FAMILY / BABYWEARING
'Not only can your baby hear your words, but they can feel the vibrations in your body'
> literacy and communication skills, and the rate at which babies and toddlers can develop an understanding of language – both words and non-verbal cues – is really quite staggering. But in order for them to learn they have to be able to watch and listen – both when people are communicating with them, and when people are communicating with each other.
FACE TO FACE Research scientist Dr Suzanne Zeedyk carried out a really fascinating study into the impact of parent-facing and forward-facing prams on language development. Her hypothesis – borne out by the research – was that the direction a pushchair faces has a significant impact on how much parents interact with their baby. In fact, babies in parentfacing prams experience double the amount of conversation. Taking this further, her findings also showed that children were twice as likely again to be talked to if they were carried rather than in a pushchair.
I’m sure that is something that all of us who enjoy babywearing can relate to – I know for me one of the most delightful things about keeping my first baby so close (and continuing to do so as he became a toddler and beyond) was the nearconstant interaction, and it is something I particularly cherish now with my second child.
Dr Zeedyk explains, “Slings keep a baby close to a parent’s body, and thus in constant reassurance. This is why many parents choose to use them. Giving slings away to families living in ‘vulnerable circumstances’ would probably make a great health intervention.” The National Literacy Trust, who commissioned this research, explain why this early communication is so important, “Babies and young children reach out for interaction through babbling, facial expressions and gestures. If they do not get a response, or the response is inappropriate, then the brain’s architecture does not form as expected.”
MEETING CHALLENGES It can of course be exhausting trying to keep up with a young child’s need for communication, but there is something empowering about knowing how important that interaction is which strengthens my resolve to power through the sleep deprivation and keep the conversation going. It is certainly a whole lot harder to opt out when that little voice is coming from the proximity of a baby carrier, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing! It’s not just the actual conversation that’s so powerful either. Early years educator, Alana Robinson, elaborates on the particular benefits babywearing can bring for language development. She says, “When you wear your baby, they are generally right at your mouth level. This allows your baby to hear every word you speak. Not only can they hear your words, but they can feel the vibrations in your body, see the shapes you make with your lips, and how you use your tongue. They hear the emphasis you put on certain words and the tone of voice you use, and feel how you react to the words being said.”
DEVELOPING LANGUAGE It is worth remembering that the first three years in a child’s life are the most important for language development, with the foundations being laid that will help them grow into effective communicators. The National Literacy Trust explains further that, “Neuroscience has revealed that the synapses in a child’s brain multiply 20-fold between birth and three years of age, a rate that is faster than at any other time of life.” It really is quite amazing when you stop and think about it. But a little bit daunting too! I have moments now when I look at my 20 month old and am acutely aware of the massive responsibility I have for providing the stimuli he needs to reach his potential.
He is not in any childcare, and likely won’t be for a while. Since our early scepticism of overly formal education with our eldest we have embraced home education, leaning towards unschooling as the approach which best fits our family. And babywearing is an integral part of that – not just for the adventures it allows us to go on, but for the closeness and communication it fosters too. I can hear the inflections in my toddler’s blossoming voice that he has picked up from me – they are sometimes strangely adult coming from his tiny body, but he takes great pleasure in his ability to express himself and respond to people around him. When we are out and about he delights in charming the people we meet. Often I will be distracted from my conversation by a giggle, only to realise that he is busy chatting away to someone else nearby, or dazzling them with his smile.
Other times I am just grateful for his company, as he nods his agreement to a thought I’m mulling over or points excitedly at something he’s spotted nearby, leaning in for a cuddle before craning round to catch his brother’s eye. It is all pretty awesome: and that fact that its boosting his language development too is a very welcome bonus.
/ SHOP / BABYWEAR
Sophie lives in Devon with her family. A seasoned babywearer and home educator, she writes about parenting at raisingrevolutionaries.co.uk. WH
OCTOBER/NOVEMBER 2019 thegreenparent.co.uk