Pointing Leads to Better Speech in Toddlers

Do those parents also gesture more as they talk with and teach their children?

To see, university psychology researchers Susan Goldin-Meadow and Meredith Rowe visited the homes of 50 Chicago-area families of varying socioeconomic status who had 14-month-olds. They videotaped for 90 minutes to count both parents’ and children’s words and gestures. Quantity aside, they also counted whether children made gestures with specific meanings.

This is not baby sign-language; parents weren’t formally training their tots. Instead, they used everyday gestures to point something out or illustrate a concept. A child points to a dog and mom says, “Yes, that’s a dog.” Or dad flaps his arms to mimic flying. Or pointing illustrates less concrete concepts like “up” or “down” or “big.”

The researchers found an income gap with gesturing even in toddlerhood, when children speak few words.

Higher-income parents did gesture more and, more importantly, their children on average produced 25 meanings in gesture during that 90-minute session, compared with an average of 13 among poorer children, they reported in the journal Science.