Positive Parenting Newsfeed—a Child Trends Project—is Supported by the National Science Foundation

Parents Let Your Hands Do the Talking

CHICAGO, Ill. (Ivanhoe Newswire) — Parents are always eager to hear their child’s first words. As their kids start to string words together into phrases, parents may look for the best ways to encourage language development.

Four-year-old Davis learns from listening to his siblings. But his mom, Erielle, says his vocabulary also grows when Davis watches her.

Erielle told Ivanhoe, “Thinking of salt, he likes to put the salt really close to his food. But I show him how to bring the salt up high so it sprinkles over everything.”

Developmental psychologists say it’s not just the words, but our movements that are especially important.

Elizabeth Wakefield, PhD, from Loyola University, detailed, “What we do with our hands naturally, these tools that we have available, can be really powerful tools for learning.”

During Wakefield’s time as a post-doctorate fellow she studied how children learn verbs through gestures.

Researchers studied two groups of four and five year olds. One group learned made-up words, like ratching, through actions. One group learned made up words through hand motions, and the researchers tested their understanding of the words.

Then, the scientists asked the children to repeat the new verbs and use their hands to recreate the action.

Researchers found the hand motions were important to learning.

“The gesture itself would help the child separate the action that’s important for the verb from the object,” explained Wakefield.

It also lets kids understand verbs can be used in various situations. For example, “push the shopping cart” or “push the swing.” So parents, use gestures to remind kids the word is about the action, not the item.

Researchers had kids return a second day to test them on their vocabulary learning. They found that kids who learned through gestures retained that knowledge.

Contributors to this news report include: Cyndy McGrath, Supervising and Field Producer; Milvionne Chery, News Producer; Roque Correa, Editor and Videographer.

Thank you to Dr. Elizabeth Wakefield for providing footage of the study.

Produced by Child Trends News Service in partnership with Ivanhoe Broadcast News and funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation.

Research cited from: http://psycnet.apa.org/record/2015-32744-002

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