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Young father talking and laughing with preschool son

Oral Language

Conversations That Count: How Do Crawlers and Walkers Learn?

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

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.

Marcus picks up a book with cardboard pages and a duck on the cover. He puts the book in his mouth for a moment, then waves it in the air.

Marcus looks at his big sister, Maria, and makes noises that sound a lot like words. Maria says, “Do you want to read? Bring the book to me. We can read together.”

With book in hand, Marcus crawls to Maria. She lifts Marcus into her lap and holds the book so that he can see it. She points to the duck on the cover. “That’s a duck. Let’s see what’s inside.”

Marcus turns the page. He pats the picture and says something that sounds like words. “That’s right,” says Maria. “The baby is in the bathtub.”

After looking at a few more pages, Marcus squirms and wiggles. “Okay,” says Maria. “Have you read enough? Let me help you down.” She puts Marcus on the floor and he crawls away.

Like many other crawlers and walkers, Marcus is learning about language:

  • He knows that people will respond to his sounds and actions.
  • He thinks it’s fun to look at books with another person.
  • He knows how to wait for his turn while talking and reading with his sister.

Marcus’s sister, Maria, helps him learn about language:

  • She responds to his sounds and actions as if he were saying words.
  • She lets him turn the pages of the book.
  • She talks to him about what he seems to be saying.
  • She lets him find something else to do when he has lost interest in reading.

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.