See this page under Let’s Make Stuff for full details and pictures of the Little Lovely playing a new sensory game/experience!

What am I talking about? Well I tried to emulate a baby water play idea (see the original idea here) which looked like a great way to introduce the Little Lovely (LL) to some sensory play of a different nature as we have never used water during play other than at bath time. I didn’t read the instructions properly and I think this activity is for babies who are not sitting yet, or at least is to be done in a non-sitting position.

Anyway, I set up a baking tray with some toys including linky loops, a sippy cup top and rattle (basically things that would glide about on the water), added water and put a plastic sheet under the tray so as not to spill water everywhere.

I sat LL down in front of it and IMMEDIATELY… WOOSH… the first thing he did was grab the bottom of the tray and tipped it up. The water all spilled out right across the plastic and on to the rug. Oh well, it’s only water. I had a camera to hand because I was taking pictures to update the blog and the Let’s make stuff page, but instead of delightful sensory water play cutesy splashing etc from LL, I got one of him tipping up the tray and spilling water everywhere. Oh well, it was fun. I laughed. I don’t think he knew why

woosh

 

Thank you for reading: Baby Water Sensory Play: baby-brain.co.uk, psychology resource, perspective & blog

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