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.

Early language development: the first step to literacy

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In today’s fast-paced and highly competitive world, there is a lot of pressure for parents to enrol their child, earlier and earlier, into preschool and pre-kindergarten classes, and before they even enter kindergarten, to teach them the alphabet, numbers, and how to spell their name. Surprisingly, there are no studies as of yet to prove that if you learn to read in those early years, you’re going to have an advantage in school.

We do know, however, that language and social development in the early years lay the foundations for literacy skills and success as an adult.

We encourage you, the caregiver, to empower your little ones with the knowledge and skills to build the ‘scaffolding’ for their language, thinking, and social skills—which are essential for learning to read and write—rather than encouraging you to teach your toddlers to read.

Language development is the first step and the basis for literacy. By age three or four your child’s language ability will strongly predict their literacy skills and learning success throughout school and life.

With these facts in mind, we know that a child’s early environment and experiences significantly impact their language and literacy development. This learning begins at birth.

Infants instinctively respond to sounds and begin vocalizing. Children raised in nurturing, language-rich homes will develop better vocabularies and literacy skills; home environment plays a vital role in your child’s literacy learning. Parents and/or caregivers are the child’s first and best teachers! You are the expert and in the best position to teach and guide your child.

DSC_0006 (1)The bond between you and your child is fundamental in the child’s brain development. By exposing your child to vocabulary, rhythm, rhyme, and body language—through actions or active play—you are not only developing an amazing relationship with your child, you are creating brain pathways, connections, and brain development.

Repetition of rhymes and songs strengthen these pathways and connections. Additionally, you feel more confident and competent as you help in your child’s literacy and social development, resulting in being more actively involved with your child and your child’s learning.

As an added bonus, songs, rhymes, and actions are useful in reducing stressful or frustrating moments for toddlers (and for you), and also help to make smoother transitions between activities throughout the day.

Tips to get you started on your rhyme discovery path:

  1. Go back to basics. The songs that were your favourites as a child will also be enjoyable to your child, and believe it or not, are still children’s favourites today.
  2. Start with short, simple rhymes. Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star and The Wheels on the Bus are good examples.
  3. Most importantly… have fun with rhyming! There is no wrong way to sing, especially when you and your child are having fun and bonding!
  4. Optional: drop in to a Rhymes that Bind program and have fun learning rhymes and actions with your child

Here is a rhyme to get you started:

Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear

Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear turn around.
Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear touch the ground.
Teddy Bear reach up high.
Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear say Good Bye.

To find an Edmonton Rhymes that Bind program near you, check out the Centre for Family Literacy website. We are excited to meet everyone and have fun singing!

 

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

 

How does Rhymes that Bind Support Literacy Development?

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The early literacy skills of children do not begin with reading and writing. The skills they need prior to reading and writing are listening, speaking, and understanding. All of these skills are practiced in the Rhymes that Bind program.

Rhymes are fun, and because of their simplicity, they can be done anywhere. The benefits are many. When hearing nursery rhymes, children hear how sounds are put together—vowels and consonants making words. They hear patterns in speech, pitch, volume, voice inflection, and a general rhythm to language. The sound is different when asking a question, telling a story, giving instructions, or singing a song. Children will hear words they don’t hear every day—in rhymes with animals, submarines, grandfather clocks, and food,  such as:

  • The grandfather clock goes, tick tock tick tock tick tock (slowly sway child back and forth)
  • The kitchen clock goes tictoctictoctictoctictoc (sway child faster)
  • And mommy’s little watch goes ticcaticcaticcaticcaticca (tickle tickle tickle)

Nursery rhymes are like stories with a fun rhythm. They are short and repetitive, and often have a beginning, middle, and end. This helps build memory skills for children when they are able to recall and retell a favourite rhyme, such as:

  • Three Little Pigs
  • Three Little Bears

Nursery rhymes often include early numeracy skills, using numbers to count forward and backward, such as:

  • 5 Green and Speckled Frogs
  • Zoom, Zoom
  • 10 In The Bed

Rhymes can also introduce children to some simple literacy rules without obvious intention, such as:

Alliteration:

  • Peter Piper Picked a Peck of Pickled Peppers
  • She Sells Sea Shells by the Sea Shore

Onomatopoeia:

  • Old MacDonald’s Farm
  • Baa Baa Black sheep

10 reasons to enjoy sharing nursery rhymes with your children:

  1. When babies hear language it increases their comprehension or understanding; as a child’s vocabulary increases, so does their comprehension. Often present in nursery rhymes are words we don’t usually use in everyday conversation with small children
  2. Children attempt to duplicate the sounds they hear while practicing language. This is how their speech is developed. Babies who are read to will often hold a book and make babbling noises that represent reading aloud
  3. Older children will begin to rhyme nonsense sounds and words as they become better at speaking. If they have been exposed to nursery rhymes early, they have already begun to understand the rhythm and flow of language
  4. Babies develop speech by strengthening their mouth and tongue muscles when replicating the sounds they hear in a nursery rhyme
  5. Listening to stories, whether told or read from books, helps children understand that all stories have a beginning, a middle, and an end. As children gain verbal skills they will begin to tell their own stories. Many nursery rhymes are repetitive in nature, and often tell a little story
  6. Children will struggle later when learning how to write a story if they do not first learn how to tell a story
  7. Many nursery rhymes help with physical development in children. While rhyming,  some activities that develop fine motor skills are clapping, counting with fingers, and making simple gestures
  8. Large motor skills can also be developed while singing a rhyme when children are hopping, rolling, walking, and using their whole body in dramatic play
  9. Many rhymes involve touching and tickling your children. By touching, tickling, and laughing together, your bonds are strengthened, which increases learning capacity in children
  10. It is FUN!

If you would like more information about the Rhymes that Bind program or the program schedule, please check the Centre for Family Literacy website: http://www.famlit.ca/programs_and_projects/programs/rhymes.shtml

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

Sharing Stories vs. Reading Stories

Fam_Lit044Here at the Centre for Family Literacy we like to talk about sharing books with children as opposed to just reading books to them.

When you are sharing a book, as opposed to reading it, it becomes interactive. It becomes much more than just reading the words on the page. Two ways to do this are:

  • Ask open-ended questions such as “What are they doing in this picture?” or “What do you think is going to happen next?” This encourages children to stop and think about what is on the page, to make connections to real life, and to really step inside the story.
  • Find ways to extend the story.

What does it mean to extend a story?

To extend a story is to build on it—to add activities that are related to the subject of the story. But why should we extend stories?

Children learn best by doing—by being active. When they’re being active they are using all five senses to learn, and these multi-sensory experiences build neural connections in the brain. If they are having fun, they will want to do it again and again, and this repetition makes the connections even stronger. This is how children gain the confidence needed to learn new things.

Simple summertime story extender

one dog canoeA great book to share in the summer is one of our favourites, One-Dog Canoe by Mary Casanova.

In One-Dog Canoe, a girl and her dog set out on a canoe trip, just the two of them, when one by one they are approached by other creatures like Loon, Wolf and Moose, who want to join in on the fun.

I set off one morning in my little red canoe.
My dog wagged his tail.
“Can I come, too??
“You bet, I said.
“A trip for two – just me and you?”

It doesn’t take long before this canoe trip becomes a little more crowded!

“I swished past ferns,
where dragonflies flew.
Loon stretched her wings, “Can I come too?”

What you’ll need:

  • The book One-Dog Canoe
  • Stuffed animals or toys to match the characters: Beaver, Loon, Wolf, Bear, Moose, Frog, Dog, and Girl
  • A “canoe” made with construction paper or bark

(You can always improvise using what you have on hand.)

Give each child a character to hold on to (or multiple characters), and as each character comes up in the story, the child holding that character places it in the canoe. At the end of the story, there are too many animals in the canoe and it tips over, so act this out too by dumping out your canoe!

After the story we like to pair it with a song. Rhymes and songs are critical for developing oral language, and oral language is at the root of all future learning.

Try singing “Row Your Boat”

Row, row, row your boat,
Gently down the stream.
Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily,
Life is but a dream.

Row, row, row your boat,
Down a jungle stream.
If you see a crocodile,
Don’t forget to scream.
Ahh!

Row, row, row your boat,
Underneath a stream,
Ha, ha, fooled you,
I’m a submarine!
Bing!

Other ideas:

  • Act out the story using a big box, couch, or outdoor picnic table for the canoe
  • Bring a make-belief canoe into the bathtub
    • Experiment with what floats and what sinks
    • Ask “how many items will fit in your canoe before it tips over?”

Have fun sharing stories! For more ideas on how to make the most of your books, check out Flit, our family literacy app on the iTunes App store here!

 

Children Love Your Stories

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Oral skills include both speaking and listening, and are at the root of literacy. Listening to the rhythm of the language spoken around them will help your children discover the rules of that language. When your children experiment with their voices, they will try to mimic how you speak to them. The words they understand best and use first are the ones that represent what is most important to them, such as names or titles of family members or pets, or their favourite foods and toys. As their understanding of the language expands, so does their vocabulary.

Some simple ways you can expose your children to language are to:

  • Narrate what you are doing around them as if you are telling a story—while you are diapering, bathing or feeding for instance
  • Make up stories or retell stories
  • Tell them what you were like as a child or what they were like as newborns
  • Tell them over and over again about the many things related to what they love most—their families and themselves

Babies and toddlers will pay close attention to a rhyme or story they hear repeatedly to pick out words they are familiar with. When you repeat your story several times, toddlers understand the beginning, middle and end, anticipating what happens next. You can expand your stories as your children gain more experience.

It is important for children to have a good understanding of the mechanics of their language before they can move to the next step—reading and writing! Singing rhymes to your children increases their phonemic awareness, among other things. Phonemic awareness is the ability to hear, identify, and manipulate individual sounds—phonemes—in spoken words. Before children learn to read print, they need to become aware of how the sounds in words work.

Young children, who have been exposed to a rich vocabulary and ways to use it, can become the storytellers. It is a great exercise for a preschooler to be able to retell what happened yesterday, what they saw at the zoo, or what a grandparent gave them on their birthday. They have to remember in what order the things happened without a picture book to help with the story. They may get the details mixed up, but encourage them to tell their story the way they recall it. They are learning how to remember the beginning, middle and end. They are trying to put the correct words in place of images in their minds. Prompt them if needed.

One of the best experiences I have had as a parent is sitting around a table, living room, or campfire with my children, friends and extended family, retelling stories of our past. My older children have heard these stories so many times, they are eager to share them with  the youngest family members. “Tell the one about you and Uncle when you were…” the little ones might say! There are so many stories for them to pick from! Our family shares stories of our elders who are now gone, and our children can retell some of them as if they were there themselves.

So another important thing that happens with oral storytelling, especially when it is about your family, is the bonding that brings you together. Every family has a story! Don’t forget to teach yours to your children, especially since many of our families are spread around the world.

Sing with your child, talk with your child, read with your child, play with your child, everyday!

Check our website for more information about Rhymes that Bind in Edmonton and find a program near you.

hashtag: #RTB_Edm

 

Making Sense of Babbling

Baby-babble

Playing with language is something that babies from all cultures, and from all languages, experiment with naturally. Many of the little rhymes we sing to children, remembered from our own childhoods or learned new, don’t appear to make sense. They can sound like baby babble.

Although the actual words may not make sense, using different muscles while forming new sounds is all very important to building early language skills. Understanding communication between people is also happening regardless of the noise the baby makes. When you say something to your baby, and your body language reflects an open, caring and loving feeling, your baby will respond by trying to mimic your sounds and also your body language.

Here is a rhyme that always reminds me exactly of babies babbling:

Ah ram sam sam, ah ram sam sam
Goolie goolie goolie goolie goolie
Ram sam sam

Ah ram sam sam, ah ram sam sam
Goolie goolie goolie goolie goolie
Ram sam sam

Ah raffie, ah raffie
Goolie goolie goolie goolie goolie
Ram sam sam

For actions to this rhyme, you can try patting your hands on your lap for each ram sam sam, making circle motions with your hands moving around each other for each goolie goolie, and raising your hands in the air for raffie raffie.

Those are all simple motions for small ones to copy. You can make your own movements for any rhyme, just be consistent – your baby will be following along with you.

As a Rhymes that Bind program facilitator, it is very rewarding to see children and their parents building this relationship through the earliest stages of communication. The parents not only experience it first hand, but also by witnessing the other parents and babies in the room who are enjoying the experience.

Building language is powerful and hard work. The next time you hear your baby babbling, take a moment to listen to the different sounds they are trying to recreate. Those are sounds they hear throughout the day. When your child is facing you and you are speaking to them, keep in mind the more animated you look and sound, the longer you will keep their attention. Your child adores you as much as you adore them. They love the sound of the voices they recognize most. Take the opportunity to be silly and play with sounds with your baby. Congratulate yourself for supporting and encouraging your babies’ first sounds that will eventually become their first words!

 

Find more information about Rhymes that Bind and our Edmonton program schedule here

hashtag: #RTB_Edm