BabyTalk : Strengthen Your Child's Ability to Listen, Understand, and Communicate
By Sally Ward Ph.D.
The Fifth Month
The baby has, at this point, a rapidly expanding awareness of her environment. Watch her excitement when hearing her food being prepared-she is showing anticipation of an event for the first time It is also shown by the fact that she stops crying or fussing when she's talked to or when she hears music. A little magical moment happens at this time too. She appears to recognize her name, promptly looking for the speaker when she hears it called.
The baby can now sit up with only very slight support, can turn her head, and can lift her head when she is lying on her back. She may roll from side to side, giving her her first approach to mobility and some control over her environment. She can then begin to explore more widely and see objects and activities from different perspectives.
The baby is also trying to access and handle objects. She can reach and grasp things, although she sometimes overreaches. She carries objects to her mouth, which is her main means of discovering their properties. She's now even more aware of her hands as well as her feet and enjoys playing with both fingers and toes.
Visual perception is now mature, leading to more frequently shared attention focus between baby and adult. Understanding the meaning of what she sees is increasing too. She can now recognize her siblings and enjoys watching them play. She begins to understand how the world works.
She plays a lot with sounds, both when she is alone and when with others, utilizing a range of noises. She can now make sounds at the back of the mouth, like "g" and "k." You may hear a special sound to signal her displeasure. This is unique to each individual baby and therefore only recognizable to those who spend the most time with her.
While baby's communication is still not intentional, her wider range of actions, sounds, and facial expressions make it easier for the adults around her to understand what she is feeling and what she wants Understanding her intentions leads toward shared intention between baby and adult, which will become important in the development of language.
The Sixth Month
This month the baby responds differently to different people, in particular becoming aware that strangers are just that, and showing shyness for the first time. She now shows awareness of her peers, smiling and vocalizing to them.
She understands general meanings of speech such as warning or anger and begins to sense a broad range of emotions, which will later come into her pretend play. She can comprehend certain words like "daddy" and "byebye," again very well ahead of the time she will come to use them. She is beginning to remember and respond to the routines of her day. She understands "no" a little more fully and now obeys about half the time.
At this time, the baby can almost sit unsupported and shows a crawling motion when placed on her tummy. Her ability to roll is widening her horizons. She loves being lifted and swung, and will put up her arms in invitation to adults to do this. Her reach is much more accurate, making it easier for those around her to know what she wants. She sometimes accompanies this reaching with vocalizing-an early precursor to naming.
Now that she can reach and grasp, she begins to explore objects. At this stage, she treats all objects the same way, banging and shaking them, and still trying to put everything in her mouth! The very beginnings of cause and effect are now emerging-for example, as she discovers that banging a toy makes a particular sound. This is helped by her growing manual dexterity and skills. Hands and eyes work together, enabling her to manipulate objects more purposefully. She can pick up small toys from a table and grasp something held in front of her. She cannot yet voluntarily release objects or handle more than one at a time. If given a second toy, she will drop the first. She is beginning to become aware of the function of certain things-for example, that a cup is for drinking.
The baby at this age is visually insatiable. She watches intently everything that goes on. She will try to copy what her mother does and will now have fun imitating facial expressions. Another new skill is that she will now look for a toy that has rolled out of her reach.
You will see big changes in her sound-making at this time, both in terms of the noises she makes and the ways in which she uses them. More consonants are appearing, and she begins to produce strings of babble in which she repeals the same syllable several times. These usually involve the sounds "mama," "dada," and "baba," which are sounds made at the front of the mouth and easy to produce. You may think these are your child's first words, but this little miracle does not happen just yet. It's obvious that the baby is having lots of fun playing with sounds. A very important stage in her communication development is that she now begins to address her babble to people, as if she has become aware that we all make lots of sounds to one another and she wants to join in the game! She will sometimes interrupt another person's vocalization, starting to make sounds without waiting for the other person to pause, and will now start to sing along with music. She will sometimes accompany a gesture with a vocalization and finds it very funny to imitate a cough.
In summary, by the time your baby is six months old, she is likely to
recognize one or two words she has heard frequently, like "bye-bye" or "daddy";
babble tunefully to herself and to other people, sometimes repeating the same sounds several times;
imitate a cough;
respond to little requests like "Up you come";
acknowledge the emotional tone in your voice, making it clear by her body movements and facial expression that she can tell the difference between cross and friendly inflections;
appear to know what "no" means and will stop what she is doing some of the time in response;
start a "conversation" in sounds, by clearly addressing someone with a noise; and
play at sound-making, both when she is alone and when she is with other people.