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August 2, 2012 / the speech monster

Seven pups bounce and seven pups pounce

Here’s my next installment of what to do with the little ones. I wrote this based on what I know about infant and toddler language development, and from my own experiences with my little one, baby B. This was written when he was about 4 months old. 
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Baby B’s are getting louder and louder, and his repertoire continues to increase. Between now and the next couple months he should start babbling. Meaning, he should start adding some consonants to his sound system (e.g., saying “bah-bah” and not just “ah”). These days, his crazy mom has been babbling lots to him using all the consonants in the English sound system. At times, I have also been babbling using Mandarin consonant sounds. When I do that, I notice baby B’s eyes attentively looking at my mouth, watching how it purses and releases, or how my tongue lifts and drops. It’s fascinating watching him watch me or his dad when we speak.

Reading has also become very much a routine in our household. No matter what we do, we try to read at least one book a day to him. Some days, I don’t even read the words in the book but just take a book and look at the pictures and describe them. At this age, it’s not so much the content; it’s more the act of reading. In fact, I also highly recommend picture books to parents because that gives parents the freedom to label the picture and even come up with an imaginative story themselves. (It’s also a great way to facilitate narrative skills in toddlers or pre-schoolers who cannot yet read.)

Language – speaking and listening – is the foundation for reading. A lot of parents don’t realize that, but a lot of kids who eventually go on to be good readers (except the ones who are diagnosed with dyslexia) have a good background in language. They know how to speak and understand and know how to manipulate sounds (e.g., do rhyme). That’s why when you look at speech development checklists from health nurses or pediatricians, they often ask if your child is babbling or using a variety of different sounds. This is a good speech and language development checklist I found for parents with infants or toddlers if you don’t already have one.

The first time I read a book to baby B, I’ll read the words. I use my finger to track the words I’m reading so he pays attention to the print. After that, I read the same book over with him for the next week or so (I usually have about 2 – 3 books in rotation during the week) and try other ways to explore and read to him from the same book. Here are some:

Labeling things in the book. When we read the same book again – and we do, many times over – I look for other things to talk about in the book. There are lots of other things to talk about: the color of the boy’s shirt, or the type of dog, etc. Repetition is a great way to help a child learn new words.

Playing silly word rhymes, e.g., when I see a page that says “7 pups pounce…” I go “and 7 pups bounce!” (even if they’re not part of the page) and “7 pups hounce,,,” Yes, “hounce” is not part of the English lexicon but it rhymes with pounce and bounce, and that is what I want to expose him to. Word games can be so fun and educational at the same time. Little kids especially from their toddler years LOVE them. Most little kids innately find silly rhymes funny (that’s why Dr Seuss books are such a hit!).

Using lots of action words when talking about the pictures in the books. E.g., “The puppies are pouncing!” “The puppies are rolling the colorful ball!” Nouns and action words are the first types of words that kids pick up, and it’s best to use the -ing version of the action word instead of just saying “He sits” say “He is sitting.” Developmentally, we want children to be able to use the “is + -ing” structure by around 2.5 years old (a lot of kids will developmentally say “He sitting” first and then progress to add the “is” in between). We also use slightly longer structures to extend the kid’s sentence structure, but not too long.

And as always, being animated and constantly moving because we know the little ones can’t sit still for too long.

Here are some other good websites to find suggestions on promoting literacy with your little one. Remember, language AND reading complement each other. Read AND talk about the books with your little ones to get the best literary experience.

Make Reading First. Lots of suggestions on ways to read to your child.

Caring for kids. It also has a literacy milestone chart you can use for your child.

Zero to Three. An excellent article about the roots of literacy: language!

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