Imitation: The Foundational Skill
You’ve heard many Speech Language Pathologists (SLPs) talk about imitation. But what is it exactly? And why is it important?
Imitation is the ability to copy other’s. Think about how we, as adults, learn to do our jobs or when we encounter something new. We learn by imitating what others do then we begin to put our own spin to it. Children are very much the same. They learn to talk through imitation and it begins when they are tiny babies! When you see a baby and mother interact, they are imitating each other’s sounds, actions, and facial expressions. This is the start of early conversation and development of social skills and language. This teaches infants and young toddlers that they can engage with their caregivers in addition to communicating basic wants/needs, take turns, share an emotion and attend to their caregivers.
Imitation doesn’t happen right away. It takes time and practice for our little toddlers. Think about it, when it comes to doing a simple task such as clapping, the child must pay attention to you, learn to coordinate the movements, watch for a response, then begin to understand social turn-taking. Some kids will learn to complete these steps after 3 models while others may take 20+ models before independently doing it on their own.
When it comes to talking, we don’t start right away with words for our toddlers. It all starts with play. Toddlers learn to imitate large body movements from jumping, running, to clapping. They learn to dump and fill buckets, stack objects, and operate new toys. Toddlers then learn to imitate everyday routines from pretending to mow the lawn with dad to cooking dinner with mom. At the same time, they are imitating the sounds that you make in association with the gestures. SLPs love those animal sounds so farm toys are a favorite as they are easy and fun to produce. Children learn to imitate animal sounds in association with the objects and then they begin to imitate words. Words are powerful! And toddlers learn that they can communicate so much more with words!
So the next time you hear an SLP talk about imitation, think of the important foundational skill that you are laying down for your child and how this foundational skill is the gateway to talking and building conversations with your little one.
-Helen Deduonni, M.S., CF-SLP