Typically developing infants and young children are noisy – really noisy. Their shouts echo through the house when they wake, their wordless natter fills the air as they play, and a quiet house is a warning sign that mischief might well be afoot.
So what is the function of babbling? Apart from experimenting with vocalization in general, little ones are honing their skills for that exciting milestone: first words. Without the constant repetition of different consonants in combination with vowels, the production of real words will never be possible.
But, have you ever wondered about the precursors to reading? Is there a literacy equivalent to the babbling of infants and toddlers? Over the years I’ve come to have my suspicions.
One day many years ago, our family home was quiet: way too quiet. What had happened to my 18 month old son? I searched everywhere, the panic rising a little with every empty room. Finally, I found him surrounded by books that he’d pulled from the bottom shelf in his bedroom. His head was bowed in concentration over a board book as he turned the pages.
He wasn’t reading and wouldn’t read for quite a few years, but just as his babbling prepared him for the production of his very first words, a love of books and time spent turning pages (with the images the right way up) were the foundation for his future literacy skills.
In later years, a shout from the back of the car would alert me to his growing awareness that letters are all around us: letters on oversized billboards, in ads posted on buses and trucks and in shop windows.
Everywhere we go our children are developing skills for communication, be it babbling in the cot, turning pages of a book they could not possibly be reading, or recognising splinters of writing before they start school. All of this babbling or dabbling in the new is what equips them for a lifetime of learning and it’s pure magic to watch it all unfold.