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.

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

 

Children Love Your Stories

iStock_storytelling

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

 

Rhymes that Bind is Growing!

At Rhymes that Bind, we use rhymes and rhythms to help build long-lasting language skills and understanding. The program is free to attend, an hour in length, and we offer a little snack midway. Children from birth to preschool, along with their caregiver, enjoy learning new songs and actions to repeat later in their daily activities.

This fall, our Rhymes that Bind program is growing in Edmonton. Not only by numbers of family participants, but by new site locations as well. We have added four new sites this year. Each of the sites are ready for more families to attend.

RTBmultGEN07 (27)2Two of the new locations are at Castle Downs and Londonderry Libraries. We are also excited to add two new intergenerational programs welcoming seniors (without children) to visit. We affectionately call them Grandmas and Grandpas. These new intergenerational sites are at Shepherd Care Kensington Campus, and at Ottwell Senior Centre. For a complete listing of locations and the schedule, visit our website at http://bit.ly/1dApWpt

Every fall it is so nice to return to our programs, as summer is our longest break. We welcome our returning families, some with their own new additions. We also welcome many new families to the program. It is always heartwarming to see how the children have grown and hear their stories of summer activities and achievements. Already we have friends joining their friends and loving the program.

Here in Edmonton, the weather is always a hot topic. Our seasons bring about drastic changes, and day to day the temperature can vary greatly. Even young children notice the change in the air, their faces and noses getting chilly. Leaves are falling everywhere; take the opportunity to sing a song about the seasonal changes!

This can be sung to the familiar tune of Jingle Bells:

Leaves2Leaves are falling, leaves are falling,
One fell on my nose
Leaves are falling, leaves are falling
One fell on my toes
Leaves are falling, leaves are falling
Falling on my head
Leaves are falling, leaves are falling
Yellow, orange and red

Alternatively, when the snow flies:

Snowflakes falling, snowflakes falling
One fell on my nose
Snowflakes falling, snowflakes falling
One fell on my toes
Snowflakes falling, snowflakes falling
Falling on my head
Snowflakes falling, snowflakes falling
Now its time to sled!

hashtag: #RTB_Edm

The End of Winter Means a New Garden… Yes, it Will Happen!

Eventually it will warm up and our thoughts may turn to planting a garden – at least one can always hope. Over the winter I debated about how to do my garden this year. I always have a ton of weeds and not enough time to keep up, but I still like having a garden. To find a solution, I went “digging” for information.

I found an idea that I’d previously disregarded because I have always done my garden the way my mom did hers when I was little. But if I want to get rid of weeds without using chemicals, the easiest thing to do would be to just cover up the garden. I’ve decided to compromise and cover half the garden with containers to kill the weeds – especially after finding this neat growing tip.

What is this brilliant idea? Well, normally part of my garden is potatoes and they take up a lot of room. This idea takes that horizontal space and makes it vertical – you go up instead of out, using much less space! Growing potatoes vertically also seems like a fun way to garden. How is it done? This website has some instructions:

http://www.kiddiegardens.com/growing_potatoes_in_tires.html

What does this have to do with literacy? The potato garden will be a project with my kids this summer. If we decide to use tires, as suggested, there will definitely be some decorating to do. We will have to decide whether we need weed cloth under the containers. We will need to figure out how many tire containers to plant. We will measure the potato plants regularly so we know when we have to put on more dirt. We will need to figure out how much water to give them and when. All of this is going to use a lot of vocabulary, numeracy and creativity.

The other thing we will do is read a great book called The Enormous Potato by Aubrey Davis. Asking questions about what my kids think will happen when our potatoes are ready to be harvested will be a fun way to tie in the book. Also, we’ll talk about what we’ll do with the potatoes at the end and look up recipes for a great way to close the project in the fall.

As I said in my last post – there will be an end to winter and a time to start planting. Have fun with your children, get dirty, and make it a literacy rich experience!

 

Play! Have fun and learn

PLAY! A simple word with so much meaning. How unfortunate that as we get older we forget how important it is to stop and have fun. Play.

Play is how children learn. They learn movement through play; they build the core muscles and develop their large motor skills — essential before perfecting the small motor skills they will later need for holding a pencil and commanding it on paper.

Crawling, rolling, spinning, jumping, hopping and skipping are all part of big body play. Being messy while learning to feed yourself, creating with playdough (rolling, kneeding), finger painting, building with blocks and finger tapping to melodies are all part of small body play. For a child, all of these skills are critical to developing the muscle control needed for the rest of their lives. Children are not hardwired to sitting still. They need to be moving and using all of their senses to really learn from their environment and experiences. They need to touch, taste, smell, feel, hear and talk about what they are doing.

Play is fun! Play also encourages the brain’s creativity centre. Play promotes language skills. When we are playing we can be in deep thought as we are trying to build that tower or create that sculpture. We learn to keep trying when it doesn’t work out. We learn problem solving when we have to try again. We can be loud while pretending we are animals in the jungle or aliens in outer space, or race car drivers racing in our cardboard boxes. Whether your child likes playing aloud or quietly, you have the opportunity of using language with them. Get down on your child’s level and play alongside them. With very young children it is okay to narrate their play. You are building on their vocabulary as you comment on the colours, shapes, sizes or sounds around them. Don’t be afraid of making up stories and singing your own tunes. Your child adores the sound of your voice. Play encourages relationship building. Children won’t necessarily recall the meals they ate or the clothes they wore, but they will have memories of the days spent sitting on the floor singing, laughing, tickling, playing hide and seek, and being silly with their parents.

When children are playing together they are learning so much more than we can hope to teach them any other way. They are learning social awareness, emotional thinking, and more. They are learning to compromise, be in relationships, and to take turns. This all seems very simple on one level, but it really goes quite deep and is worth investing some time to ensure you promote play in your family life. With our busy schedules and hectic lives, we need to remember that playing is crucial and there is no substitute.