The Help Your Child Talk series describes speech, language and communication development from no words to two-word sentences. This process typically takes at least two years.
This post describes what your child will do by the end of Level Two. It takes at least three months to develop through this level. Listen to the podcast for all the activities at Level Two.
INTRODUCTION TO LEVEL TWO
Using speech and language involves many parts of the brain. It’s easy to see, even at this early stage, how development in one area affects skills needed in another area. When you provide extra focus and practice with all these skills, you help your child build stronger connections in their brain.
Use this chart as a checklist and guide for Level Two. For each area of new learning at each level, you’ll see several activities you can use during your daily interactions with your child. You’ll help your child focus on and practice skills needed for effective communication.
Children increase their skills by practicing what they already know and trying a little bit more. At Level Two, children learn to respond to social interaction in a variety of ways, use their eyes and hands more effectively, and increase the variety of sounds they can make.
At Level Two, children’s inborn desire to experience new things motivates them to use their muscles and senses to take in as much information as they can.
Level Two children can’t move to get things for themselves or tell you what they want. You need to be a good observer to respond to signals from your child.
Always remember that social interaction is the reason we communicate. To help your child become an effective communicator, we need to keep interaction as the central focus of our activities.
Your child can stay with an activity comfortably for a minute. Be aware of your child’s body language that signals comfort and interest.
At Level Two, children have little direct control of the environment but become masters at Serve and Return interactions. They add more tricks to get your attention and pull you to them with their eye gaze, wiggles, smiles and babbling sounds.
Level Two is where your child starts learning how to start an interaction on purpose. This is called initiation. Your child might wiggle then wait for you to respond. When your child is older, this initiation of an interaction will be an important skill for conversations.
When you respond to actions by giving attention, your child is learning they can control other people’s actions. They also learn to enjoy spending time with people and to stay in interactions for longer periods of time.
Children at Level Two enjoy social play, like light tickling and cuddling games. They smile, laugh and squeal with pleasure. They enjoy the Where’s mommy/daddy? game when you cover your face and ask, “Where’s mommy?” then uncover your face and say, “Peek!”
They show affection to familiar people with smiles and cuddling. They watch you closely when you speak, then respond with a movement. Their eye contact and movements let you know they want to continue the interaction with you.
Children can now see things up to six feet away and can follow movements with their eyes. They build their knowledge of the world through observing, but they also learn they can get some things to come to them when they look intently, wiggle or make noises. They are learning about the power to request things.
Each child is a little different in how they signal it, but we learn to recognize when children need a break. They might turn away, close their eyes, arch their back, make fussy sounds, hiccup, cry or fall asleep. When we respond to these signals, we help children learn what they need when their bodies feel that way. Later this will help them learn to manage these feelings for themselves, a skill called self-regulation.
Your child’s interest in their environment expands as they are able to see more of what’s around them. Their interest motivates them to use their bodies to get to those things. Their tummy muscles get stronger as they learn to tuck their chin to look toward their belly or feet. These stronger muscles help them learn to roll over. By the end of this Level, your child can sit with support.
At Level Two, your child will become more skilled at using their hands. They will learn to reach toward something with just one hand and pick it up. They will pass that one object from one hand to the other. When they are holding a toy and you offer another, they’ll drop the first one to take the second.
Your child’s hands will start to put everything in their mouth. This, of course, comes in handy for learning to eat but it’s also a way they learn more about everything they pick up. By handling and mouthing objects, your child is learning the beginnings of concepts like size, shape and texture.
Exploring objects also helps your child start learning what they need to know for symbol use. A symbol represent something that’s not there. Words are a type of symbol. For example, the word “banana” is a symbol for the long, yellow fruit with a peel.
By the end of Level Two, your child only knows something exists if they can see it. But an important skill is starting to develop. Your child is learning to recognize an object from different angles or when it is partially hidden. For example, if they see their bottle partly covered by a blanket, they can lift up the blanket to find the rest of the bottle.
Finding partially hidden objects is the beginning of an important thinking skill called object permanence. This is is the knowledge that things still exist even when we can’t see them. Object permanence is needed for an understanding of how symbols (like gestures and words) represent objects and ideas.
Your child’s hearing skills include knowing when sounds are present, plus being able to tell the difference between different sounds (called sound discrimination).
At Level Two, your child will turn or lift their head in response to sounds. They will react to sudden sounds with a startle, look or cry. If you don’t notice these reactions, have your child’s hearing checked.
Some familiar sounds will start to become recognizable to your child. When they hear a cat, dog or familiar toy they may look in a predictable direction where they usually see that object. They are starting to discriminate sounds, which is important for understanding speech.
Remember that words express meaning. When your child hears a word used in a predictable situation, they start to associate a meaning with the sounds you are making in the word. Your child will start to look in response to their name by the end of Level Two.
Level Two children learn to vary their babbling sounds. As we respond differently to different sounds they make, they start to learn their sounds have meaning for us.
Your child will use recognizable sounds or intonation to express different feelings, like happiness or anger. They will vary the loudness of their sounds.
Babbling helps your child practice using different tone of voice (called intonation) and sounds. Your child is learning to control their mouth movements. They can use their lips to make a raspberries sound. They repeat a consonant sound when they babble, like bababa. They use several vowel sounds like ah, ee, uh.
Now that your child can pick up objects, they can explore books independently. Board, cloth or vinyl books work best at this level!! Your child will shake and pat the book, and—of course—put it in their mouth.
Your child will learn to enjoy sitting in your lap while you look at books together. You can demonstrate patting the page and saying a word to label the picture. Your child is learning that this cuddling and quiet time makes looking at books a pleasant pastime, and will spend several minutes in the activity.
Picking up and releasing objects also helps your child practice the grasp and finger control skills needed for writing. No need to get out the markers quite yet, though!
In summary, Level Two builds on the inborn Serve and Return skills to develop more control over social interaction, sensory and physical skills. Your responses to your child helps them learn they can have some control in their world. By the end of this Level, children are almost ready to understand that symbols (words, gestures) can stand for something that is not there.
Children with delayed development sometimes cannot demonstrate their understanding in the typical way. Be alert to their unique ways of responding to you and other experiences. Figure out ways to help them compensate for a missing ability (like sight, hearing, movement) so they can have rich learning experiences.
We can enrich the learning opportunities in a child’s environment to help boost their learning. Listen to the podcast for tips on how to help your child build skills at Level Two and get them ready for Level Three.
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.