Sunday, January 15, 2012

Every Day Language Learning: Dishwashers and Socks

As a working mom, life is a perpetual balance of domestic duties, professional tasks, and child-related entertainment. When my son was young, I often attempted to maintain this balance by entertaining him with toys, books, and activities while he was awake and then feverishly trying to get all of the household chores done while he napped or after he went to bed each night. This worked well...except for the fact that the chores were rarely completed, I got way too little sleep, and I tended to be a bit, um, cranky due to both of these things.

With my daughter, I'm doing things differently. We still play and read books for sure. But I've also realized how much more fun chores can be when she is a part of them. And how much learning occurs inside those household tasks if I just slow them down a bit.  Recently, we've been having a blast unloading the dishwasher and sorting the laundry.  (No, really. Stop laughing).

Luckily, learning is easily woven into both these activities. The biggest thing we do right now is sort things.  Sorting is a cognitive skill that really begins to emerge in the toddler years. As we unload the dishwasher, I let her sort the utensils into the right baskets; when we do the laundry, she sorts the clean clothes into piles of shirts, pants, socks and undies.  (Yes, it helps that she's an agreeable little girl who wants to do these things with me. I think her propensity for sorting suggests that she may have inherited her organizational gene from me. Poor thing).

I didn't expect her to sort all on her own right away, of course. Laundry, for example, started out with just finding the socks and putting them in a sock pile. Then we moved to separating the socks from the shirts. Now-a-days, she sorts all the clothes out of the whole basket, but I still have to start the piles for her.  Lest you think that I am just using some form of child labor, let me assure you that I sit right on the floor next to her (almost) the whole time.  We go slowly, and there is lots of praise and excitement when she puts things in the right piles. Sometimes we even sing to a simple tune like Where is Thumpkin.

Where's the shirts? 
Where's the shirts? 
There they are! 
There they are! 
You found the shirts, 
You found the shirts, 
Yes you did. 
Yes you did!  

(I'm not a cool mom, but she seems to love me anyway).

Why is sorting important? It helps children begin to understand the concept of groups of things. A shirt is still a shirt- whether it's red or blue or tattered or new.  Forks are forks whether they are small or big.  Sorting helps children see the similarities in objects, even when the objects are a bit different at the same time.  As they learn this, they gain the ability classify things in their mind--to create groups of similar things; this skill is important for language and eventually math as well.

Beyond sorting, laundry and dishwashing provide lots of opportunities for language, too. My daughter and I discuss the utensils and clothing items as we go along. At first I used parallel talk and self talk to model the words for her; as she got older and started talking more, I started using choices and expansion to grow her phrases longer.  We often weave in concepts, too: size concepts (big, small, long, short),  color concepts (red shirt, blue shirt), possession (daddy's shirt, mommy's sock), descriptive concepts (soft socks, dirty pants), number concepts (one sock, two socks) and position concepts (fork in, fork out) are all emerging in the toddler years. 

Who knew dishwashers and socks could be so useful for learning?

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Saturday, January 7, 2012

Top Ten Tips For Late Talkers

Worried about your late-talker?  Here are my top ten tips for helping your little one grow.
  1. Get his hearing checked. Some parents assume that if their child passes the newborn hearing test in the hospital, they no longer have to worry about hearing. This isn't true-- your child can pass the newborn hearing test and still have a hearing loss.  If your child is a late-talker, talk to your pediatrician about having a formal audiological evaluation.
  2. Take a peek at his use of gestures, his play, his eye contact, and his understanding of language. Find out more about what he should be doing in each of these areas here and here. If you notice that he is lagging behind his peers in any of these areas, talk to your pediatrician about a referral to your early intervention program. Late-talkers are more likely to need intervention if they have delays in gestures, play, eye contact, and/or receptive language.
  3. Read repetitive books and sing repetitive songs with him.  Hearing the same pattern over and over will help him anticipate what is coming next. Soon, you'll find that he starts filling words into those books and songs when you pause just a bit before the important words.
  4. Help him learn the power of words by saying, "Ready, Set, Go!" before doing something fun. Do this over and over and watch as he starts to fill the word "go" into the phrase.
  5. Talk, talk, talk to him. Use parallel talk, description, and self talk to describe what he is doing and seeing in short phrases.
  6. Pair your words with actions. Children are more likely to imitate a word when the word goes along with a familiar, repeated action.
  7. Think about using Baby Signs as a bridge to verbal communication. Parents sometimes worry that children will become dependent on signs, but research suggests the opposite: using signs and gestures with children can increase their language skills.
  8. Use communication temptations--change your late-talker's environment to give him more opportunities to communicate. For example, put his favorite toys in a see-through box. Or put his snacks up in a cupboard so he has to ask for them.  When he wants something, wait a bit to see what he does. He might say the word! If he doesn't, say the word for him and wait just a bit. If he doesn't imitate you, give him what he wants and repeat the whole process the next time.  Over time, he'll start using the word before you do.
  9. If he's not making progress, or if you just want some additional help, don't hesitate to talk to your pediatrician about a referral to an early intervention program. We don't bite. I promise. :)
  10. Love him. More than anything else, children need to be in loving, responsive relationships with their parents.  All of the above tips are important, but this is the most important one of all. 

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