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Conversations That Count: How Young Babies Learn

Early Literacy Development

Conversations That Count: How Young Babies Learn

Learn how children develop oral language skills through interactions with their caregivers and families by reading sample conversations with babies.

Families are their children’s first teachers. As a family member you begin teaching your babies about language as you welcome them into the world with smiles and caring words. You respond to your children’s coos, babbles, early words, and simple sentences.

Katie is in the bathtub splashing in the water with both hands. Her father sits on the floor next to the tub making sure she is safe.

“Katie, Katie,” he says as he picks up a washcloth. “Are you ready to play our special game?”

Katie looks up and sees her father’s smiling face. She smiles at him and laughs. He says, “Let’s play Peek-a-Boo,”; and puts a washcloth in front of his face.

Katie reaches out and pats the top of his head. Her father says, “Peek-a-Boo, Katie, I can’t see you.” He lowers the washcloth so his eyes are no longer covered. Katie squeals with delight. He covers his eyes again and says, “Peek-a-Boo, Katie, I still can’t see you.”

Katie’s father holds the washcloth out toward her, saying, “Your turn, Katie.” She takes the washcloth from his hand and puts it in front of her face. Her father says, “Where’s Katie?”

Katie drops the washcloth in the water and splashes with her hands. She babbles to her father, “Dadadada. Babababa.” He says, “I think you’re saying that you’re tired of playing Peek-a-Boo. Let’s play with your sponges.”

Like many young babies, Katie is learning about language:

  • She knows that it’s fun to play with another person.
  • She looks up when her father says her name.
  • She smiles when her father smiles at her.

Katie’s father helps her learn about language:

  • He talks with her during a daily activity – bath time.
  • He says her name again and again so that she will learn to recognize it.
  • He takes several turns in their game and then encourages her to take a turn.
  • He responds to her babbles as if he knows what she is saying.

Adapted from: Koralek, D. (1997). Ready * Set * Read for Families: Early Childhood Language Activities for Children from Birth through Age Five. America Reads Challenge, U.S. Department of Education.