• attunement: understanding and smoothly responding to a baby’s nonverbal signals and communications; getting “in tune” or “on the same wavelength” with a baby as you get to know each other and build a special bond
  • being present with a baby: giving the baby your full attention so you can get in tune
  • bonding: the mutual love and trust between a baby and a family member or educator who gets in tune with him
  • en face: (pronounced “on fas”) face-to-face, making eye contact, and attuned (or getting in tune)
  • open-ended questions: questions that require critical thinking, invite opinion or explanation, and have the potential to result in multiple-word answers
  • primary caregiver: the educator in an infant room or mixed-age setting who has primary responsibility for a particular baby, builds an enduring relationship with him and his family, and can help him connect with others in the program
  • responsive interaction: back and forth conversation, play, or interchange in which partners take turns answering each other’s words, sounds, actions, or other communications
  • verbal mapping: putting words to a baby’s actions or telling him what is happening or what will happen

Talk Together—All Day Long

Before watching this video, read the text below. When instructed, watch the segment of video beginning at 3:41 and ending at 4:59.

To start the video in the middle, click the play arrow. Then move your cursor along the progress bar. Click the progress bar when you reach the time you'd like to start.

Young babies thrive on their interactions with the special people in their lives. The “conversations” they have with these people strengthen the special bond they share and also build the babies’ language and cognitive skills. Decades of research shows that the more words babies hear spoken directly to them in their first few months, the faster and more fully their language develops. By 6 months of age, babies understand the words they hear often, such as their own names and the names of other people, foods, and body parts. Today, we are learning that the more babies respond, the more language they learn.

  • When talking with a baby face-to-face, take turns responding to each other. During caregiving routines, tummy time, and play times, educators and babies can be face-to-face, or en face (pronounced “on fas”). They can make eye contact and get in tune with each other. They might take turns making silly faces, sticking out their tongues, or smiling, but they can also talk. When a baby begins to babble, he may watch the educator’s mouth intently, as if trying to learn how she makes speech sounds.
  • Use verbal mapping to let babies know what is happening or will happen. Verbal mapping includes many kinds of talk. Like a sportscaster narrating a game, an educator might tell a baby what the baby is doing or seeing or what the two of them are doing together, for example, “You are pulling your toes!” Or an educator might tell a baby what she is doing and what will happen, for example, “First I am going to change your diaper. Then I’m going to pick you up and give you a big hug.” Educators may also use verbal mapping when singing a made-up song, sharing a hand-clapping game, or giving a baby words for actions or body parts.
  • Have conversations with babies even when you are not face-to-face. This can be done by checking in with the baby, noticing what she is looking at or doing and how engaged she is, following her lead as you comment, and then giving her a chance to respond to what you do or say.

In this segment, you’ll see educators talk and sing with babies. You’ll see how the educators build relationships—and language—as they have face-to-face conversations with babies, use verbal mapping to engage them in activities, and help them connect words with actions. 

Now watch the video segment. Begin at 3:41 as Kathy helps baby Callie look for her toes and end at 4:59 as she asks the baby if the wipe feels cold. As you watch, look for effective strategies used by the educators in the video and jot down answers to these viewing questions in your Learning Log.

  • What do you notice about the babies’ communications? How do the babies respond to the educators’ words and facial expressions?
  • What do you notice about how the educators engage the babies’ attention, pause to let them respond, and respond to their responses?
  • What verbal mapping do you see educators using in the video? How would you describe what they are doing?


How can you recognize when young babies are participating in face-to-face conversations?

  • There are a number of signals babies give to let you know they are getting in tune. Babies may:
    • Move their arms and legs in rhythm to your voice.
    • Watch and listen intently, with wide eyes and obvious interest.
    • Vocalize or babble when you pause.
    • Imitate your actions.
    • Become more alert and pay attention.
    • Reach for your face.
    • Take something that is offered.
    • Smile in response to something you say or do.
    • Look away, grimace, cry, or pull back, then reconnect by catching your eye, responding to your attempts to re-engage them, or attempting to recapture your attention.​

What are some ways that you can use words to create verbal maps for babies, especially when you are not face-to-face?

  • There are many ways that you can create verbal maps for babies, including:
    • Giving babies words for objects, actions, or experiences. For example, in the video we heard “It’s delicious!” “You dancin’?” “Up… and down.”
    • Using “self talk” about what you are doing (“I’m putting on my gloves”).
    • Using “mirror talk” that reflects what you assume to be the baby’s experience or thinking (“You’re telling me about it”).
    • Telling babies what is going to happen (“It might feel cold”).
    • Narrating the world (“Are they driving?”)

What benefits do babies gain from face-to-face talking and verbal mapping?

  • Face-to-face talking and verbal mapping provide numerous benefits to babies: 
    • They hear how language sounds.
    • They enjoy hearing language and interacting with people.
    • They build relationships that support their sense of security and trust.
    • They learn to communicate back and forth and take turns.
    • They associate words with objects, actions, and experiences and begin to learn what they mean.
    • They build essential foundations for language, literacy, thinking, getting along with others, asking questions to learn, imagination, story telling, and a positive sense of self.

How can you find more opportunities to talk with babies that feel right for you and the babies?

  • Professor Villegas-Reimers explains that babies enjoy hearing language and that talking with babies all the time builds specific connections in their brains that are important in the development of verbal language and of cognitive skills. To make talking with babies all the time feel more natural and appropriate, you can:
    • Take advantage of private moments and caregiving routines.
    • Try different verbal mapping and en face conversation techniques and see how a particular baby responds.
    • Talk in your home language or whichever language you feel most comfortable using with a baby.
    • Watch how families engage their babies and how the babies respond.
    • Use a high-pitched engaging voice to captures a baby’s attention.
    • Imitate a baby’s sounds.
    • Pretend that the baby is using real words as he babbles back at you or smiles, wiggles, laughs, etc., and try to keep the conversation going.
    • Sing songs and play games that you remember from childhood.
    • Be silly!
    • Whisper close to a baby’s ear.
    • Share a book or photo album with a baby. Read or tell a story or just talk about what you see.
    • Explain the power and importance of talking with babies to families and colleagues.


Think about the infants in your own program as you answer these reflection questions in your Learning Log.

  • How do you talk with babies during caregiving routines, tummy time, and play time? How do you talk to and with them when you are not face-to-face?
  • What did you learn that you will take back to your learning environment and put into practice?​
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