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Foundation: Receptive Language

California Infant/Toddler Learning & Development Foundations.
The developing ability to understand words and increasingly complex utterances

8 months

18 months

36 months

At around eight months of age, children show understanding of a small number of familiar words and react to the infant care teacher’s overall tone of voice.

At around 18 months of age, children show understanding of one-step requests that have to do with the current situation.

At around 36 months of age, children demonstrate understanding of the meaning of others’ comments, questions, requests, or stories. (By 36 mos.; American Academy of Pediatrics 2004, 307)

For example, the child may:

  • Smile and look toward the door when the infant care teacher says, “Daddy’s here.” (Scaled score of 10 for 7:16–8:15 mos.; Bayley 2006, 87)

  • Wave arms and kick legs in excitement when the infant care teacher says, “bottle.” (8mos.; Meisels and others 2003, 18)

  • Smile when the infant care teacher uses baby talk and make a worried face when she uses a stern voice. (8mos.; Meisels and others 2003, 18; by end of 7 mos.; American Academy of Pediatrics 2004)

For example, the child may:

  • Go to the cubby when the infant care teacher says that it is time to put on coats to go outside. (Scaled score of 10 for 17:16 to 18:15 mos.; Bayley 2006, 90; 12–18 mos.; Lerner and Ciervo 2003; 12 mos.; Coplan 1993, 2; by 24 mos.; American Academy of Pediatrics 2004; 12 mos.; Coplan 1993, 2; 24 mos.; Meisels and others 2003, 46)

  • Cover up the doll when the infant care teacher says, “Cover the baby with the blanket.” (Scaled score of 10 for 17:16–18:15 mos.; Bayley 2006, 90; 12–18 mos.; Lerner and Ciervo 2003; 12 mos.; Coplan 1993, 2; by 24 mos.; American Academy of Pediatrics 2004)

  • Go to the sink when the infant care teacher says that it is time to wash hands. (Scaled score of 10 for 17:16–18:15 mos.; Bayley 2006, 90; 12–18 mos.; Lerner and Ciervo 2003; 12 mos.; Coplan 1993, 2; by 24 mos.; American Academy of Pediatrics 2004; 24 mos.; Meisels and others 2003, 46)

  • Get a tissue when the infant care teacher says, “Please go get a tissue. We need to wipe your nose.” (18 mos.; Meisels and others 2003, 36)

For example, the child may:

  • Look for a stuffed bear when the infant care teacher asks, “Where’s your bear?” (24–36 mos.; Coplan 1993, 2–3; scaled score of 10 for 34:16–35:15; Bayley 2006)

  • Get the bin of blocks when the infant care teacher asks what the child wants to play with. (24–36 mos.; Coplan 1993, 2–3; scaled score of 10 for 34:16–35:15; Bayley 2006)

  • Show understanding of words such as no, not, and don’t, and utterances such as when the infant care teacher says, “There’s no more milk,” or “Those don’t go there.” (24–36 mos.; Parks 2004, p. 99)

  • Know the names of most objects in the immediate environment. (By 36 mos.; American Academy of Pediatrics 2004)

  • Understand requests that include simple prepositions, such as, “Please put your cup on the table,” or “Please get your blanket out of your backpack.” (By 36 mos.; Coplan 1993, 2; by 36 mos.; American Academy of Pediatrics 2004; 24–27 mos.; Parks 2004, 97)

  • Laugh when an adult tells a silly joke or makes up rhymes with nonsense “words.” (By 36 mos.; American Academy of Pediatrics 2004, 307)

  • Show understanding of the meaning of a story by laughing at the funny parts or by asking questions. (By 36 mos.; American Academy of Pediatrics 2004, 307)

Behaviors leading up to the foundation (4 to 7 months)

During this period, the child may:

  • Vocalize in response to the infant care teacher’s speech. (3–6 mos.; Parks 2004)

  • Quiet down when hearing the infant care teacher’s voice. (3–6 mos.; Parks 2004)

  • Turn toward the window when hearing a fire truck drive by. (4–6 mos.; Coplan 1993, 2)

  • Quiet down and focus on the infant care teacher as he talks to the child during a diaper change. (4 mos.; Meisels and others 2003, 10)

  • Look at or turn toward the infant care teacher who says the child’s name. (Mean for 5mos.; Bayley 2006, 86; by 7 mos.; American Academy of Pediatrics 2004, 209; 9 mos.; Coplan 1993, 2; 12 mos.; Meisels and others 2003, 27; 5–7 mos.; Parks 2004)

Behaviors leading up to the foundation (9 to 17 months)

During this period, the child may:

  • Follow one-step simple requests if the infant care teacher also uses a gesture to match the verbal request, such as pointing to the blanket when asking the child to get it. (9 mos.; Coplan 1993, 2)

  • Look up and momentarily stop reaching into the mother’s purse when she says “no no.” (9–12 mos.; Parks 2004, 95)

  • Show understanding of the names for most familiar objects and people. (Scaled score of 10 for 16:16–17:15 mos.; Bayley 2006, 90; 8–12 mos.; Parks 2004, 94)

Behaviors leading up to the foundation (19 to 35 months)

During this period, the child may:

  • Show understanding of pronouns, such as he, she, you, me, I, and it; for example, by touching own nose when the infant care teacher says, “Where’s your nose?” and then touching the infant care teacher’s nose when he says, “And where’s my nose?” (19 mos.; Hart and Risley 1999, 61; 20–24 mos.; Parks 2004, 96)

  • Follow two-step requests about unrelated events, such as, “Put the blocks away and then go pick out a book.” (24 mos.; Coplan 1993, 2; by 24mos.; American Academy of Pediatrics 2004, 270;
    24–29 mos.; Parks 2004, 104; three-part command by 36mos.; American Academy of Pediatrics 2004, 307)

  • Answer adults’ questions; for example, communicate “apple” when a parent asks what the child had for snack. (28 mos.; Hart and Risley 1999, 95)

Next Foundation: Expressive Language

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Questions:   Child Development Division | itfoundations@cde.ca.gov | 916-322-6233
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