A New Resource for Teaching Baby Sign Language

 Baby sign language book

When I was at the International Toy Fair in New York City in February, I stopped in at Dolphin Books and was introduced to their new book on baby signs,  A First Guide to Baby Signing. I was impressed because it was authored by a professional who actually works with sign language, Katie Mayne, a teacher of the deaf.

Parents are increasingly interested in teaching sign language to their babies. Sign language provides babies with a way to communicate with hand movements long before their vocal mechanism is ready to say words. Allowing babies and toddlers to express their needs and wants earlier, relieves frustration and hopefully reduces temper outbursts.

The author’s expertise accounts for the simple but accurate information and inclusion of important tips such as making sure family members and care givers can recognize and use signs too since the purpose is to provide a means for your child to communicate. Her tip to keep background noise to a minimum correlates with research that says babies learn language better in a quiet environment, since they have a harder time distinguishing foreground and background sounds.

The yummy colors and kid-friendly graphics surround captivating pictures of babies and moms signing 44 basic words divided into ten categories from “starter signs” relating to your child’s basic needs of hunger and thirst, to “indoor”, “outdoor” and “evening” signs. The step-by-step photographs make learning easy and fun.

This is a good, basic manual for starting the signing process with your child. Try it.


Posted in Babies, Birth-3 year-olds, Books, Sign Language, Strategies to Encourange Language Development, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

TV’s Influence on Kids

I am continually amazed and impressed with the number of parents who are endeavoring to raise their babies without TV or limited TV. That’s a commitment,  considering all the marketing done to parents of new babies regarding the latest videos and TV shows designed to make your baby brighter. I haven’t read any research supporting those claims but enlighten me if I am missing something. Even the research looking at the effects of TV on older children is not conclusive.

In the New York Times on 3/4/08, there was an interesting article on “A One-Eyed Invader in the Bedroom.”  The author states that about half of American children have a TV in their bedroom and one study found that 70% of 3rd graders did. Recent studies have linked TV in a child’s bedroom to health and educational problems. The mere presence of a TV in the bedroom relates to an increase in the number of viewing hours. The article sited a study in Buffalo that looked at children ages 4 to 7, where the presence of a TV in the bedroom “increased average viewing time by nearly nine hours a week to 30 hours.”  Wow. That is three quarters of a standard work week! Think what a child could be doing with that time.

The article mentions a 2002 study in the Journal of Pediatrics that “reported that preschool children with bedroom TV’s were more likely to be overweight.” Other studies found that children with bedroom TV’s spent less time reading, and scored “significantly and consistently lower on math, reading and language-arts tests.”

 I know it is hard to remove a TV once it is in your child’s bedroom, but this is when parents need to be parents, and act in the best interest of their child. I took a lot of flack from my boys when their friends across the street had TV’s in their bedrooms.Somehow it was interpreted that I wasn’t as good a mom. I told my boys that it would be easy to let them have whatever they wanted—it was a lot harder to hold back for their benefit.

Posted in 3-6 year-olds, 6-8 year-olds, Birth-3 year-olds, Elementary School Age, Preschool | Leave a comment

Lessons from an 18 Month-Old Toddler

sand play with toddler

You don’t always need toys:

Okay it is embarrassing to admit this as a toy expert, but I was reminded of how little kids need to have fun. Our assignment after Ben was born, was to occupy Will, 18 months, each morning so mom could get some rest. After assembling all the needed items for a jaunt to the beach—snack, extra clothes, diapers, wipes, books, etc—we proudly took off, later to realize that we had forgotten the bag of beach toys. No problem. Luckily I had brought my Dunkin’ Donuts coffee so we had a cup as well as shells to scoop the sand and make castles.

Stop to examine the beautiful things in life:

On our trip through the Airlie Gardens today with azaleas and spring flowers in full bloom, Will moved at a slow pace to examine petals, pine cones, butterflies, mulch, moss, rocks and swans. Nothing was too unimportant for examination and enjoyment. Everything was an opportunity for learning. If we could only slow down and appreciate like this as adults.

Find books that YOU like and enjoy!:

I am constantly amazed at the books that kids like at every age. There is no formula. That’s why it’s best to expose them to a variety of books and see what they like. Will has a stack of books to chose from before nap and bedtime. I offered him a choice of some standbys like Corduroy and Bunny Cakes which he likes. He invariably picked Gaggle of Geese and a Clutter of Cats.  Now this would not have been a book that I would recommend or choose for an 18 month-old because it is all about the goofy names given to groups of animals like a school of fish or a gaggle of geese.  When I mentioned his preference for this unusual book to his dad, the mystery was solved. Peter said Will likes it so much because of how he reads it to him–he says it like a rap and dances to it! No wonder Will chooses that book. He gets a story as well as a show by his dad.

Posted in Birth-3 year-olds, Books, Preschool, Strategies to Encourange Language Development, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Two Babies, Doubly Blessed!

 Toddler creative play

Joy of joys! I have become a grandmother twice in the last 3 days! We had the privilege of being awakened at 2 AM to hear that our daughter-in-law, Katie was going into labor 3 weeks early! After an exciting, sleepless night, Benjamin Shepherd Artemenko arrived , at 6 pounds, 9 ounces. We hopped in the car and drove the 11 hours to North Carolina to help out with big brother, Will, 18 months.

So far our outings have included the beach, the gardens, a ride around the neighborhood on his tractor, and dinner out with the “new” family. Being called “Sh” is music to my ears, and I am happily collecting hugs and kisses. Basically we wear ourselves out playing with Will, and then fall asleep holding baby Ben.

Three nights later, as only a son could do, Andrew announced that his wife, Laura, was in labor and at the hospital by text-messaging us! We waited anxiously until he called an hour later to say our first granddaughter—and first Artemenko girl in 2 generations—had been born. Caroline Anne Artemenko weighed in at 6 pounds 9 ounces.  Both moms are doing well for which we are thankful.


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Early Potty Training with Baby Signs

potty training using sign languageI love to check out what is new in the world of babies, parenting and language. Today in my Google Alerts, I was directed to an article called “Later Potty Training Spells Trouble for Children, Parents and Environment” which is promoting and new program designed to potty train your child between the ages of 12 -24 months. This new program is by the well-known developmental psychologists Dr. Acredolo and Dr. Goodwyn who earlier put a national spotlight on the benefits of teaching your baby sign language.The premise of this program is that it is better to potty train your child before he sets in to the “terrible twos” and resists your attempts. Also, according to this article, Dr. Goodwyn said, “After age 2, children develop the ability to experience shame and embarrassment about bodily functions which can lead to additional problems, such as low self-esteem and stool-withholding, a tendency that can result in chronic constipation.” An added value is the benefit to our environment if we can decrease the amount of disposable diapers used and accumulated in our landfills.Since the program is recommended for children 12-24 months when expressive language can be limited, it is combined with sign language to ease communication with your child. So check it out,  Potty Training (Baby Signs) and let me know how it goes. I always say the two biggest challenges for me in raising my three boys were toilet training and teaching them to drive!

Posted in Birth-3 year-olds, Preschool, Sign Language | Leave a comment

Best Pirate Ships for Pretend Play

Maybe because I am working with a lot of boys lately or it’s spring and the ships are sailing, but my thoughts are turned to finding a great pirate ship for pretend play. Kids love to invent a story about the pirates, sailing on the seas, blasting off cannon balls, searching through their telescope and standing a pirate behind the driving wheel.

Having played pirates for many years, I can tell you good ships that bring out your child’s language and pretend play. Always look for interchangeable parts–maps, telescopes, cannons, sails, parrots, pirates etc., who can be manipulated as your child invents his story and explores the open sea!

Here are some of my favorites:

Mega Bloks My Pirate Ship with Blocks and Figures: Recommended ages 24 months-6 years.

mega blocks pirate shipThis ship has three removable levels for varied play–you can put your pirate to sleep downstairs, go into the map room or take a nap on the middle level or shoot off the cannon on the top. Kids can lock different characters in place as well as props such as the telescope or sails. Add the parrot to the tree and the mermaid and you are off to sea!

Fisher-Price Little People Lil Pirate Ship: Recommended ages 24 months-5 years

Fisher Price pirate ship

This pirate ship lives up to the reputation of the little people sets by Fisher Price. With the potential for lots of action like swinging in the hammock, spying in the crow’s nest, walking the plank, or nappping below in the sleeping quarters. Pieces are removable and interchangable so your child can invent new stories. Heads up because kids love to launch the cannon ball!

Playmobil Pirate Corsair: Recommended ages: 4 and up

playmobil pirate ship

For the older child you can’t beat a pirate ship by Playmobil. A starter chip would be the Playmobil Pirate Corsair. It is the least expensive and has fewer accessories but you can always add on to the shipmates with related pieces like the Playmobil Pirate Treasure Chest. Just open up the chest and pull out the pier to receive the ship. You have eating accessories, a monkey, trees, a secret compartment hidden by rocks, and a cannon for protection. Another accessory that kids love is the Playmobil Pirate Raft, used to escape the island or go for a sail.
playmobil pirate raft

Posted in 3-6 year-olds, 6-8 year-olds, Birth-3 year-olds, Elementary School Age, Strategies to Encourange Language Development, Toys | Leave a comment

Shopping List of Educational Toys for Parents and Therapists

When I speak to a group of new moms, I often ask how I can be most helpful to them. Recently one mom said, give us a shopping list of good toys and books for developing language. As you know I am constantly on the search for the best toys, games and books to encourage language development. I try them out with the kids I work with and learn of good products from parents who know my criteria by now of what builds their child’s language.

My “Reviews” and recommendations on my “Blog” are toys, games and books that I have tried out with kids and seen their language and “fun” value. I am very careful and picky about what I recommend, will rarely post a negative review because I want to be promoting the best for parents when it comes to toys and books.Who needs a shopping list of what to get and what not to get? I would rather spend my time showing you how to chose a good toy or book and give you worthy suggestions.

Each week I spend 15-20 hours working with kids, constantly analyzing the value of the materials I use and how they build a child’s language. The two groups of children that I work with–kids who are developing typically and those with special needs–have a lot in common when it comes to benefiting from quality products that are fun, stimulating and beneficial. I have had 4-6 year-olds beg to play Funny Bunny, Diggity Dog , and Froggy Boogie over and over again and just recently heard from a speech therapist friend of mine who purchased both games and her kids are loving them in therapy sessions.

My hope is that my carefully selected recommendations will benefit all kinds of kids, parents and therapists.

Posted in 3-6 year-olds, 6-8 year-olds, Babies, Birth-3 year-olds, Books, Elementary School Age, Games, Preschool, Toys | Leave a comment

The Importance of Pretend Play for Language Development

When you watch two three-year-olds preparing a meal at their kid-sized kitchen or taking their trucks for repair or cars to the car wash, you know that they are doing more than just playing. Their creative and inquisitive minds are bridging the real world with their pretend world as they invent stories, collaborate with a friend, take turns, and take on roles in their pretend world. Children practice story-telling as they invent characters and change the action. These scripts are building their language as they expand on their theme whether it is shopping, cooking, driving or taking a sail. Good story-tellers enjoy reading because they are interested in stories, and go on to be eager writers because they have been practicing inventing stories orally.

Beginning at 1 year of age, your child might pick up an empty cup and pretend to drink. At 15 months, she might offer that same drink to her teddy bear, now involving others in her pretend play. From 2 to 3 years of age, she will enjoy imitating your activities with miniature replicas of adult “toys” like a vacuum cleaner, lawn mower, or dare I say iron?? Kids like the noises of my toy iron but it makes most moms groan and say they don’t use one!

chilren's play pirate shipI had a gratifying experience with one of my favorite 2 1/2 year-old playmates, Ian, the other day. I had introduced him to the fun of pirates with Rub a Dub, Pirates of the Tub (see my full review under “reviews”) and the Mega Bloks My Pirate Ship. He couldn’t wait for me to arrive with my pirate ship and gang. His mom told me that after I had left the other day, she found him in a large basket, with a tiny wheel he had found, pretending to drive his pirate ship. Hooray! His imagination had been stimulated and he extended our play to his own creative plot. I suggested that mom gather a few more props to be available for him so he could lead the play and use his imagination. The next time I came to his house, there was the basket with an empty toilet paper tube for a telescope, a stuffed animal owl (hey a parrot wasn’t available) and a small wheel for driving his vessel. I always encourage parents to have props available to spark your child’s imagination. You are being the producer of his play, by putting out good props but not the director of his play–that is your child’s job! Stand back and enjoy the show.

Posted in 3-6 year-olds, Birth-3 year-olds, Elementary School Age, Preschool, Strategies to Encourange Language Development, Toys | Leave a comment

Do Babies Need Flashcards To Learn Language?

Whenever I speak to a group of new moms, I learn what is on their mind. Yesterday I talked to a delightful group of new moms at Greenwich Hospital and some of the same questions came up like how to raise your child bi-lingual, what about baby talk and when should we dump the pacifier. But a new question to me came up–Is it okay to use flashcards?

I’ll be honest, my first reaction when I hear the word “flashcards” is wait a minute, that’s what you use to drill skills with kids who are behind. Why would you use them with your baby or toddler? Then I remembered several moms whose homes I have visited who shared “cards” that their children loved. These sets of sturdy cards with individual objects, animals, and things that go can serve the same purpose as a good book if used properly.

You want to be your child’s play partner, not a teacher drilling words or concepts. Kids like play, not pressure. So use the cards (I prefer to call them that rather than flashcards) as you would a good book whose pages you would describe. “Here’s some sticky red jelly that we can put on your sandwich.” After naming the object, use the word in several sentences describing the object and relating it to your child’s experience to expand their language. Do NOT use the cards as a drill to try to teach your child numbers or vocabulary. They will learn these concepts naturally as you have fun with the cards and enjoy the play experience.

Kids like to manipulate the cards and choose ones for you to elaborate upon. The cards really become a book taken apart so your child can hear about the pictures in whatever order they want. One set that is loved by kids is the My First Touch and Feel Picture Cards by DK. The series includes First Words, Animals, Numbers and Counting, and Colors and Shapes. These interactive cards have textures to describe and keep your child interested. A 9-month-old will enjoy looking at the pictures and start to become interactive, feeling the textures, while a 12-month-old or 18-month-old will start to name the pictures.

Posted in Babies, Birth-3 year-olds, Games, Preschool, Reading, Strategies to Encourange Language Development, Toys | Leave a comment

18 Months Old: Best Developmental Toys and Books to Encourage Language

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