Talking to Babies in Different Languages

We work with mothers, fathers, grandparents, and caregivers from a number of countries and backgrounds. Together they speak more than 60 languages, and for many of these families, that means that more than one language is being spoken at home.

Children born into these homes are incredibly fortunate. There are many benefits to being able to speak more than one language. Languages create connections between generations, between cultures, and between places all around the world. And having more connections to our world and the people in it is a wonderful gift.

So, how can babies best learn more than one language?

The first part is easy: they need to learn from people. Face-to-face interaction is by far the best way for babies to learn new languages. Videos, apps, and recordings will not help babies. Video chat is the only exception. The second part is that, when they are old enough to speak, they have to use the new language regularly.

When I first started in this field, there were concerns about confusing babies with different languages, so recommendations were quite rigid. But research from the last 10 years  suggests that babies are not that easy to confuse, so you can explore an approach to multiple languages that works best for you and your family.

Here is an excellent guide from Nexus Health in Ontario. It discusses the benefits, different  strategies, and ways children learn multiple languages: When children speak more than one language.

Whether you are fluent in one language or can speak in many, have fun singing and talking with your babies. I promise that they want to hear from you.

Visit the Centre for Family Literacy website for more resources and tip sheets for parents.

 

The 5 W’s of Rhyming

Who?

Anyone can learn a rhyme and use it. Moms, dads, grandparents, childcare providers, siblings, everyone!

Where?

You guessed it, anywhere! The obvious place is at home, but you can use rhymes at the doctor’s office, in the car, at the grocery store or mall, Grandma’s house, and daycare. Wherever you and your child are, a rhyme can be used. You don’t need props, just your voice and your body.

What?

Rhymes help to develop oral literacy through their repetitive and rhythmic nature. When you include them in daily activities, your child learns new words and the rules of language. Rhymes can be songs you remember from your childhood, folk songs, nursery rhymes or lines from a favourite book. They can be chants. They can be made up, or classics like Itsy-Bitsy Spider and Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes.

When?

Anytime! Bathtime, bedtime, playtime, mealtime. During chores, diaper changes, getting dressed, travelling, or running errands. There’s no need to set aside a special time for rhyming. Rhymes can be used during any daily routine or outing.

Why?

We encourage the use of rhymes for a number of reasons:

  1. A rhyme can build vocabulary. The words you hear in a rhyme are probably out of the ordinary. How often do you use the words ‘itsy-bitsy’ or ‘water spout’ in your daily conversations? Your child can learn many new words from rhymes.
  2. A rhyme helps to develop communication skills. Communication skills are important to your child’s development. In addition to oral language, some rhymes teach hand signals. As you’re setting the table for supper, you could sing “I like to eat.” With this rhyme, a pre-verbal child can learn how to say eat, drink, milk, and water in sign language.
  3. A rhyme can lessen frustration for both caregiver and child. A rhyme has the power to turn a meltdown into a calming and enjoyable moment. Think lullabies. You both might even end up laughing!
  4. A rhyme can teach patience and anticipation, when it ends with a tickle or a lift. These skills are invaluable later on in life, but right now your child just wants to be tickled and thrown up to the sky. What they don’t know is that you are preparing their body and mind to deal with stressful situations that may arise in the future.
  5. A rhyme builds healthy relationships between caregiver and child. You are doing wonders for your relationship with your child when you interact with them in this way. You give them a sense of safety and a feeling of being loved. As a result, studies show your child’s mental health will be better now and especially later in life.
  6. A rhyme is fun!

So what are you waiting for? Search your memory for one of your favourite lullabies, or come to a Rhymes that Bind program and learn some new ones! Rhymes that Bind offers numerous old and new rhymes for you to choose from. And you’ll learn new ways to incorporate them into your day.

Check out the Centre for Family Literacy website for a free drop in program near you. http://www.famlit.ca/

In the meantime, here’s the tune and sign language for I like to eat:

I Like to Eat

I like to eat, eat, eat
Apples and bananas (x2)
I like to drink, drink, drink
Milk and water (x2)
I’d like some more, more, more
Please and Thank you (x2)

 

3,2,1,Fun! That’s Right, Numbers are Fun!

When we think of literacy, our minds go directly to reading and words. But literacy is more than words, it is the combination of many everyday skills that you may use without even thinking about or categorizing as literacy.

Numeracy is one such skill, and includes number sense, predictability, calendars, patterns and relationships, measurement, time, puzzles, problem solving, and shapes.

Using numeracy skills and teaching them to your children might be easier than you think. Numbers are everywhere! If you are baking, you can ask your child to help measure, and as they get older they can help double or halve the recipe. Making cookies, you can talk about the shapes, or place them in patterns on the cookie sheet before baking; circle, square, triangle… circle, square, triangle.

Using patterns and shapes to decorate Easter eggs is another great way to talk about colours and patterns. You can also count the eggs, making sure there are enough for the whole family, and that everyone gets the same amount. You can divide other Easter candies or jelly beans according to their colour, and make a pattern or even a jelly bean rainbow.

We all learn differently. Some learn best by reading, some through watching, and some through doing. Children are still finding their best learning style and therefore learn best by doing all three. Keeping this in mind, how might you adapt playing or chores into learning moments?

When possible, try to be aware of the language you are using, or not using, during play and chores. Think of yourself as the narrator; while narrating you are teaching your children language, self-expression, and building on their vocabulary.

Some good numeracy words to use throughout play and learning are:

  • ciircle, square, triangle
  • round, flat, curved, straight, corners
  • same, different, opposite
  • sorting
  • more, less
  • short, long, bigger, smaller

Some good questions to ask:

  • What comes next?
  • Which are the same? Why?
  • Which is different? Why?
  • Where would this go? Why?

While narrating you could also try to include a singing narrative. Singing and music help develop children’s brains and make stronger brain connections, leading to children who develop stronger literacy skills in life.

At the Centre for Family Literacy’s free 3,2,1,Fun! program, you will enjoy learning activities, tools, and tips to support your children in their early literacy development, which leads to success in school and lifelong learning.

If you are unable to access one of our programs, you can download our free parenting literacy resource app, Flit, from Google Play and the App Store. The app gives you over 100 fun literacy activities, recipes, games to do with your children, and tips and tricks to add to your parenting tool box.

You’ll find more information about 3,2,1,Fun! and Flit on our website at www.famlit.ca

 

The Power of a Rhyme

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Have you ever had to wait with a toddler in a doctor’s office listening in vain for those sweet, sweet words, “He’s ready for you,” or in what looks like the longest lineup to the checkout that you’ve ever seen? Or simply had to wait outside a store for their doors to open?

That time I had to run some errands, toddler in tow…

I recently, and reluctantly, took my two-year-old daughter on an errand run to Staples. Thinking this was going to be a quick and easy stop, I arrived to find it closed and had about 30 minutes to wait. I considered just going home, or getting back into the car and handing her a snack and my phone.

Annoyed at my options, I looked around and saw a Home Depot just down the street. I knew getting her to walk there wouldn’t be easy, and I certainly wasn’t prepared to carry her that far. Nor was I in the mood to wrestle her back into her car seat for a one minute drive. While handing her my phone and a pack of crackers seemed like the least frustrating thing to do, there was another way to pass the time that was far more beneficial to both of us.

This is where the power of a simple rhyme came into play.

I took her by the hand and started singing, “Walking, walking, walking, walking. Hop, hop hop…” in the direction of Home Depot and to my delight, she followed, walking, hopping and running. It was fun, it was memorable, it was easy and, we both benefitted from it.

A few things happened in this short time:

  1. Feelings of frustration were lessened. It started out as a frustrating, ‘what do I do now’ situation, but with the use of a simple rhyme, the mood was changed. We were happily making our way down the street, turning a potentially stressful wait into an effortless 30 minutes.
  2. My child was developing oral literacy. Oral literacy has to happen first. A child learns to read and write after they learn to speak. The stronger they are in oral literacy, the stronger the connection and transition to reading and writing. The rhythm, the easy and repetitive vocabulary, and the body actions of a simple rhyme create new pathways in a child’s brain. My daughter wouldn’t have been learning anything while sitting in the car, eyes glued to a phone.
  3. Our relationship was strengthened. The bonding that happens during this kind of interaction with a child is priceless. We laughed, sang, hugged, and held hands. There is no better feeling than seeing a child happy and in love with you! This relationship is really important to any child’s learning, and instead of just killing time, I was sharing a fun and loving moment with my daughter.
  4. It gave me a sense of accomplishment and competence, of being actively involved in my child’s learning. I was able to say, “I made this happen, not my phone. I turned this annoying situation into a fun experience.”

Simple rhymes can be used in the daily activities and care of a child. They are guaranteed to lessen frustration, develop oral literacy, and strengthen relationships between caregiver and child.

Come to a Rhymes that Bind program and see for yourself how fun rhyming can be, and learn a new rhyme or two. Check the Centre for Family Literacy website for a free drop in program near you. And in the meantime, here’s a rhyme to try with your little one:

Walking, Walking (tune: Freres Jacques)

Walking, walking
Walking, walking
Hop, hop, hop
Hop, hop, hop
Running, running, running
Running, running, running
Now we stop
Now we stop

*skating, crawling, skipping

 

Rhymes that Bind is an Adult Literacy Program?

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Nursery rhymes and lullabies for adults? The goal of the Centre for Family Literacy is to empower adult caregivers with the skills necessary to teach and pass on literacy and learning to the children in their care. In our programs, parents are the learners and at home, they are the teachers.

The Rhymes that Bind program is based on strong research that indicates how significant early rhymes, singing, and language play are to children’s learning and literacy development. The rhyming, playing, cuddling, and tickling that occur in the Rhymes that Bind programs are the sensory stimulations that help promote early brain development.

By frequently attending and participating at these programs and then modelling at home, caregivers are often able to memorize their children’s favourite rhymes and use them in daily routines and activities to help increase their children’s vocabulary and overall language development. Many rhymes and songs can also be used as parenting strategies or ’tools’ when you need to transition, soothe, comfort, or distract young children.

Rhymes that Bind is a free drop-in oral literacy program that runs for 10 weeks at a time. Parents and their children, ages 0-3, attend the hour-long program together. In a supportive peer group, parents learn to enjoy rhymes, finger plays, songs, and simple movement games with their infants and toddlers.

Rhymes, stories, songs, and oral language use are modelled by facilitators and discussed in a relaxed, fun, and supportive environment. At each program, there is a snack break half way through. This built-in informal social time gives parents the opportunity to talk with other parents of young children, creating a non-judgmental atmosphere in which to share ideas and experiences or to ask questions of the facilitators.

Printed booklets are handed out at the end of each 10-week session for parents to keep and use at home. The program also offers opportunities for parents to find out about other resources available to them in their community, such as other literacy programs, supports, libraries, and events.

Have you ever used a song or rhyme to distract, soothe, or transition through your day with your toddler? Here are a few good rhyme/song examples from our programs that parents told us they have found useful.

Walking, Walking

Tune: Frere Jacques
This song can be used while shopping, going to get the mail, etc.

Walking, walking (x2)
Hop, hop, hop (x2)
Running, running, running, (x2)
Now we stop!

Continue with other ways to move your body such as skipping, etc

It’s a Beautiful Day

This is a good song to sing when getting up and ready for the day.

It’s a beautiful day. It’s a beautiful day.
It’s a beautiful day for singing.
It’s a beautiful day. It’s a beautiful day.
It’s a beautiful day for clapping.
It’s a beautiful day. It’s a beautiful day.
It’s a beautiful day for walking.

Repeat using whatever the children/parents suggest.

Charlie Chaplin

This song is handy to use when baby has belly aches, gas or just needs a diaper changed.

Charlie Chaplin went to France
To teach the ladies how to dance.
First, they did the Rumba, the Rumba, the Rumba.
Then they did the kicks, the kicks, the kicks.
Next, they did the Samba, the Samba, the Samba.
Then they did the splits, the splits, the splits.

Rock‐A‐Bye Baby

A song list isn’t complete without a lullaby to soothe and/or put baby to sleep.

Rock‐a‐bye baby in the tree top.
When the wind blows, the cradle will rock.
So pull up your blankie,
And close your eyes tight.
‘Cause it’s time for sleeping,
Now baby good night.

Please visit the Centre For Family Literacy website at www.famlit.ca for more information about Rhymes that Bind and our other literacy programs, or download our free app, Flit. You’ll find the link to the App Store and Google Play at the bottom of our website homepage.

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