Choosing the Right Preschool

I can’t believe it is September and already parents have to think about where to enroll their child for preschool next fall. I was reminded of this yesterday when I had a wonderful reunion with a family I had worked with. This mom was sharing her experience of observing a possible preschool for her three-year-old. She got to the appointment early with her husband who suggested they wait in the car. She told him no, this was a great opportunity to observe what goes on at the playground. She watched the children file in after playtime and several children were crying. Now it is the beginning of the school year, but no one was comforting these children. Then when she went inside, it was obvious that this school was very structured and stressed academics. The children listened to a phonics tape in preparation for their lesson. This perceptive mom said to me, “If I am going to pay this much money for preschool, I want a person talking to my child, not a tape!” I had told her many times as I worked with her child that children learn through experience, not rote activities that aren’t meaningful to them.

Her husband was impressed with the stress on academics but she was not. She knows that Ben is learning numbers when she counts the steps he goes up or counts the stickers he gets when he goes potty. She carefully explains that he has three stickers and he needs two more to fill the boxes on his chart before he gets a prize. Gosh, that sounds like addition with meaning! Good for her.

She felt the absence of creative play and the flexibility to imagine. There is such pressure these days to have our children learn their letters, numbers and concepts earlier and earlier at the expense of free play. Countless studies show that creative, imaginative play leads to learners, great storytellers and interested readers. Look for a fun environment with props to create.

I have observed many preschools and on my first visit to one of my favorites, I walked into the room and couldn’t find the teacher! Then I realized that she was dressed up in a long skirt and boa, beads and a hat and was part of the play. She was so engaged with the kids (and on the small side I might add) that I missed her!

Look for engaged teachers that use every opportunity to share, explain and encourage. This may sound obvious but I was visiting a preschool recently and when it was snack time the teachers sat outside the kids circle and ate their snacks. Snack time is such a social opportunity to discuss wants, needs, exciting happenings in their lives and so on. These are all language lessons that expand on your child’s conversational skills.

Sometimes parents share with me that they don’t know how to pick a preschool for their child. I always say that when you visit you will know what fits your son or daughter. Some children thrive with lots of kids and several teachers. Others need a smaller group and one teacher. Some classes are more structured, others a little “looser” which fits certain kids’ needs. You will know which school is best for your child. Fast forward a few years and it is like choosing the right college. They will step on campus and say, “No way” or “This is it!”

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

Bilingual Books, Anyone?

One of the challenges of raising your baby bilingual is finding good books in your language other than English. Katerina’s mom shared the frustration of finding books in Spanish either translated from English, but even harder was to find sources for books written by native speakers.

She shared a library of Spanish books, many that are popular in English such as those by authors Sandra Boynton, Eric Carle, Karen Katz and Usborne books. Katerina’s mom had gotten a whole series of Usborne books, That’s Not My Truck, That’s Not My Dog etc. in Spanish at Barnes and Noble. By the way, online, you can click on Spanish children’s books by age on Barnes and Nobles’ site. She also discovered Spanish books by the publisher, Sigmar. Many English books have been translated so they still rhyme in the second language which is important to look for. Brown Bear Brown Bear by Bill Martin is delightfully interesting to children for its repetition, rhythm and rhyme. Some of the words might be slightly changed in the translation to accommodate the importance of rhyme. We know that recognizing rhyme is a precursor to reading. When children recognize that words end in the same sound, they are beginning to understand that words are made up of sounds—sounds correspond to letters and reading begins.

My mission with this blog is to not only pass along helpful information to enhance your child’s language development but to also be a forum for parents and caregivers to share great information. Let me know what your sources are for children’s books in other languages that you have found helpful. What books in languages other than English has your child enjoyed?

Just use the comment section below to share and thanks!

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

Does My Child Have a Speech and Language Delay?

I consulted with a mom last week who is a terrific example of a “with it” mom. Of course I think that all the moms I work with really know their kids. That’s why when a mom expresses concerns to me about her child’s speech and language I really listen.

Usually it’s a small detail that could be rationalized but doesn’t seem right to the mom like, “When his playgroup comes over, he smiles at them but then goes off and plays by himself” or “He talks a lot to himself but not to his peers” or “Other kids his age seem to have many more words” or “He leaves off all the ending sounds of his words” or “He doesn’t answer questions.” Many things that a mom is concerned about could be absolutely “typical” or “normal” for their child’s age, but I always encourage moms and dads to get concerns checked out.

First, mention it to your pediatrician. I encourage moms to make a very specific list of what behaviors they are concerned about. Give examples. Don’t just say he doesn’t play well with his peers, but say when a friend came up to his pretend zoo and asked for an animal, Jimmy ignored him and went on talking to himself or left the play area and chose another toy. Write down your list and give a copy to your pediatrician. Many pediatricians are terrific at what they do BUT remember that they only have limited time with you and your child during a well-visit. And some pediatricians are better at diagnosing developmental delays in speech and language than others.

If your child is under three years of age, call your Birth-to-Three organization and ask for an evaluation. In the state of Connecticut they send out two professionals to assess your child in your home and it is free. They will evaluate your child in many areas as well as speech and language and share the results with you. If your child qualifies for services, you will begin therapy.

If your child is three years or older, call your public school system and ask to speak to the Special Education department. Let them know that you have a child that you would like to be evaluated. Our town has a special needs preschool that works with children three years until they enter kindergarten, but every school district handles the delivery of speech services differently.

Another option is to have your child evaluated privately. You can find a qualified certified private speech pathologist through a directory for the American Speech and Hearing Association (ASHA). Another good source is your pubic school Director of Special Education because they usually work with private therapists that they can recommend.

I always tell moms to go with their gut feeling. If they think there might be a delay, pursue getting an evaluation. Moms know best!

Posted in 3-6 year-olds, Birth-3 year-olds, Elementary School Age, Preschool, Speech and Language Delay, Toddler | Leave a comment

Happy Birthday One-Year-Old!

I’ve just spent a delightful weekend celebrating our grandson, Will’s first birthday. Of course I took him on a joy ride through the toy store getting him a few new toys to launch him into his second year.

At a year, children are not only exploring but they are problem solving. It’s time to bump up the toys to the next level to stimulate language. It was fun to see Will enjoy his first “Little People” by Fisher Price. The barn is a favorite because at a year, children enjoy opening and closing the barn doors, hearing the corresponding animal noises and understanding cause-effect. The animals take lots of trips down the silo too. Later as they approach two and three years of age, they will increase their creative play with the animals and farm, rolling the pig in the mud, riding the horse or eating some hay as they imitate sequences from their experiences with books and everyday life. Good toys grow with your child and expand their play over months. Another early “Little People” set to start with is Noah’s Ark. One-year-olds like to put objects in and out of containers and now the animals can ride on top of the deck or open the door and enter below. The new cloth manes, tails and feathers really add to the sensory experience and provide you with new parts of the animals to describe for your child (fuzzy, soft, smooth etc.).

Since children this age enjoy hearing about animals and the sounds they make, another great toy to stimulate speech and language is LeapFrog’s Fridge Farm Magnetic Animal Set. Animal sounds are often some of the first words that children say because they are easy—usually a vowel and consonant like “baaa” or “neigh” and they are associated with something fun like a furry sheep or a galloping horse.

Great “going out to dinner” toys for this age are the Tolo people and props. They’re small and portable and perfect for play on a high chair tray. The little people twist and turn to walk and sit down, turn their heads and have a button to push on their tummies. It’s a great alternative to playing with the creamer containers or sugar packets.

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

Bringing Up Bilingual Babies

I just had a “play on words” session with one-year-old Katerina who was saying, “Queso?” for “Que es esto?” (What is this? in Spanish). Katerina’s mom is like so many new parents who want to raise their children bilingual, and she’s doing it successfully. As we played together, she spoke to Katerina in Spanish and addressed me in English. Parents often ask if that will confuse their child. No, children are amazing language learners and learn to associate a language with a person.

I worked with a family whose two year-old twins had heard only Swedish from their mom and nanny and English from their dad since birth. When it was time to go to bed they said goodnight to mom in Swedish, to the nanny in Swedish and then to their dad in English!

Almost every time I speak to a group of new parents the question comes up, “What is the best way to raise my baby bilingual?” My answer is that certainly there are many areas of the world where this is done seamlessly without instructions. But the best way is to separate the languages your child is hearing by person or place. In other words, Mom speaks only Spanish to Katerina, Dad speaks English, grandma speaks Spanish, preschool might be only in Spanish and so on. When you make the boundaries clear it is easier for your child to learn the two languages. Avoid mixing the languages, using words from each language in one sentence.

Recently, a mom asked me evaluate her child for a possible language delay. According to my evaluation he was behind but I learned that both parents’ first language was German. The grandparents lived with them and spoke only German, Dad was speaking English and mom was speaking both German and English to her little Marcus, sometimes mixed in the same sentence. He was two years old and had a few words that were in English. I would never suggest that mom stop speaking German to her son since there is more than a language connection there. But I did suggest that while we were building up his English that she segment her day and speak English to him for the main portion of the day and maybe reserve German for her evening routine with him. I believe part of his language delay was that he was confused by hearing a mix of languages without the boundaries of people and place.

I will admit it takes some guts to choose to speak a language other than English exclusively to your baby. Parents have shared with me that they are afraid their child won’t understand them or they feel awkward doing it. Or what if it doesn’t work? Go ahead. I tell parents it is a gift you can give to your child to raise them speaking more than one language. You have an amazing opportunity if you or your spouse, relative or nanny are fluent in a second language. Your child will pick up English from the community. Our neighbor has raised her children hearing exclusively Lithuanian. When her son was three years old, his English tutors were his neighborhood buddy and his peers in preschool!

Posted in 3-6 year-olds, Babies, Bilingual, Birth-3 year-olds, Preschool, Strategies to Encourange Language Development | Leave a comment

Book Review: The Great Fuzz Frenzy by Janet Stevens and Susan Stevens Crummel

great-fuzz-frenzy.gifViolet, the dog, innocently drops her tennis ball down a prairie dog’s tunnel, setting off the “fuzz frenzy.” “Boink, thump, rumble, and plunk” is just the beginning of this delightful journey of a fuzzy ball through the land of prairie dogs, filling your child with rich vocabulary and delightful drawings. Bossy Big Bark is the control freak who wants everyone to stay away from the questionable object while Pip Squeak ventures forth for a look. The new found fuzz is stretched, tugged, spiked and twirled into creative hats, belts, rabbit ears and Indian headdresses. Children learn that language is fun when combined in tangles like “fuzz fiesta,” and “fuzz fandangle.” Naturally there is competition over who will get this new green fuzzy treasure and Pip Squeak is mortified that he had started a battle over the fuzz. Big Bark returns, having stolen all the fuzz, only to be plucked up by an eagle in need of a meal. The prairie dogs rally to save one of their own and Big Bark returns in his protective role over the pack.

Children like to match the drawings with the descriptions: “top dog, corny dog and frilly dog.” Take some time to make a list of your child’s descriptive words for Big Bark (bossy, ornery, inconsiderate, impatient) and Pip Squeak (inquisitive, kind, leader). Building good descriptive words will prepare your child for writing interesting stories. Do they have a friend like Big Bark? Or is their friend more like Pip Squeak? One little girl that I read this book to was having a little trouble with a bossy friend. What an opportunity to work through issues with peers.

Before turning the page of The Great Fuzz Frenzy, make a prediction about what is going to happen. Parents try it too and see what a variety of options you come up with. One little boy saw the sky go black and predicted a storm was coming. All guesses are good and encouraged. This helps your child think creatively, expand on stories, and strengthen his language skills.

Buy The Great Fuzz Frenzy now

Posted in 3-6 year-olds, 6-8 year-olds, Birth-3 year-olds, Book Review, Books, Elementary School Age, Preschool, Strategies to Enhance Language | Leave a comment

An Old Friend Returns

You all know that I love a good toy and mourn the loss when a great language toy is retired (like the old Fisher Price pirate ship or Robin Hood’s tree house.)

Well you can imagine my joy in finding the return of the Fisher Price cash register on my Saturday jaunt to Toys R Us this morning! This is a great toy—I know some would say it is old fashioned and doesn’t look like the real thing, all automated and computerized but the truth of the matter is that kids love the play money and can’t resist putting it into the slots and banging open the cash drawer. The cash register is a must for anyone playing store. How else can you keep your money organized??

Children learn best through experience and here is a real life example of sorting coins and learning numbers while exercising imaginations. Younger children will use this toy in investigative play, pressing different keys with varied results. Older children, two and a half and above will use this toy in pretend play, checking friends out of their store. An added feature is that there are no distracting noises or batteries involved.

Recently, I was playing store with a 5 year-old. He had shelves of pretend food, a chalk board to write out the prices, and a wallet full of pretend bills and coins. We could have used a cash register.

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

Speaking of Preschool

We all want to know how our child’s day went at school. I am often asked how to “draw out” a child and find out what he did that day. But when we ask, “How was school?” we either get no response or “Okay.” Hey, we want more details!

“How was your day?” or “How was school?” are questions that are too general for a preschooler to easily answer. A three-year-old would have a hard time coming up with something and a two-year-old wouldn’t have a clue. Instead, comment on an activity or two that you know they engaged in and be specific, “I like your swings. They must go really high. I wonder who gives you a push.” Now you have taken the pressure off of your child to speak, started them off on the topic of school and can pause for their response. Also, open-ended questions like, “I wonder if you used play-doh today?” or “Look at all the colors in your drawing, I wonder what you drew?” Good preschools communicate with parents through notes and quick conversations after school to let you know what they are discussing and reading about such as apples in the fall or snow in the winter and what was particularly exciting that day. This helps you decipher drawings and understand conversations about your child’s day.

Every little painted stone or scribbled drawing your child brings home is a conversation starter. Research was done that showed when four-year-old children brought home objects from preschool including their art projects, the children referred to recent school activities significantly more than when they did not. Take advantage of these masterpieces, asking open-ended questions of your little artist and don’t forget to listen.

Another way to elicit conversation about school is to read a good book about a preschooler’s day and let your child chat about his experience. Preschoolers like to have what is called “book-to-life” conversations, relating their activities to what is pictured in the book. Try reading First Experiences: My First Day at Preschool (Baby Basics) by Roger Priddy or an old favorite, Spot Goes to School, and see if your child might tell about his smock and painting area, snack, friends or story time.

And remember, the most important thing is to listen.

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

Welcome to Preschool

Okay, this weekend I encountered two moms who were a little anxious about sending their first child off to preschool. Ironically, one mom was worried because her son would be the oldest in the class and the other mom was concerned about the opposite—that her child would be the youngest.

As parents, we all want our children to have the best advantage educationally and that can start with preschool. Many want their child to be one of the younger ones in the class to glean all that knowledge from the older kids (we’re talking months here!) and others think their “older” child will be the leader. In fact, both can be true but age isn’t everything. Language skills vary among two and three-year-olds and contribute to the mix. Children who aren’t talking as much will find that they have to communicate to get their needs met. As parents, we often anticipate their needs, handing them their juice or a snack before they even ask. Not so at school. On the other hand, those children with stronger language skills will develop a confidence at being able to direct pretend play or participate in interactive story time.

The important thing is to give your child time to adapt to the class and then assess. If she is still way behind the skills of the other children in the class or way ahead, you might want to meet with the teacher and make an adjustment. Children react when they are bored or in way over their heads.

Posted in 3-6 year-olds, Birth-3 year-olds, Preschool, Preschool Class, Strategies to Encourange Language Development | Leave a comment

Toy Review: Freddie the Firefly by Lamaze®

freddy

If you thought fireflies were only fun at night, you haven’t met Freddie. Freddie the Firefly provides lots to talk about as your baby explores his colors, textures, sounds and activities. Babies are hard-wired to learn language, but their language is stimulated when you talk to them. You need to choose toys with many features that are flexible, so as your child picks up the toy day after day, you have plenty to chat about.

Take advantage of Freddie’s language-enhancing features to stimulate your baby.

• Find a Friendly Face: Great language toys always have a face. Babies, attracted to faces at birth, talk more to faces. When a toy has a face, it becomes animated so you can feed it a meal, take it for a ride or have a chat. The black and white contrasts on Freddie’s back attract your newborn who loves to look for patterns in darks and lights. Talk about the dots, circles and wavy lines. By three months, your baby can distinguish most colors so Freddie’s bright contrasting colors are a feast for baby’s eyes.

• Colorful Contrasts: Explore Freddie with your baby, describing the colorful contrasts: red, orange, purple, green, turquoise, and black.• Feels Good: Give names to the textures: soft, furry, white ball; smooth, shiny green bump; fuzzy turquoise pocket; hard, bumpy red ladybug; smooth shiny, peek-a-boo mirror; slippery antennas and hard circular rings.

• Sounds Alive: Freddy sounds alive with his squeaker, crinkly wings, rattle, and clinking rings.

• Take Action: A good language toy is flexible with moving parts so you can vary your play with your child. Freddie is ready to play peek-a-boo with his mirrored wing and hide and seek with his ladybug under the wing and in his pocket. Offer Freddie a snack, fly him around the room, or let him take a nap perhaps with a washcloth for his blanket.

As your baby starts to pick up Freddie the Firefly and explore his features, you should describe what he is looking at. Research shows that when you follow your child’s attention and talk about what he is looking at, he takes in more language. At first you will be holding Freddie and describing his features to your baby. But, as he starts reaching and selecting a toy that interests him (5-6 months), you will want to stop directing the commentary and follow your child’s lead. Talk about what he is looking at, mouthing, or feeling.

Moms have told me that Freddie is a good friend for a long time.

Buy Freddie the Firefly now

Posted in Babies, Birth-3 year-olds, Toy Reviews | Leave a comment