101 Language Dancing for Babies & Parents

Gaining the skills for playing soccer happens by playing soccer on the soccer field. Likewise, learning language and social skills for enjoyable and meaningful conversation is learned from being in social situations, where there is true dialogue.  You know what I mean: when you and your friends get together at a picnic or for a beer. And if someone is talking "at" or "to" you rather than "with" you, you will find a reason to have to talk to someone else!  

 For young children, being "talked to" and being "talked with" have vastly different results in the same way.  Being talked "with" is called "language dancing," where each partner - child and parent - in a both verbal and non-verbal "dialogue,"  responds to the "moves" (facial expressions, gestures, and vocalizations as well) of the other partner, just for the joy of relating - as older children and we adults do when we are out with our friends. 

In their research, Drs. Todd Risley and Betsy Hart found that the cognitive performance that children achieve or don’t achieve by third grade ...

... is all explained by the amount of language dancing, or extra talk, over and above business talk, that [the] parents engaged in [between birth and age 3].  It accounted literally for all of the variance in outcomes.   

(Quote from interview with Todd Risley)

By the way, there's nothing wrong with "business" conversations, like "time to eat, or "take your mittens out of your soup!"  A child can learn how useful these can be - but they are not as rich, interesting, or meaningful as everyday social talking between best friends. The focus of learning language is in social talk long before speech is mastered.

And if your baby is pre-verbal?  To see an example of a mom with a baby, request the link here, and ask for Language Dancing.  I recommend you watch it first without the sound, imagining what might be being said between this new mother and her baby.

What to love about this idea of Language Dancing is that it is also hugely joyful and fulfilling for you, the parent (or teacher, too!).  Enjoy.

Risley and Hart's book, Meaningful Differences in the Lives of Everyday American Children, and its follow up, The Social World of Children Learning to Talk, are must reads for educators. For parents, the significant points are covered in Beyond Good Parenting.