Research shows that parents with professional training and degrees talk more to their kids than parents who don’t have these advantages. Kids of professional parents have heard 30 million more words by age three than kids who don’t have similar home environments. Kids who’ve heard more words have better language and academic skills. The words these kids hear aren’t from the TV or digital devices, they’re from conversations with their parents. So what can you do to give your kids a lifelong learning advantage? Here are some daily tips.
Begin talking with your baby in infancy. When your baby coos at you, coo back – that’s the beginning of conversation. Your baby learns that he or she is important, that relationships and conversations feel good, and that the sounds he or she makes are meaningful. If you begin the conversation, be sure to give baby a chance to talk back. Match your pace to your baby’s.
Name things that the baby sees or points to. Describe in simple sentences what you’re doing. Make silly sounds and use nonsense words. Watch your baby to make sure you’re not talking too fast.
As your child gets older, match your conversations to his or her new abilities. Use longer sentences and new words, explaining and showing what you mean. Expand on what your toddler says by adding a phrase. For example, when your toddler points at a truck and says, “Truck!” you might respond, “Wow, that’s a big, blue truck.”
Ask questions that get at reasons: “Why do we need a coat to go outside today?” Give reasons for things so they develop understanding of the world: “We wear seat belts to keep us safe,” and “We drink water instead of soda so our teeth don’t get cavities.” Don’t expect your child to answer all your questions – it isn’t a test.
Do more than just name objects – describe, contrast and compare. Help your baby learn words for math and science: “bigger, shorter, taller, more, less, hot, cold.” Even with babies we can use number and size words: “One-two, peek-a-boo,” “One-two, buckle my shoe.” Almost all daily activities involve number and science concepts. Matching socks to shoes is one-to-one correspondence. Sorting laundry by size, shape, color and texture of the clothing can be done with older toddlers to teach them about categories.
Cooking is a great way to learn about language sequencing – understanding first, second, third – and children love it. This helps with and the words that tell us when something happened or will happen.
Talk about feelings. This helps your child to use words as symbols for their big feelings instead of acting them out. Remember, though, that this takes time and lots of practice. Infants and toddlers aren’t able to do this, so we have to provide support and understanding. They will learn.
Share books with your baby. Use cloth, textured, and heavy board books with pictures of faces, kids and everyday items. Let your baby hold, chew on, open and close, pass back-and-forth, and drop books. Don’t insist that your baby hold them the “right” way, or that you read from beginning to end. Exploring books should be fun.
When you share books with children, match their developing skills. Point to pictures and real objects represented by the pictures. Ask your toddler to touch a picture when you say a word. Babies, toddlers, and preschoolers like to hear the same stories over and over. Let them choose books they want to share. You can pause and let them fill in the blank - they’ll know the story well enough to do this pretty early: “The very hungry ....” Begin to wonder out loud about the story, “I wonder why the little bunny says goodnight to the things in his room.”
Ask your child’s early educator, health-care provider, and children’s librarian for other ways to encourage language development so your child can have a learning advantage.
Mary Dodd is MECC’s Chief Knowledge Officer and is so happy to live here in southwest Colorado.