Language and Child Development

Language is one of the most fascinating human capacities. Charles Darwin, in his book “The Descent of Man” says that man has an instinctive tendency to speak, as we see in the babble of our young children; whilst no child has an instinctive tendency to bake, brew or write.

If that’s the case, why are children not born speaking a language? It would have made the lives of the caregivers easier if babies expressed their hunger or pain by speaking, instead of crying.

According to Dr. Maria Montessori, an eminent educator, a child has to become part of the environment she is living in to make the innate capacity of learning any language in children possible. An example of this is seen in how in the first 6 years of life, children can easily learn and be fluent in the language of a foreign land they live in, while the adults in the family might struggle and require a lot of practice with the same.

There is a notion that language learning starts when children join preschool. But that’s not true. The exposure to language starts from the time the ear lobes of the child in the womb are developed.  We see an explosion of words in toddlers possibly only because they are absorbing the rich human language from the environment they are born into. The school continues to develop the oral language of the child. 

This brings to a question that can gadgets be used to help with our infant’s vocabulary. Unfortunately, research has proven that language learning cannot happen passively by making them sit in front of gadgets which talk or read in different languages.  The physical presence of one or more adults is necessary for making meaningful connections between words, word sounds and their meanings.  There is a concept called “CONSTRUCTIVISM” that psychologists have been using for decades. In simple terms, it refers to ways that knowledge is stored in the brain. The knowledge constructed by any learner is based on interpretation of the experiences and connects with whatever knowledge we already possess. This concept may make us question whether the flash card system of teaching toddlers and asking children to write letters randomly without any purpose actually helps them.

Many parents worry about their 2-year-olds who haven’t started talking. Here are a few suggestions to help infants and toddlers with their oral communication and language acquisition:

#1 Rich oral language in the environment of the child is essential: Parents need to be mindful about the role that caregivers or day care centers play in their children’s lives. They should not only be equipped to help the child with their physical needs of hunger and sleep, but also their language development and motor skills. The early years of a child’s life are key to laying the foundation of their future learning and hence a lot of care needs to be given to the same.

#2Multiple languages in the house is a blessing for the child:  Studies show that children are capable of absorbing multiple languages from birth. The only caution being adults should speak the same language without mixing any two languages in any given sentence. For example, the mother speaks to the child only in Tamil, the father in Telugu, the grandmother in Hindi.  

#3 Stories, dialogues, puzzles and songs right from infancy are great resources: The power of physical books and audio songs during infancy and toddler years should not be underestimated. These need to be done purely as fun, bonding activities and for making interesting connections with real life situations that children encounter in their environment. We need to pay attention that the choice of stories read out to the toddlers are realistic and simple. Children between the ages of 0-6 years love repetition and enjoy reading the same stories several times a day. This could continue for months together. It is a normal stage of development and like any other skill, it helps children in mastering the language internally.

 #4 Word Games boost learning: Word games can be introduced from 5+ years in any language in the child’s environment. Such games help children learn through play. Kindergarten children may have different spelling for words due to the phonics method of teaching in school and adults of the family need to be mindful of the same. 

The topic of language acquisition in young children has been close to my heart. I have had many ‘AHA’ moments while practically trying out Dr. Maria Montessori’s teachings with my own child and with many children I work with through story-telling sessions. My first-hand practical experiences have helped me truly understand what infants and toddlers are capable of and that their infinite potential cannot be underestimated.

No wonder children between the age of 0-6 years are called “SPONGES or ABSORBENT MINDS” by Dr. Maria Montessori. 

Author: H. Subha has a formal certification in Story Telling from WSI, Chennai and is with Parenting Matters, an organization which empowers parents to build deeper connections in families. To know more, look us up or write to us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..">This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. This article is based on Dr. Maria Montessori’s book “Absorbent mind” and AMI Training for Primary Montessori Assistants which Subha had the opportunity to read/attend a few years back. 

A helpful checklist and some practical tips to help your child study better - Part 2

In our last article we spoke about  initiation, focus and effort, three learning skillsthat go into building healthy study habits. Here we present the next three. In this two part series parents learn how to really observe, and understand all the aspects, and also gain insight into how to help in each area . 

Emotion -  How they feel about work  


Managing Frustration- What do they normally do when the task gets challenging? Do they drop it, try to figure it out themselves? Ask for help immediately? 


Managing Emotions - Studies, exams and tests can be frustrating and worrying for most children. It is good to observe what happens during those moments? Do they take a walk , or speak to a friend or is it difficult for them to move away from the frustration and anger?


Parents can take some simple pre-emptive steps to help and assist their children to manage their emotions.

  • Moving the body motivates the brain. Give them regular breaks according to their age and interests.

  • Have a routine, and regular time set aside for study.

  • Break the task into simpler chunks so they can experience success.

  • Acknowledge and empathize with their feelings when things get frustrating. Help them find ways to get themselves back into the calm maybe with deep breaths, a glass of water, washing their face, or getting up and moving.


Memory- Ability to retain and recall information


Are they able to remember facts that they have studied, and apply the concepts that they have learnt, in their daily life? When information is not used, it is discarded or replaced by some other information. If it is used, it goes into the long-term memory. 

Hence when teaching or when helping with new concepts, it is helpful to work on a few at a time. Also, guiding them in finding ways in which the concepts (physics, chemistry, math, biology etc.) play out in their everyday life really helps them to internalize the material and see it as integrated, useful, and not just something separate they learn in school. Field trips, models, experiments, etc. assist in this. 


Action- Understanding how children approach studying.


Self Monitoring-  For slightly older children, it is good to see, if while studying they  are able to ask themselves these reflective questions  How well do I understand this information? Can I summarize it accurately?  How thoroughly do I know this? What am I unclear about? What do I still need to learn about this? Am I learning and remembering what's most important? This meta skill is highly valuable as the children learn to understand their own study habits, patterns etc. Parents can help them learn and practice this by asking them these questions initially during the study process.


Self plan and work- In the process of taking action, we can help them with regulating their work  Eg: setting goals, quiz themselves , read up more, watch tutorials.


 Now if they fail to stick to their goals, we must understand that they are trying. Our children, just like us are trying their best , and just as we falter, they too make mistakes. When they do, before we react, it will be good to consider how we felt when we failed? How did support help us? Then we can approach the situation more constructively.


Lastly, when working with all of these factors of learning we have to keep in mind one key aspect, that affects the manner and speed at which learning occurs- INTEREST. This changes how we behave, what effort we put in  and the emotions we feel towards the subject. 

Ultimately the purpose of this whole exercise is to objectively see where our children may be struggling, need our help, and if the way we are currently helping is working. If a subject is difficult, it gives a roadmap on ways to simplify and break into smaller and doable chunks. When we approach study time in this manner, children begin to see their improvements more clearly. Hence, instead of thinking that they are not good at a subject, they look at engaging slowly and steadily with it. For example: If my child is wary of Math work, starting small and consistently doing 2 sums a days is a lot more valuable for his long term learning than a weekend 2 hour class.   

Having read all this, some of us may be overwhelmed with all we have to do. Fundamentally, what is our parental role when it comes to helping our children study better?

Our children long for our attention and love, and they want our appreciation. We need to recognise and validate the effort they take, work they put in, rather than marks, then they begin to learn for improvement. Let’s be aware not to give appreciation as a form of manipulation, to get the child to do what we want them to do. It is not about making the child dependent on our approval. Our intention is to truly appreciate the child for who he/ she is. When children feel loved and valued, they are open to learning, hence, connection with our child is a vital factor to their learning.


Most importantly, it helps to remember that change does not always have to be big. Sometimes, the smallest shifts we make have the largest impact.


Author: Rama Venkataraman is a certified parent educator with Parenting Matters, an organization which empowers parents to build deeper connection in families.

A helpful checklist and practical tips to help children study better - Part 1

In many families, homework time, test and exam time, can be so stressful for children and their parents. Parents get frustrated thinking “Why is he not studying and doing well?”  Research now shows us that the ability to study is not one skill but, actually made up of many sub skills, each of which can be learnt, practiced and mastered. 

This article is an attempt to highlight various aspects of the sub skills that contribute to studying plus learning.  Here we have adapted Thomas Brown’s scales to understand children's study habits. With this checklist/method we can observe tasks our child can do independently and also, the tasks the child has difficulty, needs help with.

This approach is best applicable when we need to help our children with their home work , tests and exams and not something we can use for young children. 

 Learning skills can be divided into roughly six areas. We will be addressing the first three in this article and the last three in our article next week.


1)Initiation - what one does before actually sitting down for a task.


Organizing(Some examples)

  • Does your child get their pencil case ready on their own?

  • Does he/she write down their home work in their diaries?

  • Does he/she carry the right books to school? ( Middle and High school children)



Choosing to finish the harder task before losing time on easier ones. For example, finishing homework before stepping out to play, or being able to stop play on time to begin work.   


Starting work 

Are they able to sit to work by themselves? Start a task without any reminders? it could mean simply getting to the study desk.


How can parents assist children with Initiation?


- Observe the distractions and temptations.

  • What's happening in the house? 

  • Is anyone watching tv close by? 

  • Are younger siblings around playing?

- Be mindful of their day so far.

  •  Are they tired? 

  • Are they hungry? 

  • Have they had a lot of physical activity?



  • Declutter and keep their workspace area clean  with everything they need.

  • Set schedule with reminders, help them set goals and start with small simple ones they can achieve easily.



  • What they can do now, and what can they delay for later?

  •  Choosing the hard task first, help them break the hard task into doable chunks.


Starting work

  • Try and create a separate study space away from distractions.

  • Stay with the child, if he needs your physical presence to begin a task.

  • Use a timer, alarm.


2) Focus- Here we are look at what happens once they start work. 


Focusing and sustaining focus

Are they able to focus on the task, or do they get distracted easily? Do they study one day, and are unable to the next?


Shifting focus between tasks

If from History they need to go onto doing Maths homework do they loose focus? Do they forget the task at hand when they get up for water maybe?


Some ways in which we can support them with focus:


 Focussing and sustaining focus 

  • Do not to interrupt them when they are sitting down to work, it breaks their concentration.

  •  Do not correct any mistakes when they are in the middle of a task, unless they ask. 

  • Guide or discuss corrections after the task is done. 

Our goal is to get them to refocus with minimal cues. 


Shifting focus to tasks

Younger children may need physical or verbal help, cues. Older kids can write the list of tasks to be done, tick on their to do lists when they complete the task. 




Sustained effort

When they need to put in more effort are they able to? Do they start off studying with great concentration and lose track?Do they wait until it is much closer to the exam date to study. 



When studying how is their body language? Do they yawn often? Are they sitting, or laying their head on the desk .


Working speed

How long do they take to understand the concept , assimilate the information in the textbook, or learn spellings.


Here, when assisting the child, do keep in mind your child's learning style. Is she a visual , auditory or kinesthetic learner? 

Sustained effort

For what length of time will they sit? If your child is able to sit for 10 mins, then expecting anything more than 12-15 mins as a start might be hard. When they do sit remove distractions, set a timer if need be.This takes a lot of energy for the child hence the key is to really start by giving tasks that are a little difficult, but not impossible.



This could mean getting them a better chair so their body will be upright and hence more alert . What time they function the best?  Are they in a space with good lighting, or is it bright, overstimulating? Some children are sensitive to that.


Working / processing speed

Practice the same concept repeatedly, till the child masters the concept. Give time and space to do so. This is something that cannot be done just before the test/ exams as it may confuse children and make it difficult to recall. As children grow older this aspect of repetition is sometimes forgotten. We teach a concept and expect them to understand it, and then quickly move to another concept. Repetition builds mastery and improves speed. 


In our article next week, we will address the other three areas covered in this scale, thus gaining a better idea of study skills and our child.


Author: Rama Venkataraman is a certified parent educator with Parenting Matters, an organization which empowers parents to build deeper connection in families.

Cultivating Joy in Reading - Part 1

“Once upon a time....” doesn’t this line pique our curiosity and set the stage for us to be transported into another world? We all love stories and so do children, even babies! 

So, when is it the right time to introduce children to books? It’s never too early! We don’t need to wait till the child turns two or starts talking in coherent sentences to show them books and narrate stories to them. Research says that children benefit a lot even from hearing stories without looking at visuals. It drives them to make sense of our facial expression, words and tone. This makes them use their own imagination in picturing the different characters of the story. So, introduce children to both stories and books from the time they are babies. 

Books for toddlers and how it helps them. For toddlers and preschoolers, small board books with single words and pictures on each page like books with letters, numbers, plants, animal species, modes of transport etc. are popular as they are interesting and challenging for the child to grip and explore. Children derive a huge sense of calm and independence when they can engage with an object by themselves. 

What to keep in mind when choosing books

  • Characters: Books should not be aimed at just teaching the child. Children discover the joy of books when they feel engaged in a story. Reading relevant age-appropriate stories to them helps a lot.  These books could be on the boy who couldn’t whistle, the child who never wanted to share, the boy who never wanted to pee, the elephant who ate a lot, the girl who was worried about going to school etc. It is reassuring for children when these stories bring out concerns like the ones they are grappling with. Many lessons can subtly be taught through these narrations and the children love it too, as they see part of themselves in the central figure of the narrative! Stories with picture illustrations, repetition and funny sounding words bring tons of laughter, 

  • Messages: It’s important to pay attention to the underlying messages in stories which may be outdated, sexist and build prejudice. Princesses being rescued, or step mothers being portrayed as wicked for example. These and other such beliefs may not be the ones we want our children to grow up with. Many classic children’s books are now rejected for the messages they give but luckily one can also find classic stories with twists and different endings. The princess as the hero. Goldilocks and the bears becoming friends!!  

  • Cultural relevance:  Books with lead characters from diverse backgrounds are now becoming easier to find. When children see and witness people like themselves being represented in pictures, it increases their self-esteem. (For example, an Indian child feels happy to see a brown skinned child dressed like himself) Having said this, also choosing books with stories from different cultures help build a healthy attitude towards inclusion, self and society

Besides choosing the right books, when children see us enjoy reading as part of our daily lives, they may gravitate towards books. Interest is roused in books when they are easily accessible, and time is made for this spontaneous exploration. As the child begins to read independently, discussing what he likes about the story, or what he thinks about the characters are great ways to gain insights into his thinking. If you see your child with a book, avoid instructions and allow the child to explore the book in her own way. 

This week, we looked at ways to encourage children develop an affinity towards books. Next week, we will discuss ways to support children when it comes to developing their own reading. 

Author: Manasi Dandeker is a certified parent educator with Parenting Matters, an organization which empowers parents to build deeper connection in families.


Child leash – helpful or harmful?

During my recent travel abroad, I was astounded to see some parents taking their toddlers out on leashes! Leashes came in different varieties - some had a fur cuff placed on wrists of both the parent and child, while some others came as animal backpacks with a long tail serving as the leash. 

Generally, parents carry their toddlers or hold their hands in public places to keep them safe.  I wondered what motivated parents to use such a device. I suppose they may argue that children get restless and wriggle and may even run off and get lost in a public place. They may even feel that using a leash gives the child a little more freedom to explore the environment. Probably parents of twins or triplets, or very active children may choose to use leashes as they find managing their children in public places hard.

Yet, many of us may be very uncomfortable to use leashes for children as for us a leash corresponds to pets. It's hard for us to know how the child feels about it. Does it make him feel tied down or safer? Does a child actually prefer it to a stroller as it offers more mobility? Is a parent showing lack of respect and trust in the child's capabilities?  What happens once a child outgrows it? 

Standing in the airport and pondering over my initial shock and judgment towards the parents who choose to use leashes, I wondered if it really is so different from other child restraining devices such as prams and baby carriers? 

As a parent educator I know that children have a strong developmental need for exploration and movement. Each and every experience children go through builds neural connections in their brain. Every time children explore, run, jump or touch things around them, they are learning and making sense of the world around them. Their brain is propelling them to do so, it is not because they want to make our life difficult. A child also must eventually learn how to keep himself safe and develop impulse control. I pondered if a leash harms the development of the child in these areas? 

Using a leash cannot be a substitute to teaching a child values of self-control and acceptable social behaviour. For that, parents need to communicate respectfully and guide children through role modelling. 

It's also important to be mindful of how the child is viewing the leash as she grows. Does the child feel she is being labelled as “naughty” or “unmanageable”, as they may notice that only a few children are on leashes. Would that have an impact on self-esteem? 


As we raise our children, we might encounter new products in the market and ideas that promise ease for parents. We need to always keep in mind this guiding quote by Yahoo! writer Jennifer Phillips, “We are all unique individuals, with unique children, in unique situations trying to do the best we can, and make the best decisions we can for our unique families.”

Author: Sunitha R.  is a certified parent educator with Parenting Matters, an organization which empowers parents to build deeper connections in families.