Conversations with Babies

Baby loveThere are behaviours that babies are born with, like reflexes and how they are naturally drawn toward faces, but if you want your baby to grow up into someone who can tell you things and understand the things you tell them, then you need to talk with them.

Here are a few things to keep in mind when you chat with your baby:

  • Babies aren’t very talkative to start, but they are excellent listeners
  • Share your thoughts with your baby, talk about the things you are doing, or tell stories
  • Even before their first words, leave room for them to respond, and reply to their babbles and coos to help them learn about the pattern of conversation
  • Speak and sing to your babies in however many languages you speak. Babies are super good at picking up additional languages if they are learning them from the people in their lives
  • Babies don’t always want to talk. If they look like they’ve had enough, give them a break
  • On the other hand, don’t ignore your baby when they’re trying to talk to you. When you respond, you are letting them know they’re on the right track for developing speech
  • Maintain eye contact and use facial expressions
  • Babies are using cues from your lips and mouth to learn about the sounds coming out of your face. They are simultaneusly learning to lip read!
  • Use expression in your voice, as much as your baby loves you and your voice, there is still such a thing as too boring

An extra note about that last point. You’ve probably noticed that people sound different when they talk to babies. They’ll use a high energy sing-song voice that usually makes babies smile. There are studies that show this helps babies to recognize the differences between different speech sounds, which is pretty cool. You might try to tone it down, but there’s evidence that we all do it on some level.

On another level, it’s one of the many ways that you can show your baby that you are engaging with them personally. You are reinforcing that back and forth communication with your baby is foundational for language development and brain development in general.

What works best for you? Does your baby particularly like entries from your old high school diary, or your celebrity impressions? Let us know in the comments!

You might also be interested in a Books for Babies program offered by the Centre for Family Literacy in Edmonton. Here’s a link to the webpage.

Simple Ways to Entertain your Baby with a Book

When I talk about which books are age appropriate for babies, I am less concerned about what is in the book and more interested in what we can do with the book. A great example of this is books that require our imagination to make sense of what the pictures are telling us, which is not something babies are very good at. That doesn’t mean these types of books are inappropriate for babies.

Monkey & MeFor example, Emily Gravett’s Monkey and Me depicts a young girl acting out the motions that we associate with different zoo animals. Even if your baby is very familiar with elephants, a picture of a girl hunched over with her arm stretched out in front of her face is probably not going to make your baby think of elephants. Even with pictures of the girl in mulitple poses, your baby will not know that one pose is meant to transition into the other.

However, if you make those motions yourself, and you make your best elephant trumpet noises, and you flap your hands beside your head like big ears… well, your baby still might not be thinking of elephants and that’s okay, you’ve just transformed a confusing picture into a fun and engaging interaction.

Pete's a PizzaI think William Steig’s Pete’s a Pizza can work beautifully for this. Of course your baby won’t understand from the story how Pete’s parents pretending to make him into a pizza can cheer him up when he’s feeling down. The connection between managing emotions and imaginary food preparation are more than a little abstract. But if you gently massage your baby, roll them back and forth like dough, and tickle them as you make your way through the book, it will probably become a favourite nonetheless.

This won’t work with every book, but when you notice the book you are sharing lends itself to different actions, take the cue to bring the book to life, and see how your baby likes it.

For information about the Books for Babies program, or to find the Edmonton program schedule, please visit the Centre for Family Literacy website program page.

For more information about sharing books with your baby, your toddler, or your preschool aged children, please visit the Centre for Family Literacy website resources page.

 

Baby’s Taste in Art

Baby & Book6

Let’s talk about which pictures babies prefer, and how books with photographs and books that use illustrations stack up.

Photos in Books Drawings in
Books
Babies are naturally drawn to faces. YES! Sometimes
Babies want bold contrasting colours. Sometimes YES!
Babies crave familiar people and objects. YES! Sometimes
Babies desire simple images. Sometimes More often

Of course, these are trends rather than rules. A particularly well-crafted image will appeal to babies regardless of what kind it is, and it’s more important to try to hit as many of these marks as you can.

How important each of these elements is depends on the age of the baby.

  • Newborn babies have terrible vision, so unless things are bright and bold they won’t easily notice them
  • Over the first 6 months, their vision improves so that they can see most things held at arm’s length (or about 12 inches)
  • Between 6 and 18 months, the muscles used to bend the lens of the eye to focus light get stronger and stronger, making it possible to see fine details in pictures and focus on things that are father away

In general, babies will prefer photographs because they show things closely resembling real things they have seen. Familiar images are comforting, and it is actually kind of exciting for babies when they recognize the things they see in books. Sometimes you won’t know if they will like a book until you try sharing it with your baby, but if you can recognize at a glance what you are looking at, then your baby will probably like it.

If you would like to know more about books for babies, go the the Resources pages on the Centre for Family Literacy website to find tips sheets, or the Program page to find a Books for Babies program.

Books – and Tunes – for Babies

Hispanic mother and baby at homeA great way to keep the interest of a baby when you’re reading with them, or a child of any age really, is to add some rhythm or melody to your book sharing.

The rhyme and repetition in many childrens’ books makes this easy in many cases, and if you have a rhyming book, a quick search on Youtube can sometimes give you a few different musical styles to choose from. Beyond that, there are many books that are meant to be sung with verses, choruses, and sometimes even music or information for where you can find the music online.

Don’t worry about your singing voice, I promise your baby doesn’t mind if you’re out of key or can’t really carry a tune, and it’s perfectly fine if you would rather settle into more of a chant than a full-on melody.

Even when the book does not rhyme, sometimes a picture can give you an idea for a song or a rhyme to sing, adding a little extra fun to your book sharing time. For example, a book might feature an animal, and there are a lot of songs and rhymes about animals. It’s okay if the animal song or rhyme you want to sing doesn’t exactly match the plot of the story for 2 big reasons:

  1. Babies don’t have the longest attention spans; you probably won’t get through more than a few pages of the book anyway
  2. We want our child to be able to relate the things they see in books, and the words they hear, to other things that they know. If you are reading Runaway Bunny with your toddler and they start singing Sleeping Bunnies, you’ll know that they are making those connections, and you can tell everyone how brilliant your child is.

You won’t always feel like singing, and your child might not always be receptive to it. Think of it as one more tool that you can use to make book sharing more fun for you and your baby.

If you would like to learn more about sharing books, songs, and play with your baby, you’ll find tip sheets on the Centre for Family Literacy website, you can try our free Flit app with family literacy activities to do with your little ones, or better yet, find a Books for Babies program near you and come have some fun with us!

 

Do you Need to Track Your Baby’s Words with Technology?

Dad talk w GirlIt seems we are tracking everything these days, and there is no shortage of tools to quantify and chart all kinds of things relating to our babies. Some of these might be helpful; some look gimmicky. Today I want to talk about word tracking apps and devices.

In the early 90s, researchers visited the homes of middle and lower income families to get a glimpse into how the families were using language with their children. They found that by 3 years old, children from “professional” famiiles were hearing 30 million more words than children from low income families. Things are a bit more complicated, of course, but a number like that grabbed people’s attention and almost immediately companies started marketing word tracking devices to concerned parents.

Technology has improved since the 90s, and our understanding of early child development has come a long way too. I won’t say that these devices are useless, but when it comes down to it the things that will actually improve the quantity and quality of language that children are exposed to and engaged with are free, and technology is optional at best. Those millions of words don’t come out of nowhere, they come from doing things together with your children. You can pay to get a number that might motivate you to do more of those things, but do you really need extra motivation to play, talk, read, and sing with your children? If you’re even reading this, I would wager you are already plenty motivated and can skip the tracking tools altogether.

Still, it can be hard to let go of those tempting personalized stats, so here’s an attractive iceberg metaphor to ease your mind:

https://youtu.be/Qj0Nm3YKpEY

If you would like free family literacy tip sheets about Sharing Books, Language Development, Choosing Quality Children’s Books, and more, visit the Centre for Family Literacy website: http://www.famlit.ca/resources/resources_p.shtml

 

Party Baby!

It’s the holidays! And for a lot of people that means parties, family get-togethers, and gatherings of all kinds. If you have a baby with you, this can be a lot of fun or quite stressful.

Whether your baby is a party animal or actually quite shy, being surrounded by people for long periods of time is not something that many babies are used to. An unending parade
unknownof aunts, uncles, grandparents, and cousins who want to hold your baby can be overwhelming for them, and just being in a loud room full of people talking and playing can leave babies feeling over-stimulated and exhausted.

Here are a few tips to survive the holiday season:

  • How is baby doing? We all have limits, and while one baby can be in the middle of a large group for hours, another baby might need to take breaks more often. And if your baby is sick, tired, or hungry, they might not last long at all. If you notice they are avoiding eye contact and looking agitated, find a quiet(er) place where you can retreat to spend some one-on-one time.
  • Times when everyone is doing something together, like singing songs, sharing stories, or playing a game, are easier for babies to handle than times when activites are more chaotic (even when everyone’s getting along).

grandfather-and-baby

  • Babies will find a lot of comfort in the familiar, so try to balance the introductions to people they haven’t met before and places they’ve never been with familiar faces, favourite rhymes, and books.
  • How are you feeling? Babies definitely pick up on your feelings, so if you’re starting to feel stressed (or hungry or tired or sick), find what you need to feel better, and in the meantime, recruit your partner or another family member who is feeling more calm to take care of your baby for a while.

If your little one doesn’t seem to like meeting new people, here’s a great article from Zero to Three that talks about how we can help children with different temperments handle social situations: https://www.zerotothree.org/resources/198-children-with-shy-or-slow-to-warm-up-temperaments

Take care of your babies and yourselves, and I hope to see you at Books for Babies in 2017. Best wishes everyone!

About the Books for Babies program

Grunt, Babble, Coo: What’s your baby saying to you?

istock_babynoiseIn Books for Babies we get to hear all kinds of babbling, giggling, coos, cries, and shrieking. Mostly from the babies of course. And it’s a lot of fun to see all the ways that babies try to communicate with us. It takes a while for us to learn what they want to tell us, and even longer for these new people to learn how to talk the way we do.

All babies are different, of course, but here are a few tips that I’ve learned in my years with this program.

  • Crying – You might hear that babies have different types of cries for when they are hungry, lonely, scared, etc. Lots of babies do have different cries that mean different things, but some don’t. Also, there is no international baby language, so your baby’s hungry cry might not sound anything like another baby’s hungry cry.
  • Speech development – Speech sounds are not so easy to make, and some are harder than others. Babies will start babbling after only a few months, but certain sounds will actually take years of practice and muscle growth before your child can say them clearly. Alberta Health Services has a great checklist here: http://www.humanservices.alberta.ca/documents/talk-box-speech-sounds-checklist.pdf
  • Substitute sounds – Just because your baby is saying “Ba! Ba! Ba!” does not mean they are trying to tell you about something starting with “Ba.” Babies aren’t born with a thesaurus to get around those sounds they can’t say yet. So, also pay attention to your baby’s body language, where they are looking, and every other clue you have, to figure out what your baby is trying to tell you.
  • Learning Multiple Languages – Babies can learn to understand a number of different languages at once, but with more speech sounds to learn they might start talking a little later.

Remember, learning language with your baby is like making music together or dancing; the communication has to go both ways. It is important that they hear you talk (and sing), but it’s just as important for you to listen to your baby and watch for their reactions and signals. In the beginning you can only recognize each other’s happy and unhappy noises, but you’ll learn from each other and fill in all those other details as you go.

If you would like more information about our Books for Babies program, please check the Centre for Family Literacy website: www.famlit.ca

3 Creative Ways to Bring Your Family Closer with Digital Technology

 happy family using tablet pc
How to enhance (not detract from) your family life by using technology creatively. Technology is but one tool in your parenting toolbox; use it creatively and it can enhance (not take over) your relationships.

While there is no limit to the variety and price of technology on the market, I am not convinced that you need any of that stuff. Instead I want to focus more on how the technology you probably already use could be helpful for promoting literacy.

  1. I am sure you have already heard that screen time is not recommended for children under 2 years old at all, so I won’t belabor that point, but I do want to mention that I can think of one possible exception: Video Chat. Babies need regular face-to-face interaction, and nearly all of that should be done in person. Still, I think that babies can benefit from interacting with family members through video conferencing apps like Skype and Facetime. They might lose interest sooner than if the family member was in the room with them, but it is an opportunity to do a little bit of bonding over long distances.
  2. If you have a smartphone, then you essentially have a video camera, microphone, and notepad with you at all times. It has never been easier to create a library of family stories and moments to share with your children and other family members, and I have already written a post about the value of family stories. The key is to think of how you can do this in a way that is less intrusive and time consuming so that you can enjoy the process without making it a chore. And you don’t want to miss the moment while being preoccupied with capturing the moment. Technology should be working for you, and not the other way around.
  3. I met a mom who decided to create an email address for her newborn baby so that she could send him notes and letters whenever she had something that she really wanted him to share with him. I’m not especially crafty, but I do check my email every day, so there is something about that kind of virtual time capsule that really appeals to me. Sharing those letters together when your child is older would be so special. Or giving that email account to your child at graduation or some other rite of passage could be pretty profound. It will probably be even more heart warming if you log in to that account and clean out the spam every once in while!

Book Handling Skills

Baby chew book

No one is born knowing about books, how to use them, or what they are used for. It doesn’t matter how often you are read to before you are born, or how many generations of book lovers you have in your family, everyone is born clueless when it comes to books.

When you were first born you were mostly content to snuggle in the arms of your parents and other family members. Hands-on practice with books, beyond grabbing, didn’t start until you were closer to 5 months old. By the way, that early grab was actually a reflex called the palmar grasp; you don’t get credit for that.

You likely started with board books, cloth books, and vinyl books as they were much easier and safer for you to handle than hardcover and paperback books. And I do mean safer for both you and your family’s library.

At first, you probably grabbed the books and put them in your mouth the same way you did with everything else that was grab-able and mouth-able. Don’t be embarrassed, this was a normal part of exploration and it was normal—this phase lasted at least a few months.

Opening a book was not so obvious. Maybe you stumbled across that possibility by accident, or more likely you learned by watching when family members shared books with you. Opening a cloth or vinyl book was easy, but board books took more practice.

The soft pages of cloth and vinyl books were easy to push and pull to unlock their secrets. Board books were harder to work, but thankfully they had built-in technology to help. Not only were the pages more stiff and easier to grab than paper pages, but whenever you opened a board book, a page would rise up so that you could bat it back and forth. You could do that for several months before you had the coordination to grasp a page between your thumb and forefinger.

Books were tricky! Not only did they have insides and outsides, but they could be upside-down and backwards, or both! When you noticed that the pictures in a book could be upside down, your first instinct was to turn your head upside down. It probably wasn’t until closer to your first birthday that you discovered the book could be turned right side up to achieve the same effect.

Months of exploring books at your own pace and in your own way passed by much like a training montage in a movie: opening and closing books, stacking books up and knocking them down, crying, napping, turning pages back and forth, over and over and over…

And then one day you brought your favourite book to your mom or your dad, you settled down into their lap, you opened up your book, and turned the pages of the book all on your own, pointing at the pictures along the way.

If you would like to learn more about babies and books, visit the Centre for Family Literacy website www.famlit.ca. You will find printable tip sheets on the Resources for Parents page, and if you live in Edmonton, Canada, you can even find a fun program to join.

Books for Babies Book Giveaways

Hispanic mother and baby at homeBecause of generous funding from the Alberta Government and private donors, the Centre for Family Literacy is able to give a book to every family each week of the Books for Babies program—to keep.

I’ve mentioned in previous blogs that everyone’s taste in books is a little different, and that babies will be drawn to different things in different periods of their development, but here’s a quick rundown of how I choose the books that we give to the program families.

Week 1: I will almost always choose a board book with nice big photos of faces. Even newborn babies love these books, and it will be years before these simple books lose their appeal. Occasionally I’ll use a book with photographs of animals instead. They won’t be as visually appealing to babies, but if I can convince parents to have fun playing with the book and make animal noises with their babies, then I know it will work out well.

Week 2: I always highlight books with rhymes and language play, so I’ll either choose a rhyming story, an illustrated rhyme (like a lullaby) or a collection of rhymes. When the book focuses on a single rhyme or song, the pictures tend to be more simple, which helps babies to follow along with the rhyme. Rhyme anthologies, on the other hand, tend to be very busy, but parents are more likely to find a rhyme that means something to them, which can be even better.

Week 3: I pick a book that offers something more tactile and kinesthetic for babies to explore. Usually these are touch and feel books; sometimes they are books with flaps.  Sometimes I will go another route entirely and choose a book that you can use in the bath, where all kinds of new sensory experiences, beyond the vinyl pages of the book, surround your baby.

Week 4: I like to give a book with a simple story. Babies are closer to 18 months old before they can appreciate the narrative of a story, so the book should have nice simple pictures, and a clear pattern or rhythm. Sometimes, for an extra challenge, I’ll give a book that won’t really make sense to baby unless the parent brings it to life by acting it out with them.

B4B-unused2There are a lot of good books out there to choose from, but using these categories allows us, each week, to explore different elements of books that appeal to babies. And to increase the odds that gift books will be enjoyed by everyone in the group, I try to find books that offer at least two features that babies are drawn to.

How you share the book with your baby will make as much difference as which book you share with your baby, and we spend more time talking about that at our program. But that’s for another blog.

More about the Books for Babies program

Tip sheets for choosing books for your baby, toddler, or preschool age children