Hand signals give babies a head start and can improve chances at school

Encouraging toddlers to use hand gestures can improve their
vocabulary and boost their chances of doing well at school a few years
later, according to new research.

Pointing and other hand signals
seem to give babies a head start in learning language skills, possibly
by helping them to make connections between words and the objects in
the world around them, psychologists found.

The research
highlights how interacting with toddlers can have a marked impact on
their brain development, even before they have started talking, the
researchers said.

are known to perform better at school if they have a large vocabulary
when they start, but precisely why some are able to master more words
than others before reaching school age has been hard to pin down. The
parents' education plays a major role, because more-educated parents
use a wider range of words, but psychologists suspected other factors
were also important.

Meredith Rowe and Susan Goldin-Meadow, from
the University of Chicago, worked with 50 young families from different
socio-economic backgrounds to investigate why some toddlers seemed to
grasp language more quickly than others.

They filmed 14-month-old
children during an hour and a half of play with their parents and noted
down the words and gestures that were used. Later, when the children
were aged four and a half, they were given a vocabulary test to assess
their language skills.

The video sessions showed that
better-educated parents used gestures more often, and as a result,
their children learned to use hand signals themselves in a variety of
ways. On average, toddlers from well-educated families used gestures to
convey 24 different meanings during a 90-minute play session. Toddlers
from less-educated families used gestures to convey only 13.

14 months of age, children are in the very early stages of productive
language, they are saying very few words," said Rowe. "We didn't see
any differences in their spoken language, but we did see a difference
in their gestures and that's what we think is so striking."

study, published in the journal Science, goes on to find that once in
school, the children who gestured most as toddlers scored on average
26% higher in the language test than the other children.

learning to gesture, toddlers pick up new words more quickly because it
prompts parents to name the object the gesture is directed at. For
example, if a child points at a doll, the parent might repeat the word
"doll" a few times, boosting the child's chances of remembering the

Writing in the journal, the psychologists suggest that
teaching babies to gesture early on could help to boost their
performance at school.

"Whether or not early gesture plays a
direct or indirect role in word learning, it is clear that gesturing
partially accounts for the relation between socio-economic status and
later vocabulary skill," they write. "The next step is to explore
whether increases in gesturing lead to vocabulary gains in early

Source: guardian.co.uk, UK – http://tinyurl.com/d23kkz