BEST STARTS FOR KIDS
Why Talking to Babies is Important
Did you know the greatest rate of learning occurs in the first three years of life?
What age do you think my son was, when he said his first recognizable word?
Although I had already taught hundreds of children by the time my first son was born, this was my opportunity to be there from the beginning. My son was my little learning experiment so I watched, and waited, until I heard it back.
You may believe it, or you may not, but the first time I heard my son say 'Dadada,' back to me was when he was only three-and-a-half months old.
I was astounded. As an early childhood educator, I had always been aware how important early learning was, but I found the time frame until he repeated it incredible. But I've realized since, beginning to make repetitive sounds at that age is normal behaviour, although may often be dismissed as just cooing.
Now if I hadn't been watching for that particular sound I likely would have missed it. But for me it was the sign that my three-and-a-half month old, wanted to communicate with me. And it changed how I related to him.
Her unusual experience created a discussion between us about the importance of early communication. She knew how clever both of my sons were and asked if I'd read to them while they were still in utero. I said I hadn't, but I did sing a lot. I enjoy singing.
I suppose my son's early attempts to communicate with me, encouraged me to talk with him more. And as a result, he was speaking well by about fifteen months. I can recall, when he was twelve months old, standing on the lounge and looking out the window. He said 'Ball, sky, Mummy.' Which was his attempt to inform me about the moon.
This showed me he was already making sense of his world by linking things he knew, and then expressing it through language.
So what did we do to produce capable early communicators?
When I was pregnant I sometimes sang. And when my children were born I carried them around with me in a pouch again sometimes singing softly. And I regularly chatted with them as I did things.
In hindsight, as babies, they would have been exposed to many thousands of words a day just by their proximity to me, as I conversed with others... I don't mind a chat.
This helped them to hear the intonation in my voice, and the pauses that indicate I've finished a thought. They heard familiar words that they began to recognize.
And equally important, because they were close to me, they learnt language made them feel safe.
Again at around five to six months of age (when they were sitting in a high chair to eat) we used the opportunity it provided to make it a language focused activity.
For example: We had small animal figures which visited only during mealtimes. We would ask 'What does the puppy dog say?' And my son would attempt to say 'Bowowow.' Then we'd say 'What does the pussy cat say?' And again he would attempt to say 'Neow.'
Not only was he learning animal names he was attempting to produce intentional sound.
My goal was to build on his ability to produce intentional and varied sounds all of which are precursors to speech.
I read both of my boys on average the equivalent of at least one story/chapter a day, until they were around eight years of age where we either shared reading or they read independently themselves.
Obviously the books became more complex as they grew older. In the early years I often read more than one book with three usually being a maximum.
Reading to children builds their vocabulary, comprehension, and lays the foundations for their own future reading. They begin to understand the importance of reading for sense. As they watch you read, they learn skills of starting at the top left hand side of a page, the way we read from top to bottom, the way we return sweep to the next line as we read, etc.
Just between us...
From when my eldest son was born, like most other mothers, I talked to him. I made nonsense sounds using different mouth shapes. But I did one thing different to mums.
I repeated the word 'Dad, dad, dad,' much more frequently than any other one.
At the time, part of my 'tongue in cheek' reason for choosing those sounds was because I wanted my husband to hear him calling 'Dad, Dad, Dad,' in the middle of the night and get up to him, (which failed.)
But the real reason I chose 'Dad' was, it was easily recognizable for me and I wanted to find out how long it would take until I heard it back.
I know I've always been a little embarrassed to share this information about his early language with others because I expected, either they wouldn't believe me, or they'd just think I was skiting. But interestingly, I was chatting with my hairdresser about my experience and she told me of an interesting experience, that she had with her daughter.
While she was pregnant she exercised frequently, however in her third trimester, instead of exercising in the afternoon, as she had previously, she rested, watching an Australian T.V. drama called 'Neighbours.'
When her eldest daughter was born, the newborn cried a lot, regardless of the time of day or night. However whenever the theme song for Neighbours came on, she would stop crying, until it ceased playing, and then begin crying again. And this happened time after time, day after day. My hairdresser wanted to tape the theme song, to help her pacify her baby.
And there was another day when we were visiting a friend in hospital. He was still a toddler and he started singing the ABC Song. Everyone, including me, stopped and stared, dumbfounded. He was a tiny eighteen-month-old, yet was singing the alphabet. And I had no idea he knew it. It seems he'd picked it up independently from Sesame Street, from when my mother minded him and had the T.V. playing nearby.
And this is where the real benefits of his early language became obvious. As a toddler he began to learn things very rapidly and often independently.
Looking forward, by the age of four, he was recalling complex dinosaur names and incredible detail about them. I used his interest in dinosaurs to scaffold his learning about other things. By the age of seven, he represented his school in public speaking and won the local area championship. He went on to become School Captain and regularly gave speeches.
But what was unusual about this was, my son was a very humble, quiet boy. Without some early support, he would never have had the confidence to put himself forward for any of these things.
I suppose what I'm encouraging with this article is, for you to open your mind to the possibilities, if you assist your child to develop language early.
When we changed their nappies we got in close and smiled, made repetitive nonsense sounds to them encouraging them to speak back to me.
I waggled my tongue and made lalala sounds. I blew raspberries. I said 'mamama.' I smiled.
They were seeing my face close to theirs and I was showing them how to produce sound.
For example: How to blow air through my lips ... which is a precursor to the plosive sounds of 'p' and 'b'.
Try making a 'p' sound yourself. Feel the air expelled.
We read simple board books to them from when my children were around four or five months old. I focused on vocabulary building books that identified things.
At around six months for example, we identified things like animals, vehicles, clothing, etc. And after they could identify a number of animals we'd say, 'Where's the pussy cat?' 'Where's the cow... dog... etc?' and they had to identify the appropriate animal from the group by pointing to it
As they became more capable we chose more complex animals and a wider variety of animals to choose from.
My goal was simply to build their vocabulary, because once they knew what things were, it was easier to build concepts around these things later.
For example: Building on: The cat is under the bed. The shoe is on the chair.
From around nine months on we began to introduce reveal books or peek-a-boo books like the 'Spot ' series.
Our children quickly learnt the books off by heart and would attempt to say which animals they thought were waiting under the bed, or inside the toy box, or behind the lounge, etc by making the sound the animal made. But as their language improved they made rudimentary attempts at saying the name of the animal, all of which I encouraged.
If your child has some of those skills in place prior to school how much easier learning to read would be for them?
For some very sobering reading, The Early Catastrophe: The Thirty Million Word Gap is very thought provoking.
This study identified there can be a thirty million word gap between children from high, and low socio-economic backgrounds, by the age of three.
To learn more go to the following link:
As toddlers my goal was to continue to build on my children's ability to recognize things and on their attempt to speak. And I praised them for any attempt that was even close rather than identify any error and attempt to correct it.
For example, if one of them said 'Neow' instead of 'Meow' for cat I said: 'That's right it was the cat. The cat says Meow.' And over time he corrected himself.
It's important to realize that most of all, we're attempting to create a positive attitude about speech and learning in general.
And most importantly I always spoke to my children like they were intelligent beings.
This ensured they had a well-developed vocabulary and high-level of understanding prior to school. Once they could read for themselves they became capable of using books and computers to obtain information from a very young age.
SOMETHING TO CONSIDER:
If you're talking about birdies and horsies with a four year old, they could be capable of so much more.
While birdies fly... eagles soar.
Did you know that most children learn to produce sounds in English in roughly the same order of difficulty and that 'r' and 'th' are some of the last sounds to develop for most children.
Articulating accurately is the foundation for future reading and writing success.
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