Movement, gestures can help kids learn speech, research finds

Denise Dador Image
Tuesday, November 20, 2018
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Parents who use movement and gestures when they teach new words can help improve their child's vocabulary learning, experts say.

Parents are always eager to hear their child's first words.

And as their kids starts to string those words together into phrases, parents may look for the best ways to encourage language development.

Researchers offer new ways to reinforce new words in young children.

Four-year-old Davis learns from listening to his sibling.

But his mom, Erielle Bakkum, says his vocabulary also grows when Davis watches her.

Bakkum said, "Thinking of salt, he likes to put salt really close next to food. And I would say no Davis, bring the salt up high so it sprinkles on everything."

Developmental psychologists say it's not just the words, but our movements that are especially important.

Elizabeth Wakefield, Ph.D. from Loyola University said, "What we do with our hands naturally, these tools that we have available can be really powerful tools for learning."

During Wakefield's time as a post-doctorate fellow she studied how children learn verbs through gestures.

Researchers studied two groups of four and five year olds.

One group learned made up words, like "ratching," through actions,

One learned made-up words through hand motions and the researchers tested their understanding of the words.

Then the scientists asked the children to repeat the new verbs and use their hands to recreate the action.

Researchers found the hand motions were important to learning.

Wakefield said, "The gesture itself would help the child separate the action that's important for the verb from the object."

It also lets the kids understand verbs can be used in various situations.

For example, "push" the shopping cart or "push" the swing.

Parents use gestures to remind kids the word is about the action and not the item.

Researchers had kids return a second day to test them on their vocabulary learning. They found that kids who learned through gestures retained the knowledge.