While driving around town, you might hear your toddler yell things like “Stop!” at a stop sign, or “McDonald’s!” when he sees the famous golden arches. It may seem like just another day with your receptive kiddo. But if you stop and think about it, your child is decoding pictures, signs, and symbols — and using language to identify it — which is actually pretty impressive!
Visuals play a big role in language development. Think back to the dawn of time. Primitive cave drawings were used to express ideas, emotions, and stories. Today, we use pictures and symbols to find a restroom, catch a bus, order food, or navigate through a new city. Since visuals are such an important part of language, here’s a snapshot of the science behind the visual learning phenomenon!
What Is Visual Learning?
Visual learning is a style of learning that utilizes visual input (symbols, icons, pictures, illustrations) to obtain new information. Science tells us that the human brain is “visually wired.” Almost 50% of our brain is used to process visuals. In other words, we love pictures! Pictures, illustrations, and symbols have helped us to learn and communicate for centuries. Because of this, educators, parents, and caregivers can utilize visual cues to help expand a toddler’s vocabulary and boost language development.
Why Visual Cues Help Toddlers Learn New Words
Simply put, visual cues help toddlers develop language because pictures and symbols are representations of words. And while saying a word is helpful, auditory input is quickly processed and forgotten. Visual cues can help a toddler learn new words because they:
- Allow more time for processing
- Assist in memory and recall
- Hold a child’s attention longer than auditory cues
Toddlers can benefit from visual learning through symbols and pictures, but they can also use their own drawings to express themselves. When a toddler draws a picture, they may seem like scribbles and doodles to us, but there’s always tons of meaning behind your little Picasso’s creation! This tells us that pictures can be used to learn new words and help a young child express themselves while language is still developing.
Lastly, do you remember the old adage “a picture is worth a thousand words”? It’s true! Well, maybe not a thousand words, but one picture or symbol can indeed be used to teach more than one word. For instance, a visual cue of a school bus can help a toddler learn words like school, bus, driver, or yellow. If you ask your toddler to tell you a story using only the pictures in a book, you may notice that each time you do it the same pictures tell a different story. This shows that your little one is using the pictures to practice different ways of talking, forming sentences, and using new words.
If you’re using BabySparks, you will find fun language activities that incorporate visuals, such as Tell Me a Story, Picture Reading, Selecting the Right Symbol, and Traffic Signs. Remember that toddlers learn through repetition, so don’t hesitate to repeat these activities again and again. New words or phrases can appear at any time!