Learning to read is a key skill for children and, believe it or not, they start practicing it since very early on. But what is literacy? It’s not only the ability to read, but also to write and learn. It includes comprehension and spelling. There are many skills and experiences that happen since birth that will make up the building blocks for a baby to be able to read later on. So, before being able to read, your little one will acquire listening skills to understand sound patterns when you sing, rhyme, and talk to her; she will develop her visual recognition, and will learn to associate what she hears with what she sees when you read books to her and show her pictures.
Doing these activities is very relevant for future language development and literacy skills. Thus, literacy doesn’t begin at preschool or when your child starts learning the letters, but at home with you and with all the loving and caring interactions that happen between you two. So, what can you do at each stage to promote literacy skills? Continue reading →
We’ve already talked about how important routines are for our babies and kids and that they provide a sense of safety and predictability. But how exactly do routines help our children and why are they so helpful for them?
1) They foster the development of self-control
Knowing what comes next gives children security and emotional stability, making them feel more in control. For example, knowing that every day dinner-time comes after playing, will allow your little one to play, explore, and learn without worrying, and when it’s time for dinner she’ll be expecting it.
2) They promote positive behavior
Routines are like a set of steps that guide children towards certain goals. This can help to ensure children’s safety and help them learn responsible behaviors. For example, to always hold your hand when walking in the street or to say “please” when asking for something she wants. Continue reading →
Read in Theme: One of the easiest ways to expose your little one to the winter theme is to read together about it. It’s best to start with touch & feel books, so that it is more interactive for your tiny friend. You can teach your child all about winter weather, winter clothes, winter animals, and winter activities by simply cuddling up with a great book! My favorites are Winter by Bright Baby Touch & Feel and Baby Loves Winter.
Have a Wintry Bath: Bath time is a wonderful time to incorporate the winter theme. You can build an igloo with bubbles, color the water blue with bath drops, bring winter animals into the tub, or even place an ice cube or two inside and chat about cold vs. warm. Kids learn best from multisensory experiences, so take advantage or this!
Color Color Color: Coloring pages are often overlooked in this digital age, but they shouldn’t be! Most kids who are exposed to coloring from a young age find it to be a calming and enriching activity. There are a million winter themed coloring pages that you can print out and work on with your little one. It is a perfect indoor activity for those chilly days when it’s best to just stay inside.
2-3 Year Old Tasks:
Bake: Baking is an awesome winter activity that is sure to boost language! Baking involves following directions, learning new vocabulary, working together, patience, and of course an edible reward. Baking is a great indoor activity for those too-cold days, but you can also bake in theme. You can make winter themed cookies, snowy cupcakes, or hot chocolate brownies.
Bring The Snow Inside: Who says snow has to stay outside? Kids love sensory bins and snow is the perfect medium! You can pack up some snow in a clear container and bring it inside to continue the fun. You can add some color to your snow, make snow cones, bring winter animals into the bin, or grab trucks that can dig in the snow. Your little one will love this task and clean-up will be a breeze for you!
Get Crafty: You can make wintry crafts with your little one using as few as two materials. Luckily the winter aesthetic is as easy as cotton balls and glue! Whether you make snowballs, a snowman, an igloo, or a polar bear, your craft will be equal parts adorable and simple.
3-4 Year Old Tasks:
Talk About Your Snowman: Every winter you make a snowman, but do you ever talk about him? Try expanding this activity by asking your little one why he needs eyes or a nose? What does his scarf do? Are all three snowballs the same size? Building a snowman can be an incredibly speechy activity if you take a few more minutes to chat.
Make Your Own Snow: There are a few different home recipes for faux snow, but my favorite is baking soda and shaving cream. You can play with your fake snow on a tray or in a sensory bin (i.e. clear container) for easy clean up. I like to bring the little ones into the bin and have them ice skate, build snowmen, make snowballs or igloos. Use what is motivating for your little one and follow her lead. Build upon her pretend play and narration of the activity.
Animal Sort: Animal sorting is a fun game for any season! You can use figurines, stickers, or coloring pages depending on what you have on hand. Depending on your child’s level you can sort 2-4 types of animals. You could do winter animals vs. summer animals, or ocean vs. snow vs. grass vs. home animals. Animal activities are great for boosting language because there is so much to talk about (i.e. Where do they live? What do they sound like? What do they feel like? What do they eat? etc.)
Molly Dresner is a Speech Language Pathologist based in New York City.
She recently authored The Speech Teacher’s Handbook, an engaging parent guide that includes practical and easy-to-follow tips and activities to help you help your little one!
Nature walks are the perfect fall activity! Every tiny friend needs to get those wiggles out from time to time and it is a wonderful way to practice mindfulness. As you wander around your neighborhood, a park, or a trail, chat about all of the things that you may see (leaves, a deer, sticks, rocks, a creek, a squirrel, etc.). If you have time to plan ahead of it, you can even make a list of potential things you might encounter and make a scavenger hunt out of the walk. If you don’t have time to prep, ‘I spy’ is just as speechy (“I spy something falling”, “I spy something green”, “I spy an animal with wings”, etc.)
Have an Apple Day
Apples and fall just seem to go together! I love having apple days with little ones once fall rolls around. Whether you go apple picking or to the market, you can talk about all of the different types of apples you find (red, green, yellow, hard, bruised, small, stem less, etc.) Once you get back home you will have the perfect bounty to bake with! Baking is a go-to speechy activity because there are directions to follow and a rich plethora of vocabulary words (pour, mix, scoop, stir, bake, blend, etc.). Go big with an apple pie or start small with applesauce –either way you will boost a ton of language, have fun, and enjoy a yummy treat with your kid!
New research from MIT supports the idea that to foster children’s development, specifically their language development, parents don’t just need to talk to their kids, they should talk with them (meaning back-and-forth exchanges).
“What we found is, the more often parents engaged in back-and-forth conversation with their child, the stronger was the brain response in the front of the brain to language.” (Gabrieli, 2018)
In this case, a stronger brain response is a reflection of a more profound understanding and engagement with language. So, it’s not just the number of words your baby hears, it’s the interactions and twists and turns in the conversation that matter. A rich verbal environment is made up of exactly that, resulting in greater language and cognitive outcomes later on.
In this MIT study, using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), they discovered that children who experienced more conversations had more brain activity while they listened to stories. Their Broca’s area, which is a region in the frontal lobe of the brain that is involved in language processing, was more engaged. In this study, what was highlighted was the importance of the language base in the relationship between parents and kids. The streaming of a tape or an endless cartoon show will not have the same benefits than the day to day interactions between a baby and a loved one.
Ask any psychologist what is one of the very first things they learn at school and, undoubtedly, the answer will always be genes vs. environment. We already know that environment and context play a huge role in our children’s development, so today we’ll explore just how big of a role it plays in language acquisition.
By environment, in this article, we’ll include specifically attentional abilities, a.k.a the ability your baby has to hold his attention to certain stimuli, and the quality of the input he is receiving (complexity and variability of the interactions).
To understand how attentional abilities play a role, we must understand the evolution of mother-baby interactions during the first year of life (dads, this includes you too!). Up until your baby is 5 months old, interactions are considered as “dyadic”; meaning face-to-face, one-on-one (only 2 elements are participating). As your baby grows older, these interactions turn “triadic” including objects (cue in all the cute toys). What this means is that now these toys become an object of focus for verbal and attentional exchanges with your baby. This seemingly inconsequential transition is huge for language acquisition. It’s considered a turning point since your baby can start to relate words and sounds to specific objects and actions.
Traveling with our tiny friends can seem daunting, but proper preparation will make for a smooth ride! Whether it’s a long road trip, a train ride, or even a flight, these tricks and tips have you covered!
I know it is so much easier to keep your little one occupied with a tablet or device. However, screens really do promote self-direction and hyper-focused attention. That is, your child may direct all of his attention onto the tablet and forget that the rest of the world exists. We often also see a change in behavior following a significant amount of screen time. For children 2-5 years of age screen time should be limited to a maximum of 1 hour per day. (Okay, PSA on screen time complete!)
Pack The Right Entertainment
I am all about packing smart, speechy activities to keep your tiny friend endlessly entertained! First, the Melissa and Doug Memory Travel Game comes with an easy to hold flip board and 7 game cards to switch out –it is also interactive if you are traveling with 2 or more friends. Next, I love the Crayola Travel Kit –coloring is a calming and grounding experience. You can make it interactive and play Pictionary or send letters back and forth to each other. Lastly, there are tons of Reusable Sticker Books that are great for travel since you can’t ruin the stickers and you can play over and over again. You’ll want to pack games without pieces that may get lost, quiet options since repetitive noises are the pits, and most importantly activities that motivate your little one. Continue reading →
New research suggests that children who take part in household cleaning are more empathetic, make better connections, and are more willing to help others! Most little ones actually love to clean, especially if they have their very own tools. Plus, there’s an added bonus! It is super simple and fun to make cleaning speechy. It is the perfect opportunity to allow your child to follow directions, identify objects, sort, find items you describe, and so much more! Since spring is finally here, let’s chat about some ways that you can involve your toddler in the spring cleaning!
Follow the Cleaner
Have you ever noticed that your toddler loves to wipe up spills or sweep up a mess? This is actually a wonderful developmental milestone that we see as early as 18-months. Kids love to participate in daily routines –think: toddler see, toddler do! It’s best to set up your little one with his own tools and assign a job. Maybe they get to wipe the kitchen table with their special sponge and spray bottle (*with kid-safe cleaning solution of course). You can also take turns sweeping –mommy can sweep with the big broom and your tiny friend can use his own mini broom. You can make it even speechier by providing a challenge! You can sweep from the rug to the door; sweep to the left; spray 3 times and then wipe; and so on!
We all have the same picture-perfect image of reading to our tiny friends. We are sitting cuddled up with a beautifully drawn story that’s chalk-full of life lessons and our children are hanging on to every word. But the reality of story time is not always so movie-esque. Perhaps your little one does not like to sit still for a story; maybe he wants to hold the book and only turn the pages; or your child may feel that books are for coloring and/or ripping rather than reading. It’s okay; we can make it better! Here are my tips to help your child love story time.
This first header has a double meaning. First, you can start reading to your baby right away. Initiating story time with your newborn is a great way to get yourself into a reading routine. Additionally, their movement is limited and their focus is only on you! Secondly, start by reading short & simple books. My favorite books to start with are those that have one picture per page (and are preferably touch & feel). Starting with one picture per page allows your baby to focus on one concept at a time. You may open the book and say “dog”, point to the picture, pet the dog’s fur, and elaborate with a “woof”. Your baby will be completely tuned in to the picture, the word dog, and the sound “woof”. It is important to keep your language simple in this stage because we want to match the baby’s level. Using 1-2 words or sounds per page when you start is plenty. This stage is all about teaching.
Books with built-in features are your best friends! Look for books that have touch & feel, Velcro patches, felt flaps, moving pieces, pop-ups, or peek-a-boos. These books have done a lot of the heavy lifting in terms of engaging your child. Motivation during story time is important because it promotes joint attention, which is necessary for learning. Joint attention occurs when your child is focused on the task (i.e. the book) and you. It is as simple as your baby looking at the book, then looking at you, and then back at the book. Interactive books do a ton of the work in keeping your child engaged in the task. I also love that they are full of directions for kids to follow (e.g. “Find the…”, “Look under the…”, “Put on the…”). They are also wonderful for promoting expressive language. Since your tiny friend will be so very engaged and demonstrating joint attention, it is way more likely that you will hear new sounds and words!
Sometimes we forget to talk about a major component to language: pragmatics or the rules for using language in different situations and with different people. Also known as social communication, pragmatics cover facial expressions, gestures, what to say and when to say it. Knowing and following these rules makes it easier for everyone to communicate.
There are three major social communication skills you can teach your little one:
Using language for different reasons: whether you’re informing, requesting or demanding, it implies a different way of communicating.
Changing language for the listener or because of the situation: talking differently to a child than to an adult, skipping details when someone already knows what you’re talking about, talking differently depending on the place you’re at.
Following rules for conversations: these include taking turns to speak, staying on topic, knowing how close to stand to someone while talking, etc.