The Importance of Gestures in Developing Language

The Importance of Gestures in Developing Language

Before children start to communicate verbally, they begin to communicate their wants and needs to us by using gestures. It may be a surprise that an important milestone before a child says their first words is a child beginning to use gestures such as pointing to objects, opening and closing hands towards an item, or pulling an adult’s hand towards an item.

The Hanen Centre shares how children who use more gestures early on have also been shown to have larger vocabularies later when they begin to communicate verbally.  A child who shows or points to an item, will likely learn the word for it within three months. When a child is experiencing a language delay pairing words with gestures has been shown to produce greater language gains.

When and what gestures should my child be using?


  • 9 months: start to shake their head “no” and turn away.
  • 10 months: begin to lift their arms to indicate wanting to be picked up and reach out to get an item.
  • 11 months: will reach out with an item in their hand to “show” you and begin to wave hi and bye.
  • 12 months: begin to point to more items using an open-hand.
  • 13 months: start to clap and blow kisses.
  • 14 months: begin to point with only their index finger and bring their index finger up to their mouth to indicate “shhhh”.
  • 15 months: begin to give thumbs up and nod their heads to indicate “yes”.
  • 16 months: start to do high fives and raise their arms and hands into a “I dunno” position.

(First Words Project, 2014)

How can you help your child use more gestures?

  • Pointing to different objects and items. While reading a book or playing with a child’s preferred toy point out the different characters or items, making sure to say the word of the item at the same time as well.
  • Copy the gestures your child creates and add in the word for it to provide acknowledgement and encouragement to use it more.
  • Use gestures that show the function or shape of the object or word. Pointing down when talking about going down the slide or blowing when talking about blowing bubbles.


Blog Post by Speech-Language Pathologist, Jill Swenson


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