Workshop Language development


  • To understand how children grow and develop
  • To enjoy children’s development and have realistic expectations of them
  • To provide children with age-appropriate activities 

Background information 

Talking to their pēpi is one of the most important things that whānau can do, because it helps build a relationship between pēpi and the person talking. 

Through communicating with pēpi, an attachment relationship grows and they learn to trust the world and the people in it. Firstly, pay attention to their first attempts to communicate, which is usually crying. 

Talk to them — even though they can’t reply yet. Talk to them often, using a happy, gentle voice, and look into their eyes while you talk. Plenty of talking with pēpi is the start of them developing their language skills. 

Babies have to hear a lot of language before they can understand and then use the language. Pēpi listens to others first, before they’re able to express their thoughts and feelings to others through talking. 

Learning the language of their whānau not only lets pēpi communicate their needs, but just as importantly, it makes them feel part of their whānau and their culture. 


Discuss the background information with the group, and then invite them to think about early communication with some prompting questions: 

  • What is communication?
  • What is language?
  • How do babies ‘talk’?
  • Do your babies use any gestures? What are they?
  • What does your pēpi understand when you talk to them?
  • Can you imitate the way your baby talks? 

Discuss expressive language and the following stages of verbalising that babies and young children go through. Although the order remains fairly consistent, the timing of each stage can vary greatly between individual pēpi: 

  • Babbling and cooing
  • Single sounds: ‘da da’, ‘ma ma’
  • Single parts of words — for example, ‘ba’ for ‘bath’
  • Single words — for example, ‘cup’, ‘cat’
  • Two-syllable words — for example, ‘māmā’, ‘pēpi’
  • Using a word to describe an action or an event — for example, ‘dada’ (pointing to dad’s shoe), or ‘milk’ (to tell you they want a drink)
  • Action words with nouns — for example, ‘drink gone’
  • Joining two words — for example, ‘all gone’, and ‘fall down’
  • Sentences gradually increase in length and number

Ask the participants: 

  • How do you talk to your pēpi?
  • Have you heard about using ‘parentese’ before? What do you know about it?

As pēpi practices making sounds by cooing, gurgling and babbling, they will look for responses from their whānau. 

Invite participants to have a ‘cooing, gurgling, babbling’ conversation together in pairs. 

  • Try telling the other person about something without using words. Can you guess what each other is saying? 

Suggest to whānau that great times to talk to their pēpi are when they’re: 

  • changing their nappies
  • holding them
  • bathing them
  • massaging them
  • washing and dressing them. 

And any time that: 

  • baby is awake and playful
  • they’re together. 

Encourage discussions about how language develops and give specific examples of how whānau can: 

  • respond to babies’ noises
  • talk about what they’re doing and why, without expecting a response
  • look, wait and allow time for babies to respond with a gurgle or a smile
  • sing, sing and sing some more!
  • make up songs about what they’re both doing
  • affirm and expand on children’s words by adding to them — for example, if they say, ‘Dog,’ an adult could say, ‘Yes, that’s a big black dog’
  • name things (‘bath’), actions (‘pakipaki’) and people (‘nanny’)
  • read books out loud
  • have fun together.

Language develops through babies: 

  • having a close physical relationship with a main caregiver
  • hearing other people talking to them and around them
  • practising making sounds — such as blowing raspberries, vibrating their lips, babbling and gurgling. These sounds all strengthen mouth, throat and tongue muscles, helping to give pēpi control of the sounds they’re making. 

Stages of expressive language development 

Language development cards  - Give out the 7 language development cards and ask the group to put them in order from birth to 3. You could also duplicate the cards so that they can work in pairs or on their own. If they need help with the order, they can use the SKIP Whakatipu booklets, the Well Child/Tamariki Ora My health book and Plunket’s Thriving under five. 


  • SKIP Whakatipu booklets 
  • SKIP Tips for under-fives 
  • Language development cards 

Home visiting pages 

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