How To Teach Pointing To Children

ask silvia Nov 25, 2022

(Photo 133112104 © Melpomenem |

In today's blog, I answer a question a mom sent me recently:

How can I teach pointing to my 2yrs 4months nonverbal child, so he can tell me what he wants?

So let's go straight to the point and learn all about pointing.

Pointing is an important milestone for young children.
Some children point using their index finger, although others gesture with their whole hand to communicate or to respond to a request.
Typically, children start pointing between the ages of 10 and 15 months. As children are not speaking yet at that age, many one-year-olds point to communicate.
However, some children don't point and don't respond to pointing.
Not pointing could be an early sign of autism or language delay, and you should consult your public health nurse to discuss this further.

Why is pointing important?
Young children use pointing for two reasons: to make a request or to gain your attention.
A child may point to something they want; for example, they point to the biscuit tin up high on a shelf to say, "I want a biscuit".
Sometimes, children use pointing to get your attention and tell you about the world around them; for example, they might point to a cute dog passing by to say, "look at that puppy!".

Some children may not use pointing to communicate but hold your hand and lead you to an object or activity. Leading you by the hand is called "hand leading" and can also be an early sign of autism.

Pointing is an important early communication skill.
Encourage your child to point, particularly if your child cannot say words yet. By pointing, your child can communicate what he wants and needs.
At the end of this article, I will share some activities you can do with children to teach this skill.
Pointing is also important because adults naturally engage in more conversations when children point. Parents and caregivers are more likely to talk about what children point at, and this, in turn, stimulates language development.

But how can we encourage pointing?
Pointing requires the child to learn certain language and social skills.
Children with a global developmental delay may need more time to learn how to point, but they can learn to do it with some help and extra time.

Here I list several activities you can practice with your child to encourage pointing.
Remember, it can take time to learn this. Some children may prefer reaching out or touching objects rather than pointing. 

🔹 Start by modelling pointing to your child. Point and touch things that are near you while you talk about them. For example, point to pictures in books, flashcards, or images on the Ipad.

🔹 When you are out and about, point to things that might interest your child. A bird, a little dog, a flower. Doing this will also encourage joint attention.

🔹 Some children, particularly autistic children, may have difficulty understanding what you are referring to when you point to things far away. For example, when you point to an aeroplane passing by, the child might look at your finger but not be able to see what your finger is pointing at. In that case, focus on pointing to things that are near you. For example, offer a drink and say, "do you want juice or milk" while pointing and touching the cartons.

🔹 Hold a toy or food slightly out of reach for your child. Encourage your child to reach for it. As your child reaches out, model how to point to the toy, label it and give it to your child.

🔹 Sing songs that encourage pointing, such as Wind The Bobbin Up. Another song I use with my students to teach pointing is One Little Finger by Super Simple Songs.

🔹 When reading books together, try holding your child's hands in yours as you point at pictures in books. Do this only if your child is happy for you to touch her hand, as some children may not like their hands being held. However, other children quite enjoy this. When I read books to one of my students, she wants me to hold her pointy finger and help her point to the pictures in the book while I say the words.

🔹 Make "choice boards" with pictures of things your child likes. You can have images of her favourite things to eat on the fridge door or pictures of her favourite cartoons near the TV. Encourage your child to point to what he wants. If your child can't do that yet, you can model pointing to make choices.

🔹 Some children may be unable to point due to difficulties with manual dexterity, or they may need more time to learn this skill. It is ok if your child touches objects rather than pointing. 

🔹 If your child can't isolate their index finger to point, you can encourage finger isolation by doing finger painting, pressing the keys of a small keyboard, or pressing buttons on a musical toy.

Once your child learns to point, keep encouraging this skill by pointing at pictures in books, making choices, or pointing to interesting things when you are both looking out the window. 

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