We like to think of communication development as being a tree growing from a seed. Social motivation and engagement, or having the desire and initiation to communicate, is one of the first aspects of language to develop.
Roots = Social Motivation and Engagement, Symbolic Play skills ,and Attention skills. Even though we don’t often see the roots, they are what keep our tree alive, providing an anchor and nourishment in order for the rest of the tree to develop. Without these foundation skills, it is difficult for useful, purposeful communication to develop.
Trunk = Understanding Language. As these skills grow and we attend to language being used around us, our understanding of that language is strengthened. This provides us with the stability of language to support our expression or use of words and phrases. Without understanding a word first, we’re really not able to meaningfully use that vocabulary in conversation. Children typically begin by understanding up to 100-200 words before they regularly produce their ‘first words.’
Branches = Expressive Language or use of words and phrases. Once we understand vocabulary, we can start branching out and using those words within phrases and sentences to communicate with our family, peers, and community.
Leaves = Speech sounds and Fluency. Leaves make our tree pretty, colorful, and provides an ongoing source of nutrition for the tree to continue developing. Speech sounds make our words and phrases clear and understood by others to support our continued communication attempts and growth in language complexity.
In order for our Communication Tree to grow we need:
Sun = Praise for attempting to communicate appropriately – all attempts! Just responding to your child’s attempts is rewarding and shows they are having an impact on their world.
Water = Opportunities to practice understanding, using language, playing, and producing speech sounds. It is SO, SO important to use language constantly around your children and allow them opportunities to communicate on their own. This does not always mean you have to “work” on it, just talk to them, talk to others in their presence, and create opportunities for them to speak to you. Part of our parent-child interaction support also demonstrates mirrored pacing to support balanced interactions.