Language, Communication and Literacy Development

“Language empowers children to participate in both the cognitive and affective parts of the educational program. Experience with written and oral language provides children with the tools to interact with others, and to represent their thoughts, feelings, and experiences” (Kagan, S.L., Moore, E., & Bredekamp, S., June, 1995).


The ability to process and understand the spoken language of others (Child Care Aware, 2008) is termed receptive language skills. For the first few months of life, infants are only able to absorb communication which is directed at them (Flavell, 1985 as cited in Ratcliff, 1988).  Before the end of their first year, though, they are able to respond, reason and receive instruction and correction (Flavell, 1985 as cited in Ratcliff, 1988).


Through the toddler and preschool years, the receptive language skills are further developed and refined as the child learns how to negotiate their expressive language skills, the ability to communicate one's thoughts and feelings in words and actions (Child Care Aware, 2008).


Language skills are key components within the learning environment. The imparting of knowledge is accomplished through language and enhanced by language comprehension skills. Young children benefit tremendously through the use of multiple communication devices such as verbal and non-verbal language, thoughtful questioning strategies, music, books, associations, multiple language uses and sign language (Wallinga and Skeen, 1988).


Additionally, language is mainly how the learned concepts of preschool children are evaluated (Ratcliff, 1988). Far more superior to recitation is the ability of a child to retell a story, restate an idea, describe an event or provide an explanation, all of which exemplify the child’s understanding (Ratcliff, 1988).


Sign Language and Language Development


For over twenty years, researchers Linda Acredolo and Susan Goodwyn from the University of California at Davis have conducted research on the benefits of teaching pre-verbal children sign language. In their book Baby Signs (2002), these benefits are outlined:


  • Pre-verbal children are better able to communicate their needs and focus their parent’s attention, enriching the parent-child bond and decreasing the need for tears, tantrums, power-struggles and aggressive behaviors.
  • Sign language provides a developmentally appropriate way for pre-verbal children to communicate what they notice, understand and remember about their world.
  • Pre-verbal babies who use sign language demonstrate verbal language skills earlier and with broader vocabularies than non-signing peers.
  • Each sign learned by a pre-verbal baby strengthens and broadens the language foundation on which additional language skills are built.
  • Increased language skills have long-term effects on cognitive skills, imaginative play and the ability to recall where specific items are located.
  • Pre-verbal babies who learned sign language have shown early academic successes due in part to increased understanding, expressiveness and questioning.
  • Self-confidence is developed because of the real conversations about observations and concerns which matter to the pre-verbal child.
  • Pre-verbal children who feel heard and understood demonstrate deeper feelings of peace, trust and self-worth.


In addition to the many studies conducted by Goodwyn and Acredolo, Garcia (1999) has written how infants and toddlers can learn to express feelings, needs and name objects using sign language.


In the preschool classroom, Heller, Manning, Pavur and Wagner (1998) found that coupling sign language with verbal instructions improved social interactions and increased the children’s vocabulary and understanding of words and letters. Similarly, Lohmann (1999) has studied the benefits of using visual and physical signs for words when working with special needs children and found the children more readily understood speech and began to speak more.


Preschool classrooms with English language learners have experienced similar results. Donovan (2000) documented that young children learning English gain more English vocabulary, experience increased social interaction and less frustration when a common language, such as sign language, is used by teachers and students alike.


The benefits of using sign language as a communication tool with young children should not come as a surprise. Besides the research focused on the use of sign language, empirical studies repeatedly confirm the importance of using interactive, concrete learning activities with young children (Bredekamp, 1987; Bredekamp & Copple, 1997). Hence, learning activities for young children should include fun, simple and meaningful sign language components which are relevant to daily routines and topics, incorporating existing materials (Dennis & Azpiri, 2005).



Did you know the more often kids eat dinner with their families the less likely they are to smoke, drink, or use drugs? The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University launched a national movement to remind parents that frequent family dinners make a difference.

This year, Family Day – A Day to Eat Dinner with your Children was celebrated on September 26, 2011. No need to worry if you missed this day, take a stand and pledge to become a Family Day Star by committing to:

S - Spend time with your kids by having dinner together

T - Talk to them about their friends, interests, dangers of drugs and alcohol

A - Answer their questions and listen to what they say

R - Recognize that you have the power to help keep your kids substance free!

To learn more about CASA and Family Day you may visit their website at


How do infants and toddlers let you know what’s on their mind? This three-page handout describes how and why infants and toddlers communicate. Examples of how toddlers communicate in the first three years of life are provided as well as tips for supporting the development of communication skills of your baby or toddler.


Christine Gillan Byrne,
Aug 23, 2010, 3:18 PM
Christine Gillan Byrne,
Aug 23, 2010, 3:17 PM