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It may look like a newborn isn’t interested in communication, but children start using their language-learning tools right after birth. When you know what to look for in Level One, you can watch your child laying the foundation for all every later speech and language skill.

Use this chart as a checklist and guide for Level One. It summarizes new learning at this level, and lists activities you can do during your daily activities to build your child’s communication skills.

Listen to the podcast for tips on how to help your child build skills at Level One and get ready for Level Two.


Social interaction is the core of communication. The definition of communication is the sending and receiving of a meaningful message between people. Without the social piece, it’s not communication.

This is important: We must never focus so much on using words that we neglect the social reasons for using words.

The back-and-forth exchange of ideas and feelings is what communication is all about. Social interaction is what motivates children to learn and use their speech and language skills.

A social relationship needs to be well established at Level 1 so it will provide the framework for all future uses of speech and language. You may see the term reciprocal interaction used to describe this shared, back-and-forth exchange of actions, feelings and ideas.

From their earliest days, children use their magnetic charm to initiate Serve and Return interactions. They watch faces intently and make eye contact. If you talk or make cooing noises, your child keeps watching you and then rewards you even more by smiling. This is the beginning of mutual attention and turn taking.

An infant’s eye gaze and smile triggers the release of chemicals in the pleasure center of adults’ brains. This pleasure keeps us coming back to give the baby more opportunities to learn from us. At the same time, children are learning to enjoy staying engaged with people.

Be about 10 – 20 inches away from child’s face. Eye gaze is short at this level. Don’t expect a long, focused look. You can’t force it when the child is not comfortable. Be gentle and in tune with your child’s state. Even when you don’t see a response, the interactions register in your child’s brain and facilitate development. Sometimes your child needs a break from the stimulation—when they turn away or seem disinterested it’s a cue that they’e had enough for now.

With practice, babies expand their use of eye gaze to explore their environment and gather more information. They turn their head at the sound of your voice. They start to recognize familiar faces that are several feet away. They study new faces closely and look at new objects.

Older children with developmental delays may stop engaging in this social back-and-forth if other people do not return their efforts. Children who have vision impairments or who use little eye contact can engage in social exchanges using other senses like touch. No matter your child’s age or abilities, you can find ways to maintain and build this important social foundation.


There’s an old saying that “play is the work of a child.” It’s true. Enjoyment keeps children engaged in activities, and this engagement gives them lots of practice using a variety of skills and learning new ones.

Play is how children gather new information, try out new skills, figure out how things work, and experiment with new ideas. Children build their thinking and language skills on this knowledge of the world that they develop through play.

I’ve lumped body movement (gross motor) skills into the Play category, because movement is what allows children to engage in play. When children have limited movement skills, we need to figure out alternate ways to help them have a broad variety of learning experiences through play.

At Level One, children are developing some control of their muscles to help them explore their environment. They learn to follow moving objects with their eyes and to recognize familiar objects at a distance. They develop different interest levels for different things they see.

By the end of Level One, children can raise their head when lying on their tummy and also begin to use their arms to push themselves up off the floor. Their interest in what they see and hear motivates them to keep using their muscles to explore.


Understand Words

Understanding words requires good hearing abilities. This includes knowing when sounds are present and being able to tell the difference between different sounds.

Children’s interest in exploring their environment motivates them to turn in response to sounds. That’s called localizing, or knowing where a sound comes from.

Children at Level One begin to recognize familiar sounds, like the sound of your voice. They’ll get quiet, listen intently and smile when you talk to them.

Children also begin to recognize sounds that are unfamiliar. They spend extra time looking at something that makes a sound they haven’t heard before.

Use Words

We use words to express meanings. At Level One, your child will show early ways of expressing feelings. You can recognize cries that have different meanings like “I’m tired” or “I’m hungry,” and sounds that express contentment or happiness. Your child might use a body movement that lets you know they are done eating, uncomfortable or tired.

Remember that communication is the exchange of meaning between people. As they grow older, some children don’t use speech, but will learn to communicate complex ideas and have fulfilling relationships by making words with other modes of communication — like sign language or a speech generating device.

Use Speech

By the end of Level One, your child will use several different sounds that can later be used for speaking words. They coo, gurgle and make one or more speech-like sounds (usually a vowel or a sound made with the lips).



Reading and writing require knowledge of speech sounds, words, sentences and stories. At Level One, your child is hearing speech sounds that will later be the foundation of phonics for reading. Hearing words, sentences, stories and songs helps them learn the rhythms and patterns of spoken and written language.


Written language requires using coordinated eye and hand movements, so I’ve included those (fine motor) movement skills in this category.

By the end of Level One, your child will start using their hands and eyes together. When they see an interesting object, they move one or both hands toward it. They don’t grab the object but might bat it with their hand.

Your child is born with a grasp where they wrap their fingers around an object and hold on. They don’t reach out and grasp something on purpose but if something is put in the palm of their hand, they will hold onto it.


In summary, Level One starts at birth with inborn skills that help babies attract us and get us to interact with them. Their gaze and smile draws us to them, where they have more opportunities to learn from new experiences.

Learning happens through frequent, daily interactions with people and objects in their environment. At Level One, children are already learning essential social interaction and language skills. We can enrich the learning opportunities in a child’s environment to help boost their learning. Listen to podcasts 004 – 037 for tips on how to help your child build skills at Level One and get ready for Level Two.

  • Be sure to focus on providing enrichment at your child's current level, and add just a little bit more to show what they can do next.

  • Focus on sharing an interaction together, rather than trying to get your child to do a specific thing.

  • Don't be tempted to jump ahead as a way to accelerate your child's development. (You'll leave gaps.) Use this chart to keep track of what your child is able to do. Focus on building a strong foundation at the current level before you move to the next level.

  • You can help your child compensate for vision, hearing, motor or other challenges as you do the podcast activities together.

Next: Level Two




Joyce is very knowledgeable. Not only as a speech therapist but also on how the school system works. Which is very helpful going through the IEP process. She was able to engage with my daughter and was never hesitant to help in any way. I would definitely recommend Joyce to anyone that is looking for a trustworthy, caring and informed speech therapist.

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