Picture of a mother and daughter sat opposite each other, clapping. The text reads "Top tips for encouraging gestures in early intervention".

Top Tips for Encouraging Gestures in Early Intervention Sessions

The development of gestures is a crucial prelinguistic skill; gestures are precursors to language development. In this post you’ll learn 3 of my top tips for encouraging gestures in your Early Intervention sessions.

What are gestures?

Gestures are hand/body movements or facial expressions which are used to intentionally communicate without using words. Examples of gestures include actions such as waving, shaking and nodding your head, showing and giving objects to other people, and pointing.

Text on the left reads "Research has found that by 16 months children should use at least 16 gestures (FIRST WORDS® Project, 2014)" On the right is a picture of a caregiver handout and a peek of the gestures poster with tips for encouraging the use of gestures in early intervention and at home.

Why are gestures important for early language development?

Encouraging the use of gestures supports a child’s overall development.
Using gestures helps to support the development of other skills, such as language, play skills, behaviour management, literacy, and more (FIRST WORDS® Project, 2014). The use of gestures is an important social communication skill that shows that the child’s communication skills are progressing.
There is evidence that suggests that the more gestures a child uses, the better their later language skills will be, and the development of gestures from 9 to 16 months can predict a child’s language ability 2 years later (FIRST WORDS® Project, 2014 and Law et al., 2017).

Research has found that by 16 months children should use at least 16 gestures (FIRST WORDS® Project, 2014). By being aware of the importance of gestures and the types of gestures a child should be using, you are able to get a good idea of their progress and development, and how best to support them in your Early Intervention and parent-coaching sessions.

Picture of a bright and welcoming therapy room with a range of toys and plush teddies arranged on various shelves and stools. In the centre of the image is a large poster depicting 16 early gestures with labels.
Love this poster? Click the image to grab your own copy and a set of caregiver-friendly handouts from my TpT store now.

Top tips for encouraging gestures in Early Intervention sessions

Top Tip #1

Coach parents/caregivers to model the use of gestures repeatedly throughout the day. Children learn through play and daily routines, and through frequent repetition. So you want to encourage parents/caregivers to use simple gestures while they talk and play with their child throughout the day to help build their communication skills. For example, wave hi and bye, point at things they can see, clap when they say “yay”, etc.

Top Tip #2

Coach parents/caregivers to pause and wait. Encourage parents and caregivers to pause in order to give their child opportunities to use gestures themselves, without putting pressure on them to do it (i.e., avoid saying “now you do it” or “do X”).
Coach parents and caregivers to use expectant waiting. If they pause after they have done the gesture and look expectantly at their child, the child may naturally copy the gesture. If the child doesn’t imitate, the parents/caregivers can model the gesture again and carry on. Encourage parents/caregivers to give their child repeated opportunities to copy the gesture throughout the day.

Top Tip #3

Coach parents/caregivers to pair the gesture with a word. Encourage parents and caregivers to use the word that matches the gesture to help reinforce the meaning of the word and action for their child. For example, if the child claps, the adult can clap too and say “yay”. If the child points at a dog, the adult can point at it too and say “look, a dog”.

Caregiver-friendly materials for encouraging gestures in Early Intervention

In order to increase buy-in and caregiver engagement, parents and caregivers need to understand the reasons why you are working on the use of gestures, and the benefit this will have on their child’s communication skills.
With these parent-friendly handouts for encouraging gestures you can feel confident that you’re delivering effective, evidence-based therapy interventions, and providing good-quality handouts for your families, without overwhelming them or adding to your workload.

The use of gestures is a really important prelinguistic skill, so I hope you’ve found these three tips for encouraging gestures helpful.  All of the information in this post was taken from my Gestures Poster and Parent Handouts Bundle resource. It includes more tips to support you in effectively coaching parents and caregivers to use gestures at home. You can purchase this bundle from my TpT store now.

FIRST WORDS® Project. (2014) ’16 Gestures by 16 Months’ Handout. Florida State University. www.firstwordsproject.com

Law, J., Charlton, J., Dockrell, J., Gascoigne, M., McKean, C., Theakston, A. (2017). ‘Early Language Development: Needs, Provision, and Intervention for Preschool Children from Socioeconomically Disadvantaged Backgrounds: A Report for the Education Endowment Foundation’. Education Endowment Foundation and Public Health England.