How Can Gestures Lead to Words?

Bridget Hillsberg
October 1, 2021

What greater joy is there than to see your baby engage in a game of Peek-a-Boo! The expression of pure delight is unmatched! And how eagerly they wait for you to do it again! Or how about the little squeal when your fingers slowly crawl over them as you tease: “I’m gonna get you . . . I’m gonna get you!” Perhaps you know this one: “Gray mouse, gray mouse—lives in a little house!” and you give a little tickle under the arm or chin!

And who hasn’t heard of the classic: The Itsy, Bitsy Spider?

At Speech Sisters, we believe these gestural, interactive games are not only fun, they play a significant role in helping to build large, expressive vocabularies. Research shows that children who produce more gestures early on develop greater expressive vocabularies. It’s true!

Gestures are a crucial stepping stone before words and the gestures your child uses can tell you quite a bit about how his communication system is developing! The more gestures your little one uses early on, the more words they are likely to have in their spoken vocabularies later in development. There is also strong evidence to support that children typically express ideas in gestures before they express the same ideas using speech. Before young children begin to use words, they gesture, and those gestures do not disappear from a young child’s communicative repertoire after the onset of speech. Instead, these gestures begin to pair with new speech being used!

But let’s start simply, with simple words and gestures.

A child says, “Open,” while pointing at a box. This gesture helps clarify what your little one wants opened!

One of the best and easiest ways for your little one to learn how to use gestures is by YOU modeling it for them. This is one of the reasons we dedicated an entire module in our course, Talk on Track, called Act It out. Although gestures may not start to emerge until 8-9 months old, we encourage you to start introducing them to your baby sooner than that! It’s important to pair a word with the gesture you are using to help with comprehension. So if you . . .

👏🏼 Clap – say “Yay!”

👋🏽 Wave – say “Hi!” or “Bye!”

👐🏼 Put arms up – say “Up!”

😘 Blow a kiss – say “Mwah!”

✋ High five – say “Good job!”

👆🏾 Point – say “Look at __” or “I want __”

🙅🏾‍♂️ Shake head – say “No!”

💁🏻‍♀️ Nod head — say “Yes!”

You’ll see how the concept of gesturing becomes more sophisticated as children grow. Think about children’s songs, how the gestures describe the words being sung—reinforcing vocabulary and making it that much more fun!If you come from an Italian family like ours, using gestures comes naturally, but if not, it doesn’t have to be difficult. You don’t have to cut out time during your day to teach your baby gestures, just incorporate them into your daily routines. If you are out walking, playing at the park, or even running errands with your little one, point out your surroundings, label what you see, and add a gesture when you can!

At a time in development when our little ones are limited in the words they are able to use, gestures help increase our ability to communicate with our growing babies! And the best part? You don’t have to cut out time during your day to teach your baby gestures, just incorporate it into your daily routines! On your walks, during play, at the park, or even when you’re running errands! Point out your surroundings and label what you see! When your little one starts to point at objects themselves it’s common that they will pick up the word for that object within 3 months.

We go into great detail about gestures and how to move your little one up The Noisy Steps (from coos to babbles to gestures into those first words) in our course called Talk on Track. Talk on Track is designed to help YOU know how to help your baby meet their communication milestones. It is a 1.5-hour course divided into 8 modules, and each module reveals an evidence-based speech tip, designed to help babies meet those milestones and get talking on time! We also have a 24-page workbook of resources, which includes a list of 45 functional focus words we’ve researched and compiled that are easy, and babies can use as their first words to help get their needs and wants met. We show video demonstrations of parents using these tips with their children, so you can get real-life examples, which is key.

So join us! We’ll get your baby talking on track!

To learn simple and effective strategies to help get your little one talking, check out our Talk on Track (newborn-14 months) and Time to Talk: Toddler Course (15-36 months). We’d love to equip you to experience the joy of your little one talking to you!

Bridget Hillsberg
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