Kristen DiPaolo | CWK Network
"I try to always talk to her a lot and enunciate well so she can understand, or at least hear the sounds of the words and know how they should sound."
- Cristine Schulz, Mother -
Five-month-old Natalie can't understand the words, but her mom talks to her anyway. Cristine Schulz says, "It's almost like talking to yourself in a way, except you are focusing it toward the child." The staff at a good pre-school will do the same. Meredith Wilson of Crème de la Crème pre-school in greater Atlanta says, "When they are changing their diaper for example, they are talking to the infants about what they're doing. 'I'm changing your diaper, I'm getting out the wipes.'"
A University of Kansas study shows disadvantaged kids hear 13 million words by the time they are four, but affluent kids hear 45 million. Terri Beck, executive director of the childhood literacy organization Everybody Wins! Atlanta, says, "That discrepancy clearly either starts you on the fast track or behind the ball."
Experts say hearing words and sentences build a child's vocabulary. Beck says, "Anytime you can give your child a story to process or comprehend or words to put in their bank, it's very important."
Vocabulary is a key ingredient in learning to read, which is the most important academic skill of all.
It's important to start early. According to research at the University of Virginia, 90% of kids who read poorly in first grade never become proficient readers. Beck says, "When your child gets further and further behind, they run the risk of not going to school because they don't feel successful in school."
She says building verbal skills is easy…and it's free. Talk to your kids, point things out, tell them stories, and use complete sentences. Beck says, "Ask your child questions. Ask them in the form of a proper question and when they answer you, ask them to respond to you in a sentence."
By Larry Eldridge
CWK Network, Inc.
Research shows that the majority of brain growth happens before a child is 3 years old, so the time from birth to 3 is a very crucial stage in a child's life. Consider the following statistics developed by Strategies for Children:
At birth, a child's brain is about 25 percent of its approximate weight at adulthood. At age 3, a child's brain has reached about 90 percent of its full potential.
By the age of 3, the brains of children are two-and-a-half times more active than the brains of adults – and remain that way throughout the first decade of life. There is a drop in activity level during adolescence.
Studies have shown the visual cortex, the part of the brain primarily responsible for sight, has a sensitive period in the first few years. If the proper stimuli are not achieved, permanent damage can occur.
At birth the parts of the brain that handle thinking, remembering, and the emotional and social behaviors are not very developed. The positive emotional, physical and intellectual experiences a child has in the earliest years of life are necessary for the growth of a healthy brain.
By the age of 2, synapses in a child's brain are double those in adults. Experiences of childhood determine which neurons are used in the brain's wiring circuits. Neurons that are not used may die .
Research indicates "critical periods" in development when the environment can influence how an individual's brain is "wired" for functions.
Researchers have found that children who don't play much or are rarely touched develop brains 20 to 30 percent smaller than normal for their age.
By Larry Eldridge
CWK Network, Inc.
A child's depth of vocabulary goes hand-in-hand with his/her reading skills. And while reading skills can be honed at school, they ultimately are learned and defined in the home. Experts at Parents magazine have developed the following tips for helping your child develop his/her vocabulary:
Talk frequently – From the moment you meet your newborn, talk to him. During infancy, encourage him to keep up his part of the conversation by responding to his coos and babbles. Introduce meaningful words. For instance, when you're placing a soft blanket on him, say "soft." Guide his hands over it and repeat "soft." He'll soon associate words with their meanings. As your child moves from babbles to words, continue to encourage conversation. Ask questions. Listen attentively to what your child has to say.
Use precise words – The more words your child hears, the more he'll learn. Instead of asking him to give you a toy, ask for "the tiny red car." On an outing to the zoo say, "See the lioness and her cubs" rather than "See the animals."
Let your toddler explore – Being overprotective will backfire in the long run. Avoid saying "No!" and divert your child to safer ways of exploring – for example, have him climb on a pile of pillows rather than the coffee table.
Use synonyms – While "big" or "small" may perfectly describe an object, substituting words such as "tremendous" or "tiny" expand your child's word bank in both enormous and minuscule ways.
In addition, consider adopting the following reading tips from the Public Broadcasting Service to help your child learn to read and develop a lifelong love for reading:
Read together every day – Read to your child every day. Make this a warm and loving time when the two of you can cuddle close together. Bedtime is an especially great time for reading together.
Give everything a name – You can build comprehension skills early, even with the littlest child. Play games that involve naming or pointing to objects. Say things like, "Where's your nose?" and then, "Where's Mommy's nose?" Or touch your child's nose and say, "What's this?"
Say how much you enjoy reading together – Tell your child how much you enjoy reading with him or her. Look forward to this time you spend together. Talk about "story time" as the favorite part of your day.
Read with fun in your voice – Read to your child with humor and expression. Use different voices for different characters. Ham it up!
Know when to stop – If your child loses interest or has trouble paying attention, just put the book away for a while. Don't continue reading if your child is not enjoying it.
Be interactive – Engage your child so he or she will actively listen to a story. Discuss what's happening, point out things on the page and answer your child's questions. Ask questions of your own and listen to your child's responses.
Read it again and again and again – Your child will probably want to hear a favorite story over and over. Go ahead and read the same book for the hundredth time! Research suggests that repeated readings help children develop language skills.
Talk about writing, too – Draw your child's attention to the way writing works. When looking at a book together, point out how we read from left to right and how words are separated by spaces.
Point out print everywhere – Talk about the written words you see in the world around you and respond with interest to your child's questions about words. Ask him or her to find a new word every time you go on an outing.
Get your child evaluated if you suspect a problem – Please be sure to see your child's pediatrician or teacher as soon as possible if you have concerns about his or her language development, hearing or sight.