“What on earth does babywearing have to do with literacy?” I hear you ask. Well, perhaps more than you might think… And seeing as today is International Literacy Day it seems as good a time as any to elaborate.
A child’s ability to communicate begins long before they are able to speak. Every single interaction a baby has in their first few weeks and months of life starts to lay down the foundations for confident communication, and the rate at which babies and toddlers can develop an understanding of language – both words and non-verbal cues – is really quite staggering.
But in order for them to learn, they have to be able to watch and listen – when people are communicating with them, and when people are communicating with each other.
Research scientist Dr Suzanne Zeedyk carried out a really fascinating study into the impact of parent-facing and forward-facing prams on language development. Her hypothesis – borne out by the research – was that the direction a pushchair faces has a significant impact on how much parents interact with their baby. In fact babies in parent-facing prams experience double the amount of conversation. Taking this further, her findings also showed that children were twice as likely again to be talked to if they were carried rather than in a pushchair.
I’m sure that is something that all of us who enjoy babywearing can relate to – I know for me one of the most delightful things about having my baby (and then my toddler, and then my preschooler) so close was the near-constant interaction.
Dr Zeedyk goes on to say:
“Once we get this far in the discussion, it becomes easy to realise that the logic applies to other forms of baby transport, especially slings (baby carriers)… Slings keep a baby close to a parent’s body, and thus in constant reassurance. This is why many parents choose to use them. Giving slings away to families living in ‘vulnerable circumstances’ would probably make a great health intervention.”
(As an aside, that is exactly what the fantastic organisation The Up Project are trying to do, as you might have read about in last week’s post…)
The National Literacy Trust explains why this early communication is so important: “Babies and young children reach out for interaction through babbling, facial expressions and gestures. If they do not get a response, or the response is inappropriate, then the brain’s architecture does not form as expected.”
Early years educator Alana Robinson elaborates on the particular benefits babywearing can bring for language development, saying:
“When you wear your baby, they are generally right at your mouth level… This allows your baby to hear every word you speak… Not only can they hear your words, but they can feel the vibrations in your body, see the shapes you make with your lips, and how you use your tongue. They hear the emphasis you put on certain words and the tone of voice you use, and feel how you react to the words being said.”
The first three years in a child’s life are the most important for language development, with the foundations being laid that will help them grow into confident communicators. In fact the NLT explains elsewhere that “Neuroscience has revealed that the synapses in a child’s brain multiply 20-fold between the birth and 3 years of age, a rate that is faster than at any other time in life.”
They also advocate the use of slings and baby carriers to facilitate frequent communication between parents and their children – and with other people in the world around them. They have collated a range of testimonials to demonstrate the benefits of slings for early literacy development, with one parent explaining:
“Although I occasionally use a stroller with my toddler I find much the easiest and cheapest way to interact with her and ensure she’s safe is to carry her in a sling or backpack – she’s at the right height to talk to and now at two and a half she’s very bright and articulate. I used a sling all through babyhood, so she’s always been used to being part of the adult world – when we go into shops people always talk to her if she’s being carried, but she hardly ever gets noticed if she’s down in her pushchair.”
So as you wear your baby (or your toddler, or your preschooler) on this International Literacy Day, enjoy the closeness and the conversation – and the knowledge that you are helping to lay solid foundations for their confident use of language for years to come.