Parenting is a weird thing, isn’t it? We get so ahead of ourselves sometimes and we just can’t wait for Harper to walk, and then once she starts walking, we’re like, “remember those days when I didn’t have to chase her up and down the stairs 356 times a day?” By “we” I clearly mean me here, but hopefully I’m not alone. Same goes for talking. We try so hard to get our little ones talking (say “mamma” – come on just say “mamma” – who’s there? it’s “mamma!”) but then the funny thing is, everyone warns you that once they really start talking, you’ll long for the days of goo-goo ga-ga.
But when it comes down it, we do want to hear our babies talk. We want to hear their vocabulary go from “dog-dog” to “mamma, look at the dog” to (hopefully one day) “mom can I take the dog for a walk?” So how do you get from A to B to C? Simple. Today I’m sharing how.
It just so happens that my own mom has been a Certified Speech & Language Pathologist for 35 years and a Reading Specialist for 15, so when I got the idea for this post, I knew I had to consult her on the topic. If you want to ensure that you’re equipping your baby with the essential tools they need to develop early literacy, then read on!
(btw, how cute is my nephew?!)
5 Simple Ways to Promote Early Literacy
1. Read to Your Baby Every Day (But Wait, There’s More!)
True Confession: I sang and told stories to Harper when I was pregnant with her. I only did this when I was driving in the car so people wouldn’t think I was some crazy preggo lady. Now this one should be fairly obvious, but here’s what many people don’t know: it’s not enough just to read, the way you read is so important.
When you read to your baby (whether newborn or 1 year old), think of yourself like a kindergarten teacher reading to a room full of kids. Put on a show. Use your voice to convey tone, emotions, etc. The intonation of your voice is very important as well (basically, don’t talk like Ben Stein), be sure to vary your pitch and inflection. Speak clearly and use hand gestures to accompany the story. Research also shows that kids learn better when they hear something read aloud in a sing-song manner (think: nursery rhymes).
Here are my favorite picks for reading to baby:
Barnyard Dance by Sandra Boynton
Chicka Chicka Boom Boom by Bill Martin, Jr. and John Archambault
Ten Tiny Toes by Caroline Jayne Church
A is for Awesome by Dallas Clayton
2. Narrate Your Day Out Loud
This one is really important, and something many people don’t think to do. Everything you do, no matter what you’re doing, you should narrate aloud to your baby. For example: “Mommy is emptying the dishwasher right now. See how I take the fork out of the dishwasher and put it in the drawer where it belongs?” Now depending on the age of your baby, this could be an invitation to help, or simply just a description of what you’re doing. If you’re a stay-at-home-mom like me, then you may find yourself doing this anyways. You gotta talk to someone, right?
By narrating your actions aloud, you are teaching your little one about the daily “programs” in their life. This is how they learn what it means to wash dishes, put on shoes, walk the dogs, etc. This also is a foolproof way to build their vocabulary exponentially.
3. Limit Electronic Toys
While electronic toys can be a great distraction for a few minutes while you prep dinner, you shouldn’t rely on these toys as learning tools. Any toy that “talks” to your baby should be used minimally. Studies suggest that in order to reap the full benefits of these types of electronic toys, parents need to guide their kids while using them.
Of course, if the point of these toys is to use them as a distraction, then we can’t be sitting there guiding them through it. That’s why it’s best to use them in moderation. For the record, I am not supermom and I am not perfect, and Harper has some really neat LeapFrog and Fisher-Price electronic toys that she likes to play with from time-to-time. My point here is that ultimately, babies and toddlers learn social cues, conversational rules, and the majority of their vocabulary through listening to mom and dad talk and interact with them, not from playing with toys.
4. Go Screen-Free
This is similar to #3, except this involves devices such as phones, tablets, and TVs. Click here to read the full explanation from the American Academy of Pediatrics. You’d be surprised what they have to say!
5. Drop the Baby Babble
With newborns and infants, baby babble is everything – they think they are having an entire conversation with you! When your 3 month old babbles, babble on back. But once baby starts using real words, drop the baby talk. This is essential to their language and vocabulary development. Toddlers learn to talk by repeating what they hear. If you are calling the dog “wittle wuppy” rather than “little puppy” – they will learn by emulating you. This is not a desired outcome! So remember, once you start hearing actual words, drop the baby babble.
Bonus Tip from the ADA: Ditch the pacifier! Read this article to learn more about pacifier use and speech & language delays.
If you have a preschooler or soon-to-be preschooler, be sure to check out 3 Smart & Simple Language Games to Play With Your Preschooler!
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