Since Elyana was newborn I have talked to her and read to her a lot. All sorts of things. I would explain:
- what I was doing while I held/wore her - and why. (cooking, laundry, getting the mail, making coffee). Ex: "Momma is sauteeing onion to put in the bread for dinner." "Momma is washing our dirty cloths, look at the Georgia red clay." "Let's see if anything fun is in the mailbox. What a sunny day outside!")
- detail-by-detail what I was doing with her and why (bathing, diapering, swaddling, dancing) Ex: "Momma is soaping up your feet now to make them smell all nice." "Let's get you all swaddled in the white swaddle blanket with the sheep on it so you can be all cozy." "Listen! It's Yo-Yo Ma playing Bach's Cello Suites. Let's dance."
- what we were seeing as we were out and about (walking, grocery shopping, driving) Ex: "Oh, it's Christmas, look at the ornaments hanging from the ceiling." "Blood oranges are on sale, let's buy them to eat." "Do you hear that bird chirp? That's a bobwhite quail!"
- when I was looking for something. I often would ask "Where is your...." and then fill in the blank with paci, shoes, hat, a book title, of particular toy. I'd also do this when I was looking for something of mine!
- I talk to her about how much I loved her, about her birth story, about how she was conceived, about how much I love her Daddy, about how sad I was when her Daddy was deployed ... basically, I just shared my heart at different times.
- I share the Gospel with her... I talk to her about Jesus, and about his life on earth. I talk about His ultimate sacrifice, His perfect sinless life, our need for Atonement, His Ultimate Love. I talk about how God reveals Himself to us through Nature and Beauty... so we pay LOTS of attention to nature.
- I read, read, read to her. Since she was very young (2 months old? I know people start earlier, but that's when I first did it.) I read everything. We have tons of books. Some days we only go through about 5 together, other days it's 30! From books with pictures with one-word-per-page, to books with entire story-lines and few pictures (still toddler-appropriate). I read a chapter from the Bible to her aloud each day. I read the menu to her at restaurants. At 11 months old, she started to read books to herself. She'd sit down, go through the pages, and "talk" about them. Now she will choose which books she wants us to read, and which she wants to go through by herself.
- I have always assumed she understands more that I probably think, but I've never required it of her.
All this is to say, she now currently can and will (some of the following she's been doing for months, but this is just a compilation):
- Find a book by its title and bring it to us. (She's been choosing between 2 books since she was 7 mos old)
- Understand and obey me with "no's" (no walking in the street, no touching the candles)
- She remembers past experiences and relates them. Ex. She will see a fire in a restaurant and say "hhhhooo" for "hot" and understand it's a no-touch.
- I start off all my fun sentences very slowly and quietly with "Elyana, would you like to...." and she snaps her head to me intently. She knows it is something fun!!! It's usually ended with "watch Baby Dance" "have a cookie" "go outside"....etc.
- She understands "Help" and will sign it to me for at least a half dozen circumstances daily. This one is so huge to me, because it is clearly an understanding that whatever is frustrating her, her momma will fix if she asks. Whereas before it was just a whine and a general pointing, now she'll clearly get near the object she is having a problem with, and sign "help," knowing that I will come fix it for her!!! If it's a toy she's closed and can't reopen, or a ball that's stuck, her toy playing the wrong song, or her dropped paci... She can tell me and know I'll fix it.
These are a few of many ways we've been working on communication (both ways). I try very hard to consistently work on something new with Elyana every few days/weeks (depending on how hard it is for her). For example, we've always used "no touch" to mean for her not to even go near something. Today, we worked on 'no touch with your hand, but you may step on it' (it was a puddle of water). We have worked on "wait" a long time, because that's such a hard concept. But I don't care how fast she grasps them, so long as I am working with her.
I think our children are capable of so much more than we give them credit for, or opportunity. But it's not something necessary to work on, I just enjoy it so much. I have just ordered a book I read good reviews on called The Philosophical Baby. I am eager to read what it has to say about my child's developing mind.