It turns out that Mother Goose had it right. All those songs she was always singing? They're a powerful tool for enhancing your baby's communication at a very early age.
What's that, you ask? Is it really as simple as singing some songs with my baby? Yes, yes it is.
It goes without saying that babies learn best when they are consistently wooed into loving, responsive interactions with the adults around them. In fact, there's growing research that shows that one of the best indicators of a baby's development is how responsive his parents are to him. Before I go on, it's incredibly important to pause for a moment and note that this does not mean that children who are slow to develop speech and language are parented by non-responsive moms and dads; to the contrary, it is very possible for a child with incredibly interactive parents to struggle to communicate. It is likely that all children are born with certain inborn tendencies that will help determine the range within which their communication skills will fall. However, we do know that the more interactive, loving, and responsive parents are, the more apt a child is to develop to the highest of his abilities.
So. Back to Mother Goose.
In addition to knowing that babies thrive when their parents consistently engage them in loving interactions, we also know babies also learn best when they are involved in repetitive and predictable routines that help them make sense of the world around them. These routines help infants and toddlers develop what we call anticipatory sets, which is just a fancy way of saying that young children will begin to develop expectations for actions that have been repeated so frequently that the baby learns to anticipate what comes next. These expectations help them organize their world and begin building the framework they will need to develop language.
Singing simple songs and doing other silly, predictable games like "Peek-a-boo," "I'm gunna getcha," and "5 little piggies" with your baby is one of the easiest ways to help him learn to develop these anticipatory sets. The more you do them, the more quickly your baby will learn to expect what comes next. He'll show you that he knows what's coming by quieting his body in expectation or moving his body in excitement when you pause in the middle of the action. Eventually, he'll start spurring you into further action by grabbing your hands or vocalizing to tell you he wants more. He'll take turns covering his own face in peek-a-boo. And, finally, around 6-12 months, he'll start filling actions and words into those songs that you've been singing all along.
Sing away. Be silly. Play games. Enjoy your baby. And while you do all those things, take pride in the fact that you're giving him a solid start on the road to communication.