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How gestures impact your child’s learning process

baby and mom smiling outdoors

Key points:
1. Babies start communicating through gestures around 5 months.
2. Gestures facilitate learning by regulating children’s attention and providing conceptual information.
3. Different types of gestures include index, iconic, and embodied gestures.
4. Studies show that gestures support young children’s learning and make abstract information more concrete.

We’ve previously talked about the importance of gestures in your child’s language development. In this article, we will pinpoint different types of gestures that have been researched along with their effect on children’s learning processes.

Your baby begins communicating with you through gesticulations when they’re around 5 months. They can let you know what they like or dislike and are constantly catching up with your gestures and voice. The ability to communicate with gestures and learn through them doesn’t stop at 24 months when your little one is able to produce understandable words. Even as adults we use gestures to provide representational information that complements our words; that way the other person has a broader insight of what we just present verbally. There’s even been studies that show that adults rely more on the communicator’s pointing gestures, than on their speech.

How do gestures facilitate learning?


Research shows that gestures regulate children’s attention during a task and that they can provide relevant conceptual information about strategies required by the task.

  • Index gestures: These gestures include pointing towards, tapping, and showing a physical object in order to indicate it. They’ve been shown to help children focus their attention on the most relevant parts when performing a task. Pointing can cue children on the important features. Tapping on an object can reduce the uncertainty and confusion about the object. The use of these gestures is more effective than the use of speech without any visual cues.
  • Iconic gestures: These are small actions that mimic the instructions of a task. They provide important ideas that complement or reinforce speech. Findings on these suggest learners make fewer errors and complete a task faster following gesture-only instructions, compared to speech-only instructions.
  • Embodied gestures: These gestures involve the caregiver demonstrating the action or function of an object or even wrapping their hands around the child’s hands to help them perform the action. These have been shown to be especially effective in motor tasks such as the manipulation of objects.

Studies have shown that gestures support young children’s learning, particularly kids over 2 years old. Gestures can make abstract information become more concrete and easier to understand. Try to incorporate these to the daily interactions you have with your little one and watch how you help them regulate their attention, learn, and comprehend instructions better.

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