Imitation skills are vitally important for the development of language, play, and social skills.

We all learn by watching others and copying their actions. One of the most important ways young children learn is through imitation.    Generally, a child will learn to imitate movement before they learn to imitate sounds through speech.  Even though motor imitation is not directly related to language development, teaching a child to imitate body movements is helpful because it teaches a child valuable imitation skills. 

A child is usually ready for this type of learning process when they are able to move their hand independently of other parts of their body.  Holding their own bottle, swatting at their mobile and exploring toys by putting them in their mouth are signs that a child may be ready to learn gestural imitation skills.

Guiding a child by placing your hand over the child’s hand and walking them through the motions will assist a child to learn repetitive movements.  Gradually you can move to visual imitation.  If your child is not interested, wait a month and try these activities again.

Once a child understands the concept of movement imitation, practice imitation using various other parts of the body.  Movements such as waving good-bye, will become much more meaningful movements, but the immediate goal is to develop motor imitation.  Adding sounds will help stimulate the child and spark interest.  More than likely a child is not ready to imitate sounds just yet.

Be enthusiastic while interacting with a child and follow their lead during play.  For example, if a child picks up a toy and starts banging it on the floor, imitate the child’s action by also banging it on the floor.  Next give the toy back to the child and demonstrate your pleasure in the activity by smiling and laughing.  Research had shown that a child will follow a pattern of imitation, when their own movements are imitated first.  A child will develop attention skill, now the next time, you can become the leader.  Try rolling a ball, pushing a truck, playing a toy piano, tapping a block on the table, etc.  If the child does not imitate the movement, try holding your hand over the child’s and demonstrate the movement.   Hand-over-hand guidance can help a child learn the initial movement, and later they will be able to do it themselves.

Activities to engage in to teach gestural imitation skills:

·        waving bye-bye

·        touch your nose

·        place your hands on your head

·        shake your head up and down

·        close your lips tightly

·        smile

·        clap your hands

·        lick your lips, pucker or smack your lips

·        blow out your cheeks

·        open your mouth

One way to encourage imitation is by teaching a child to recognize the words “So big” as a game. You say “How big is (you child’s name)?”  Then raise your arms high over your head and say, “So big!” At first you can assist the child by physically lifting his hands over his head.  After doing this many times, you may just need to gently touch your child’s hands.  Gradually, your child will imitate the movement on their own.

Once your child is able to imitate body movements, try getting him to add some sounds to the movements.  These activities act as a transition to imitation of sounds for speech, because they provide practice in vocalization for your child as well as an opportunity to hear the sounds of speech in small increments. 

Some activities to help promote these skills are;

·        blow your cheeks out and make a popping sound

·        make circles on your tummy, rub and say “mm-mm”

·        wave your hand and say, “Bye-bye”

·        move a toy car and say “vroom-vroom”

·        move a toy dog along the table and say “woof-woof”.

Hand-play songs are very appropriate for children at this stage and help engage the child’s attention.  They encourage a child to participate in speech or singing without really saying the words.  By moving his hands, he is part of the activity which becomes repetitive.  He can imitate the movements to the song, and later may begin to imitate some of the words.

Teaching your child the Patty Cake song will give them an opportunity to imitate clapping.  Start by facing your child sitting down and begin singing or chanting the song while you clap along.  If your child imitates the clapping, encourage the imitation.  If not, assist your child by placing your hand over his and guiding him through the clapping motion. Try to play the game as often as possible.  Babies love repetition and familiar things.  Gradually fade out your assistance, so that your child is clapping hands in imitation of your movement.

Hand puppets are a wonderful aid to help a child learn imitation skills.  The puppet will entertain the child, as well as encourage them to focus their attention on the movement.  By having the puppet talk or sing to the child, they will learn to vocalize along with imitating movements.

Some excellent songs involving movement and fun hand-play gestures are classic songs like The Eensy Weensy Spider, Where is Thumbkin, Hokey Pokey, London Bridge, Ring Around the Rosey, Ten Little Indians, The Wheels on the Bus etc.