• baby sign language: a set of conventional signs designed to make it easier for older infants and young toddlers to communicate with their caregivers
  • expressive language/communication: the words and phrases a child speaks and/or the specific, mutually-understood signs and gestures she uses to communicate meaning
  • joint attention: a shared focus on an item; an older baby and an adult pay joint attention when they notice where the other is looking or pointing (by one year, babies should be able to point, gesture, or vocalize to get an adult to pay attention to something)
  • parallel play: playing near another child and noticing each other but without interacting
  • receptive language: the words and phrases a child understands
  • social referencing: the process by which young children check with trusting adults to see how to react to new situations and people, including whether new people can be trusted

Use Language to Support Exploration and Problem Solving

Before watching this video, read the text below. When instructed, watch the segment of video beginning at 3:35 and ending at 4:49.

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.

Older infants need to move freely and explore with a familiar, trusted adult as a secure base. Your presence (and reassuring voice when you and the baby are separated) gives an older baby confidence to travel further away as she practices crawling, scooting, pulling to a stand, or cruising and as she discovers interesting things and places. Your words and actions help the baby learn about her world and other people. At the same time, the interactions you share support the baby’s development of intentional nonverbal communication and, eventually, speech (and/or a signed language).

Through their own activity and play, older babies discover the fundamentals of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). As they drop items in a bucket, travel across different surfaces, make their way around obstacles, or use a spoon to bang a drum, they learn how things move and fit into each other, how to solve problems by trying out different strategies, and how they can make interesting things happen, again and again.

  • Talk with babies as they explore spaces and materials that interest them. As you talk about what the baby is doing, you’ll help her learn words for objects and actions. As you converse back and forth, you’ll build your relationship along with the child’s language.
  • Use language to encourage children’s problem-solving efforts and celebrate their successes. Encouraging words support children’s self-confidence, persistence, and language development.

In this segment, you’ll see adults supporting older babies’ explorations, watching closely, offering help if needed, and commenting on children’s discoveries and accomplishments. You’ll hear Professor Villegas-Reimers point out that children “don’t necessarily need help exploring.” A tuned-in educator can use language to support and extend the child’s experience in a way that validates and builds upon the child’s interest and agenda.

Now watch the video segment. Begin at 3:35 as Eileen shows children a book and end at 4:51 when Professor Villegas-Reimers appears. 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 what intrigues the children and holds their interest? What might they be learning?
  • What do you notice about how an educator uses language to encourage children’s problem-solving efforts and help them notice new possibilities? What interesting vocabulary words do the children hear?
  • What do you notice about how an educator uses language to celebrate children’s successes and discoveries with them?


What might older infants be learning as they explore objects, tools, containers, and interesting sensory materials?

  • Older infants can learn many things by exploring, including:
    • How to use a tool to accomplish a goal, such as getting something that is out of reach or making an object move in an interesting way.
    • How things (including their own bodies) can move and fit in space.
    • Gross and precise movements involved in lifting, turning, picking up, placing, drumming, etc.
    • How to make things go faster or farther.
    • How to persist at solving problems by trying different strategies.
    • Concepts of size, shape, inside/outside, and cause/effect.
    • Words for specific objects, materials, actions, categories (for example, flower, tool, container), attributes (for example, shape, size, texture), directions, and relationships (for example, inside, up, on top of).

How can you use actions and words to facilitate children’s explorations?

  • How do you help babies explore interesting materials in new ways?
  • How do you use language to support and extend babies’ explorations, encourage their efforts, and celebrate their discoveries?
  • What did you learn that you will take back to your learning environment and put into practice?
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