Baby play: why it’s important for talking development
Play is the main way that babies develop, learn and explore the world.
Playing with your baby gives you many opportunities to talk. And the more you play and talk together, the more words your baby hears. This improves your baby’s talking skills and also helps their brain develop.
When you spend time talking and playing together, it strengthens your relationship with your baby. And a strong relationship with you is essential to development, because it gives your baby the confidence to keep exploring and learning.
What to expect from baby talking and language
Language development happens in the same order in most children, but some might learn quickly and others might need a bit more time.
As your baby starts to learn about language in their first year, you might hear them:
- cooing, gurgling and babbling
- putting together simple sounds – for example, ‘ba-ba’
- copying words
- communicating ‘no’ with a shake of the head.
At around 12 months, your baby might say a few words and know what they mean. For example, they might say ‘mama’ or ‘dada’ to refer to mum or dad.
Encouraging talking skills is as easy as listening and responding to your baby. Sharing stories, songs, rhymes – even talking about your day – will all help your baby learn and practise language. Sharing these experiences is also good for bonding with your baby.
Play ideas to encourage talking
The more words children hear, the more words they can learn.
Here are some fun things to do together to encourage baby talking and language:
- Chat to your baby about the things you’re doing around the house, even if you think they’re boring – for example, ‘Daddy’s vacuuming the carpet to get rid of the dust that makes you sneeze’.
- Repeat your baby’s attempts at words to encourage two-way conversation. For example, if your baby says ‘mama’ you could say ‘mama’ back. You can also repeat and build on your baby’s words. For example, when baby says, ‘train’, you say, ‘Yes, it’s a big red train’.
- Show interest in your baby’s babbling and talking by looking into your baby’s eyes and giving plenty of smiles.
- Respond to and talk about your baby’s interests. For example, if your baby starts playing with a toy train, you could say ‘Toot, toot’.
- Read and tell stories with your baby.
- Share songs and nursery rhymes.
- Praise your baby’s efforts to talk. For example, if your baby points to a dog and names it, you could say, ‘Well done for pointing out the dog, Georgie!’
Nappy-changing is a great time for some face-to-face conversation with your baby. You could try talking about what you’re doing, singing and looking at baby’s face as you change nappies.
Concerns about baby talking
If you have concerns about your child’s language development, it’s a good idea to talk to your child and family health nurse, GP or paediatrician. For example, you might be concerned if your baby doesn’t babble or doesn’t seem to hear you or listen when others are talking.
Sometimes delays in communication skills can be signs of developmental disorders or developmental delay, including language delay, hearing impairment, intellectual disability and autism. Health professionals can help your family figure out whether there’s an issue and what you can do about it.