Handbook of Language and Literacy Development - a Roadmap from 0 to 60 Months

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Interacting (10 – 12 Months) – Increasingly Independent Communicatorsclick to print Print
Research Review / Parent

Written by: Carrie Gotzke and Heather Sample Gosse, University of Alberta

Ten- to twelve-month-old babies use gestures, vocalizations, and eye gaze to get and keep their caregivers’ attention. They are now truly intentional communicators. These babies are more independent than in the previous months and are exploring their surroundings more. As a result of these new interests and abilities, caregivers now tend to follow their baby’s lead instead of directing the interaction.

Babies’ Interests and Abilities That Support Interaction

Between ten and twelve months, babies’ interests and abilities continue to change and develop. Objects and gestures are now used more consistently in interactions. With further development of intentionality and joint referencing, babies take a more active role in interactions.

Interest in People

By ten months of age, babies are aware of the approval and disapproval of others. At that age, Avery explored everything including the dangerous fireplace grate. One day, despite her mom’s repeated attempts to distract her, Avery continued to try to touch the grate. Finally, her mom said “No Avery” in a forceful and stern voice and sat Avery down in her baby seat. Avery showed her awareness of her mom’s disapproval by starting to cry.

By eleven months, babies will begin to seek approval. At that age, Max was able to push buttons on his musical books but tended to quickly lose interest in them when playing by himself. When his efforts were greeted with praise and cuddles by his poppy, however, he would continue pushing the buttons and playing the tunes for much longer. By twelve months of age, babies express a wide variety of emotions and people preferences. Avery’s dad is amazed at how clearly she can express emotions from joy to sadness to frustration to anger.

Interest in Objects

In play, ten- to twelve-month-old babies increasingly explore and learn about their environment, both independently and with their caregivers’ help. They like to handle new objects and experiment with how they can be used. It is common for them to empty drawers and their highchair trays. One of Max’s favorite activities is to empty a laundry basket full of clean clothes before his mom has a chance to put them away. With these actions, babies learn their place in their environment and the relationship between actions and responses.

When they play hide-and-seek, caregivers may note differences in the search patterns of ten- and twelve-month-old babies. A ten-month-old baby will search for a hidden object but usually searches in a familiar place. A twelve-month-old baby will search for objects where he or she last saw them. For example, Avery really likes brooms. Her parents like to keep her away from the kitchen broom because it is dirty. At ten months old, she would only search for the broom in the spot where it was usually kept so her parents just moved it to another spot and she seemed to forget about it. Now that she is twelve months old, she notices where her parents get it from when they sweep the floor after supper. She will then try to go to that spot when they put her down from her highchair.

Use of Gestures

Ten- to twelve-month-old babies typically use gestures for reaching, requesting, pointing, and showing. By the time he was ten months old, Max would reach up with both arms to gesture that he wanted to be picked up. A ten-month-old baby may even be able to point to body parts. By twelve months, a baby may point at an object and then look to a caregiver to check that his or her gesture has been noticed. Between nine and twelve months of age, babies begin to look in the direction that their caregivers are pointing, rather than at the finger itself. Avery is now able to purposefully look at the things that her mom points out to her when they are out for a walk.

Ten- to twelve-month-old babies use more varied and complex gestures than in the previous months. These babies are beginning to use common gestures for requesting, signaling that they notice something, showing, giving, and protesting. Max loves cheerios and he will extend an open hand to tell his mom that he wants more. Gestures may also be used to draw attention to objects and as a way of getting their caregiver’s attention. At eleven months of age, Avery has started to wave her hands while vocalizing loudly when she wants to draw her mom’s attention to the fact that she is hungry.

Gradually, babies will start to use unconventional gestures, such as showing off and tantruming. They may also develop gestures used to convey specific meanings. Avery sometimes goes rigid as a board when her mom tries to put her in her car seat. This gesture lets her mom know that she does not want to sit. This seems to be a fairly common gesture among children this age! Babies may also develop gestures that are understood by only them and their caregivers. For example, Avery and her dad enjoy playing a game they invented and call “froggy faces”. When Avery flicks her tongue in and out like a frog, her dad has learnt that this gesture means that she wants to play their game. If her dad joins in and flicks his tongue out too, Avery starts to laugh and tries to grab her dad’s tongue as it darts in and out. Avery’s dad then tries to grab Avery’s tongue. Soon they are both laughing. It is obvious by Avery’s giggles that she enjoys sharing this game with her dad.

Gradually babies start to use vocalizations with their gestures. By twelve months, most will start to replace gestures with words

Imitation

Ten-month-old babies may try to imitate adult vocalizations. But babies can only imitate those sounds they can produce. For example, Max’s dad often goes “choo-choo” when playing with the toy train. Max can’t yet make the “ch” sound, so he tries to copy his dad by saying “ooo-ooo.” Over the next few months, babies will imitate their caregivers more often. These imitations may also become more complex. Eleven-month-old babies can imitate the pitch changes and rhythms of their caregivers’ utterances, as well as their facial expressions. By the time they are one-year-old, babies can imitate caregiver productions even when they cannot see their caregivers. Driving along, Avery’s mom sings to Avery to keep her amused. She was surprised to hear her try to imitate the words and the rhythm and pitch of the song from way back in her car seat. 

Turn-taking

By twelve months of age, most babies are able to take turns in little “conversations” with caregivers. These babies and caregivers take turns making sounds with little overlap between their sounds. Overlap only happens when laughing, “singing”, or if the caregiver and baby both jump in to fill a pause. There are differences in eye gaze between adult- adult and baby-adult conversation. Adults typically look at those they are talking with after they are done speaking. Babies tend to look at their communication partners at the beginning of their vocalizing. They may do this to seek reassurance from their caregivers.

Max’s mom has found that she can often have little “conversations” with him while he’s having his snack. Max will look towards her and make some sounds. When he pauses, she will add a comment like “Those cheerios are good aren’t they?” and wait expectantly for Max’s answer. Most of the time now he doesn’t disappoint her and jumps in with another look and more happy sounds.

Joint Reference

We say that joint reference occurs when communication partners focus on the same thing. The development of joint reference began at four months when babies became able to attend to the same objects as their caregivers and has continued to develop over time. In the period from ten to twelve months, further development of joint attention continues to be promoted through caregiver interactions. Caregiver talk that encourages and maintains their baby’s focus on a topic results in increased attention by babies during this time. While looking at her favorite picture book, eleven-month-old Avery would look longer if her mom encouraged her to point and vocalize by asking questions and modeling a response. In this way, Avery learned which parts of particular pages her mom expected her to point to and “talk” about. By twelve months of age, these babies may start to “name” objects of interest by making sounds as they point to them. With age, the amount of time that babies will interact with a caregiver about a common subject or object increases.

Objects continue to play an important role in interactions with caregivers in the ten- to twelve-month period. Researchers have found that babies younger than ten months can pay attention to either an object or a caregiver but not to both at the same time. In contrast, babies older than ten months of age can relate to their caregivers about objects. They will also use objects to get their caregivers’ attention. They may bring objects to their caregivers for help and will climb in order to get an object. Babies this age will also begin to show objects to their caregivers. They may start to play a “trading” game where they take turns with their caregivers passing an object back and forth. Another favorite pastime is “retrieve” or “fetch” in which a baby drops an objects for a caregiver to pick up. Max loves this game! While his parents have grown quite tired of it, Max will often try to engage with visitors to his home by throwing objects off his highchair tray and looking between the new person and the object expectantly. Unlike younger babies, eleven-month-olds will let go of objects without caregiver coaching. They may communicate that they want an object by pointing, looking at caregiver, looking at the object again, and then making a sound.

Intentional Communication

Communication is intentional when babies purposefully act or vocalize to gain their caregiver’s attention or help. For some babies, this skill began to emerge in the seven- to nine-month period, but for other babies it may just be emerging at ten months. Intentional communication can begin only after babies learn two things. They must realize that caregivers can help them reach their goals and secondly, that they can obtain this help by communicating. It is also at this time that babies become able to relate to their caregivers about objects. The following is an example of intentional communication. When Max wants to get his mom to notice that his cup has fallen off his tray, he stretches an arm down towards it and vocalizes loudly until she picks it up for him.

The development of intentional communication appears to be linked to changes in how babies think. In the ten- to twelve-month period, babies begin to understand the relationships between actions and outcomes. For example, Avery has learned that if she pulls at the kitchen tablecloth, she can pull an object closer to her high chair. Secondly, babies at this stage begin to be able to anticipate events and actions. For example, when they are out visiting somewhere, Max starts to cry as soon as his mom stands up, anticipating that this means that she is going to leave him with people he is less familiar with. This developing ability to understand that actions have consequences motivates babies to communicate with their caregivers. 

Active Anticipation and Participation

Ten- to twelve-month-old babies are beginning to play a more active role in interactions with caregivers. Ten-month-old babies are often interested in feeding themselves and helping with dressing – or more often undressing! At ten months of age, Avery began to take such an interest in her feeding spoon that her parents started to give her one of her own to hold, while they spooned most of her food in with a second one. She also loved to pull off her shoes and socks. By the time they are eleven months old, most babies can figure out what their caregivers are trying to do and will use protest and persuasion to try and change it. For example, Max loves the bath routine and has learned that the end of bath time is near when his dad hands his mom the towel. Now when he sees the towel, he tries to kick his way out of his mom’s arms and makes loud sounds of protest. His parents are amazed at how much he scolds them! These types of behaviors may inconvenience caregivers but they are important sign of learning and growth. Babies this age are becoming more independent little people.

Caregivers’ Support for Interaction

In the ten- to twelve-month period, caregivers continue to support their babies’ interaction skills. The responsiveness of caregivers and the language that they use have been found to affect their babies’ communication development.

Responsiveness

Caregivers’ reactions and responses to their older babies’ actions continue to affect their babies’ behavior and learning. Researchers have found a relationship between responsiveness of caregivers and baby communication. Twelve-month-old babies, whose caregivers were more responsive in the six to twelve month period, cried less and were more communicative in terms of vocalizations and gestures than babies with less responsive caregivers.

Language Use

Researchers have also found a relationship between caregiver language and baby language skills. Nine-month-old babies, whose caregivers talked about an ongoing activity or commented about an object used in an interaction, were found to have better language skills at twelve months.

Sample Gosse, H., & Goztke, C. (2007). Parent/Caregiver Narrative: Interacting 10 - 12 Months. In L.M. Phillips (Ed.), Handbook of language and literacy development: A Roadmap from 0 - 60 Months. [online], pp. 1 - 8. London, ON: Canadian Language and Literacy Research Network. Available at: Handbook of language and literacy development