How To Read to Your Baby

I spoke to a wonderful group of new moms at Greenwich Hospital today, whose babies were between 6 weeks and 3 months. When I asked them if they were reading to their babies, all but one mom (slightly guilt-ridden, but determined to start reading tonight to her baby!) said they were reading books to their babies. Several mentioned Goodnight Moon as being one book that their child maintained interest in. The amazing thing about Goodnight Moon is that is includes all combinations of sounds in the English language so your baby is exposed to a variety of sounds in words.

One mom said her baby likes Fancy Nancy! Not your typical “baby book”, Fancy Nancy is a picture book designed for children from about 3-6 years of age. Fancy Nancy loves everything glittery and feathery and is trying to convince her family, who has quite plain taste, to come over to the fancy side. The fact that this mom’s little two-month-old girl likes listening to an older picture book shows that exposing your baby to good literature can be fruitful. I like my moms to think outside the box. Certainly read bright, board books designed for babies to your child, but try an engaging longer story with exciting illustrations, and see if your baby will sit for part or the entire story. 

Here are some questions that came up today:

·      Is it okay that I am reading Dr. Seuss to my baby when some of the words make no sense and are made up words?

Sure, Dr. Seuss books were originally designed to be used for first readers, using a controlled number of words so a child could master them. The beat, rhythm, rhyme and whimsy in these books attract a child’s attention and surely entertain the adult reading them (which is a factor not to be ignored!).

Reading a few Dr. Seuss books as part of your book repertoire is fine. Children are attracted to silly sounding words like “sneetches” and “Zax”and it shows them that listening and language are fun.

·      How can I read to my baby and hold him at the same time?

·      One mother shared that she reads to her baby every time she nurses him, using her free hand to hold the book. He is hearing the story but not seeing the pictures. Another mom shared that she sits down leaning back on the bed or a support and sits her baby in her lap facing out and looking at the book. I walked in on my son while he was reading to his son, lying on the floor, with the baby belly up on his stomach holding the book in front of his face. Little Will had the advantage of hearing the story from his dad’s mouth as well as through his body! I also offered the suggestion of laying your baby in her seat, sitting in front of her, holding the book, so she can see your face as well as the book as you read. Today some of the babies went back and forth between looking at the pictures on the page and my face as I read Peek-a-Moo by Marie Torres Cimarusti.

·      Sometimes there are only a few words on the page so I just make up a story and don’t read the words. Is that okay?

Absolutely. As long as you are having an enjoyable experience with the book and feeding language to your baby it is beneficial. Certainly over time, babies love the repetition of a few books, giving them security, knowing what comes next. But, your child might like the illustrations on a certain page so you can linger and add more language to that page. Remember, this is to be a loving, positive experience so keep going as long as your child is interested and stop when his interest wanes.

·      My aunt gave my baby some old storybooks that I enjoyed as a child. Is it okay to read her these older stories like “Little Red Riding Hood”?

There is a generational benefit to reading stories that you enjoyed as a child and probably gives great pleasure to aunts and grandparents as they share stories linked to sweet memories of with their own children, now proud parents! This same effect can be seen with reading nursery rhymes. Although I am not a huge fan of some collections which include “cutting off their tail with a carving knife”, Parenting Magazine just did a review of a new collection minus these “creepy” old rhymes that is collected by Iona Ople and illustrated by one of my favorite children’s authors, Rosemary Wells, called Mother Goose’s Little Treasures.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

Best Toddler Puzzles

I enjoy finding toys that  encourage a child’s language and then watch to see how kids interact with those toys. What toys encourage language development? Look for toys that have flexibility—ones that can be used in many different ways. They inspire your child to be creative and use his imagination.

 Something as simple as a puzzle should have more options than just placing pieces in the intended slot. “Chunky Puzzle Farm Animals”, “Safari Animals” and “Dinosaurs” by Melissa and Doug have thick enough pieces that the animals can “stand up”, move around, get a bite to eat or roam on the floor at a pretend zoo or farm. I hear far more language from a child as he pretends with the animals and lets them loose! I was working with a 2 year-old who loves the safari animals. He had them hiding “under” the table, “sliding” down the legs of the table, “nibbling” on some food and “swimming”. There is no end to the action your child can produce with the animals as you add a few props for pretend play like a barn or a truck to carry them.

 The “Vehicles” puzzle pieces include a three-car train, plane, bus, car, fire truck, ship and boat. The puzzle pieces can go for a sail on the sea, line up on the train track, fly overhead or race down the road with narrated sound effects. Now your child is naming the pieces as well as expanding his vocabulary through pretend play, using verbs, pronouns and prepositions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Baby Sign Language

Today when I was talking to a group of new moms at Greenwich Hospital, the topic of baby sign language came up–what did I think about it? Usually when I speak to a group, several moms are interested in teaching their babies to sign. Research has shown that teaching your baby to sign at an early age does not delay language development but rather enhances your child’s language aquisition. As a matter of fact, researchers at the University of California linked infant signs to a boost in IQ scores. They compared a group of 2nd graders who had learned sign language as babies with those who had not and discovered a 12 point gap in IQ scores between the two groups. As special educators, we have been successfully using sign language for a long time to bridge the gap between the time  a child wants to express himself and the time he can actually say words. Since manual dexterity precedes oral motor capabilities, a child can express himself first through gestures, thereby reducing frustration.  I always encourage parents and offer some tips. 

  1.  Make sure your spouse and other caregivers who spend the most time with your child are all on board and know the signs you are teaching your child. One of the purposes of teaching baby sign language is so in the interum, when your child isn’t using a lot of words, they can still communicate their wants and needs and be less frustrated while communicating.  If the caregiver or grandparent doesn’t understand the sign for “more” or “drink” that a child is using, then sign language is not fulfilling its purpose.
  1. Every child has words that will be more meaningful for them to learn the sign for. One little boy might love airplanes and would be gratified to be able to sign “airplane” every time one went overhead. Another child might love balls and feel confident when she can sign “ball”and have one appear. Choose a small number of signs to teach at first that are meaningful to your child. You can start whenever you want, signing as you say the word, but understand that most children don’t have the motor coordination to imitate the signs until they are about 9 months.
  2. If you are interested in teaching your baby to use sign language, you don’t need to purchase a lot of books and expensive programs. Helpful information is on the internet. www.signingtime.com is a good site with an interesting story. The mother was a professional musician when she discovered that her daughter was deaf. Out of her experience, she produced videos for hearing children to learn to use sign language. The videos include “My First Signs”, “Playtime Signs” and “Everyday Signs”. I have found that children enjoy watching these when they are older but they are also an excellent way for moms to learn signs too! www.signwithme.com is a helpful place to see the signs acted out on video. You can choose the signs that you want to begin to teach your baby and look them up there. www.signingbaby.com may also be a helpful resource. In addition , Baby Signs, How to Talk to Your Baby Before Your Baby Can Talk, by Linda Acredolo, PhD and Susan Goodwyn, PhD. gives methods and explains the benefits of teaching your baby to sign.


     

 

 


 

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

Toy Review: “Tiny Love Activity Ball” by Tiny Love

activity_ball_a05.jpgGive this lovable guy a push and he gladly rocks and rolls just out of reach so your baby chases after him, exploring and discovering his wobbly gait. Each nudge brings on one of 5 entertaining sounds to make your baby smile. The friendly face with bug eyes and dimples, two antennae just the right size for nibbling, a colorful neck to stretch, a handfull of colorful textured rings, butterflies and ladybugs to describe and beads moving to the action all qualify this as a great toy to encourage language development.

This Tiny Love Activity Ball has all the elements for stimulating language–lots to talk about concerning, color, texture, sounds and activity. Parents can describe the bright colors, patterns of stripes and polka dots, plenty of textures such as soft, hard, bumpy, and smooth and sounds that accompany movement whether rocking or yanking on his head and feet. Remember to follow your child’s focus of attention and describe what she thinks is interesting, not you! If she is chewing on the antennae or playing peek-a-boo with the ladybug, that is what you want to be talking about. Research shows that children take in more language when we are talking about what they are interested in. Isn’t that true of us adults too?

Buy Tiny Love Activity Ball now

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New Autism Screening Guidelines

I got a call yesterday from a mom who was interested in my reaction to the news release by the American Academy of Pediatrics recommending that pediatricians screen children for signs of autism at 18 and 24 months at well-visit checkups.

The American Academy of Pediatrics released the following on their website:

Two new clinical reports from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) will help pediatricians recognize autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) earlier and guide families to effective interventions, which will ultimately improve the lives of children with ASDs and their families. The first clinical report, “Identification and Evaluation of Children With Autism Spectrum Disorders,” provides detailed information on signs and symptoms so pediatricians can recognize and assess ASDs in their patients. Language delays usually prompt parents to raise concerns to their child’s pediatrician – usually around 18 months of age. However, there are earlier subtle signs that if detected could lead to earlier diagnosis. These include:

not turning when the parent says the baby’s name;
not turning to look when the parent points says, “Look at…” and not pointing themselves to show parents an interesting object or event;
lack of back and forth babbling;
smiling late; and
failure to make eye contact with people.
Most children, at some time during early development, form attachments with a stuffed animal, special pillow or blanket. Children with ASDs may prefer hard items (ballpoint pens, flashlight, keys, action figures, etc.). They may insist on holding the object at all times.

The report advises pediatricians to be cognizant of signs of ASD, as well as other developmental concerns, at every well-child visit by simply asking the parents if they or their child’s other caregivers have any concerns about their child’s development or behavior. If concerns are present that may relate to ASD, the clinician is advised to use a standardized screening tool. The report also introduces universal screening, which means pediatricians conduct formal ASD screening on all children at 18 and 24 m

In addition, Autism Speaks, an organization that has had a tremendous impact on funding research for autism and communicating the signs to look for has an “autism video glossary” on its website, www.autismspeaks.org, that shows videos of typically developing children and those with autism at specific ages. This is very helpful for parents to see what these signs “look like” in the behavior of a child.

How do I feel about this news? I am thankful to the AAP for taking leadership in the area of early diagnosis. If all children are screened beginning at 18 months, I am sure there will be many more early detections of autism, and therefore better outcomes for our children. I know it is scary to moms and dads to think that they have to face such a screening but the potential positive effect is great.

In my many years working with three-year-olds with special needs at the Early Childhood Center in Fairfield, CT, I have had both experiences–of working with children who were diagnosed early, before their second birthday, and those who came to me without a diagnosis but showing obvious signs of autism at the age of three. I found it interesting to look back at their records from a year earlier, and many times regarding those diagnosed early, I hardly recognized the child described in the year-old reports because the child had made so much progress in that year between 2 and 3.

When I work with new moms and dads of typically developing children, beginning at 3 months to show them how to talk, read and play with their child to enhance language, I see children as young as 9 months where they have signs of autism and I have referred them for an evaluation. I do not make light the heaviness of such a diagnosis but early detection means early intervention and treatment and the opportunity to make real gains in speech, language and social skills.

Remember, you as the parent know your child the best. Use these tools and if you have concerns, talk with your pediatrician.

Posted in Autism, Babies, Birth-3 year-olds, Preschool, Speech and Language Delay | Leave a comment

Wanted: Toys with Language Value

Arriving at Adam’s house, I noticed twice as many toys as the last time I was there. Mom said they were gifts from his recent first birthday party. There was an abundance of toys requiring hammers and balls. His mom lamented the fact that she would have preferred educational toys but these were all gifts. Certainly there is educational merit to pound-a-ball toys and basketball hoops. These are “investigative toys” where your child learns to accomplish a task through trial and error and gets the fine and gross motor benefits. There is less language to elicit in these toys since there is not much flexibility or opportunity to change the action as there is with a “pretend” toy like a parking garage or dollhouse. But they have their merit in other developmental areas.

Parents ask me if it is okay to request certain types of toys for gifts, especially as the holidays approach. I say sure. I think grandparents and other relatives would welcome some suggestions. As a grandmother, I like to know what my kids and grandchild can use. Offer a list of books appropriate for your child’s age as suggestions, or give them a few websites like playonwords.com, littlezenminds.com, ebeanstalk.com, fisherprice.com, rightstart.com, or onestepahead.com Most sites allow you to look for toys by age, theme, or gender.

Who says you are too old to write up a list for Santa?

Posted in 3-6 year-olds, Birth-3 year-olds, Books, Preschool, Toys | Leave a comment

Toy Review: “Sarah Lynn and Her Camping Adventure” by Fisher-Price

nullLooking for adventure? Hop into your purple car, grab the cooler and head for the campsite! This Fisher-Price little people set has all the ingredients for great creative play. Sarah Lynn and Maggie can relax by the campfire in their lounge chairs, drop the fishing line into the lake, cook dinner over the open fire or pop open the camper and climb into their sleeping bags. After their stay at the campsite, they can load the cooler, chairs and fishing rod into the camper and drive home. Don’t we like toys that hold all the pieces?

Designed for children ages 2-5, this play set hits the sweet spot for pretend play. A 2 year-old will enjoy manipulating the people and pieces and imitating real life, while a 3 year-old will take the figures and animate them, using voices to talk back and forth. Join your child’s pretend play by “being” one of the figures and following the action. Research shows that a child’s level of play is raised when an adult joins in. But, remember to follow your child’s lead, giving them the opportunity to create and tap their imagination.

As the parent you want to be the “producer” not the “director” of your child’s play. Being the producer, you provide a variety of props such as people, food, vehicles, furniture etc to stimulate her imagination and start the story telling. Step back and watch the creativity begin. Don’t jump in and direct the action by suggesting the story direction but follow your child’s lead. Your child’s language will be enhanced through pretend play.Imaginative play stimulates language. Children who create stories with toys and props, like “Sarah Lynn and her Camping Adventure,” are practicing with language and become good storytellers and eventually enthusiastic writers.

Buy Fisher Price Little People – Sarah Lynn And Her Camping Adventure now

Buy Little People Girls: Elena & Her Sunny Day Picnic now

Posted in 3-6 year-olds, Birth-3 year-olds, Strategies to Enhance Language, Toy Reviews | Leave a comment

How Do I Handle Problems at School?

When I started my blog I wondered if I would always have something fresh to say but thankfully my mind is bursting with ideas from daily encounters with parents and kids.

It occurred to me that I should write about what to do when school isn’t going as planned. The honeymoon is over. This week two moms asked my advice on how to handle school problems and approach the staff. Since I spent over twenty years working as a speech-language pathologist in public and private schools, I know how that world works.

One mother’s son had an Individualized Education Program (IEP) in place so he could receive speech and language services as well as reading help. He started second grade and her typically happy child is overwhelmed and dreading going to school. Kids are starting to correct him in class and his wonderful spirit is sagging. He’s not keeping up and he knows it.

A second mom was called in for a conference because her daughter in third grade is disruptive in class, always moving and lacking focus during group instruction. The social worker brought up the possibility of ADHD and suggested mom talk to her pediatrician and get back to her.

Here are some tips for approaching the school when your child is experiencing some difficulty:

• The school is your partner. It has been my experience that school personnel want the best for your child, just as you do. You are a vital part of the team to develop the best program for your child.

• Don’t approach the school as the enemy. So many times I’ve seen parents anticipate a negative response from the school team when in fact they are there to hear the facts and formulate the best educational plan for your child. Go in with a positive attitude and you will likely get a better result.

• You are your child’s advocate. You know your child better than anyone. Don’t be intimidated by a team of professionals around the table. If you come to a meeting prepared and with some goals in mind, be strong in your commitment to seeing them implemented.

• Be prepared. Write down your observations to share with the team. This is invaluable. It’s one thing to say your child’s attitude has changed about school. It is more helpful to be specific such as, “He cries every morning and doesn’t want to go.” Or “He said James says he talks funny.” Or “He misses directions when he leaves the room for special help.” As a professional on a team, information from home is a crucial piece of the puzzle. Often children can keep it together at school but will let out their feelings at home. Have a list of possible solutions to present to the team such as “increase his reading instruction” or “decrease his pull-out therapy and have it delivered in the classroom.”

• Be Open. Now that I am working in private practice, I have had a number of parents that don’t want me to communicate with the school, partly so their child won’t be labeled and also parents think if they don’t say anything, no one will notice. Honestly, good teachers pick up on problems right away. They would benefit from all the information to best serve your child. You aren’t benefiting your child by holding back information If your child is having attention difficulties and medication is not an option for you, then be honest and tell the team that. Now they will go forward and look for other strategies to help you child.

• Be flexible. A good team will come up with different recommendations. Be open to trying the strategies that they recommend. If something works for your child, such as preferential seating, or having directions written down as a reminder, then that is great. Maybe it will take trying a few strategies before the best results are seen.

• Be patient. It can take some time. Children are dynamic human beings, always changing and surprising us. Each year is a new challenge academically as they go through the grades. It might take some time to accurately assess your child and get the best plan in place. You can be patient as long as you see professionals implementing the plan for your child.

• Follow up. Even with the best of intentions, some pieces of the educational plan might fall through the cracks. Since you are your child’s strongest advocate, you need to follow up and make sure that the recommendations are being implemented. If an occupational therapy consult is recommended, then check and see if that has occurred in a timely fashion.

• Communicate, communicate!

Posted in 3-6 year-olds, 6-8 year-olds, Elementary School, Elementary School Age, Preschool, Speech and Language Delay, Strategies to Encourange Language Development | Leave a comment

BOO, Happy Halloween Books!

I guess it that time of year again, when the central isle of the grocery store is filled with costumes and mini-portions of candy. I’m hearing funny stories of moms going to great lengths to get “the right” costume as requested by their child—standing in line before the consignment store opened to get an old “Storm Trooper” costume and going on e-bay for a Patriots costume. So many times we line up the right costume, only to find our child changes his mind by the time Halloween arrives—ug.

Anyways, I wanted to share a fun book for preschoolers and early elementary aged kids for the season. Aaaarrgghh! Spider! is a delightful story about an appealing spider (could there be such a thing?) who is launching a campaign to be accepted as the family pet. There is so much to talk about—contrasts between the spider and pets, family reactions and emotions, predictions, consequences, and comparisons.

Kids love saying funny words and join in for “Aaaarrggh! at every opportunity. This book also promotes early literacy with its repetition of simple phrases like “Out You Go!” so your child can read along with you.

We all know it is beneficial to read to our children but do we interact with them as we are reading? Research has shown the benefits to vocabulary and language when we talk about the story as well as read it. This is called “dialogic reading.” In a recent book Sharing Books and Stories to promote Language and Literacy, editor Anne VanKleeck, PhD, maintains that there is enormous value in reading “with” children and not just reading “to” them. How do we do that? Bring your experience to the book. Where do we see spiders? What else can a spider do that a dog can’t? What would we do with a spider in the house?

Using the dialogic approach makes each reading of a favorite book new and enriching.

Posted in 3-6 year-olds, Birth-3 year-olds, Books, Preschool, Reading, Speech and Language Delay, Strategies to Encourange Language Development, Toddler | Leave a comment

Is It Okay If Our Son Doesn’t Watch TV?

As you can imagine, I get all kinds of questions when I have “play on words” sessions with moms and dads. Is it okay if she watches TV? Is it okay if she doesn’t watch TV? Last week, I had a play session with one-year-old Jack. His mom wanted reassurance about her decision to keep the TV off. I have several other families that I work with who are not exposing their child to TV in the first few years. I applaud them because they are taking a hard road. I remember being exhausted about 3:00 in the afternoon (it probably hit earlier than that) and welcoming Sesame Street as a break from motherhood. Certainly it is valid that moms need a break and might occasionally put on a children’s show or video but it is important that we not let the advertising community convince us that we need every Baby Einstein Video to have an intelligent child! As of now, I don’t know of any research that supports the claims that these videos enhance intelligence or language and recent research actually deems them detrimental to language development.

The subject of TV comes up every time that I speak to a group of new parents. We all want to do the right thing and we are concerned and confused by recent research and what the media is telling us. Since I began “Play on Words” almost 6 years ago, I have consistently told parents the facts: there is no research I am aware of that backs the benefits of infant videos and language is learned through live face-to-face interaction. That being said, many moms have shared that popping in an infant DVD gives them a necessary break to take a shower or get dressed! Life is about balance and that is understandable. Just realize that research backs language learning through live experience, not through videos and TV for infants.

Let’s look at the facts. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no TV viewing for children less than two years of age. Children under two learn language through social interaction, not by viewing a TV screen. One of my favorite studies came out in July 2003, where researchers from the University of Washington looked at how babies learn a foreign language. Comparing three groups, the researchers exposed nine-month-old American babies to just under five hours of Mandarin Chinese. The first group heard live native speakers, the second group listened to a professionally produced DVD of the same speakers, and the third group listened to an audio version. The babies in the first group (live speakers) were the only ones who could distinguish sounds in the foreign language. Infants learn language from live speakers through their everyday activities.

The most recent study out from the University of Washington, looking at the affects of TV viewing on young children, suggests that popular infant videos may actually impede language development. Their research team found that popular videos such as “Baby Einstein” and “Brainy Baby” can actually hinder language development. With every hour per day of video viewing, infants learned six to eight fewer new vocabulary words than their counterparts who didn’t watch the videos. The most detrimental effects were on the 8 to 16 month old group. This age group is significant since language learning is exploding. By the time a child is 12 months old, he will know about 60 words and will begin to say his first words. According to one of the researchers, Dr. Dimitri Christakis, “The more videos they watched, the fewer words they knew.” Watching the videos lowered the infant’s language scores by about 10%.

The researchers expressed additional concern about over stimulating infants when exposing them to popular baby DVD’s. The rapid scene changes, and flashes of visual images that don’t correspond to a child’s experience certainly capture a child’s attention but are they over stimulating her?

I know there is a backlash and anger from parents who feel they were mislead, buying products they thought were designed to enhance their baby’s intelligence and language that actually may do harm. Leave the guilt behind, grab a good book and start reading. Babies are very resilient and we know that a good dose of reading each day increases vocabulary and builds bonds between you and your child.

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