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Grandparents column: Talking to infants expands vocabularies

2:54 PM, May 8, 2013  |  Comments
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Raising children can be exhausting, and confusing. There is so much information. However, when parents and grandparents sift through it, some principles survive through the decades.

For more information see the grandparentsteachtoo.org and wnmu.org podcasts "Learning Through the Seasons."

Converse with your children

The key to learning is talking with children from birth. Some studies suggest talking to babies when they are in the uterus. This is calming and quiet talk. Tell them about your day. Tell them how much you love them.

Once babies are born the key to early learning from birth to 3 is more talking - the more the better. Parent-to-child talk, even short sentences in a high-pitched voice, is important.

Here are some examples: "Feel Teddy's tummy. It's so soft! Trucks make loud noises. Look, there is a yellow one. Oh, you're crying. Baby feels hungry? Now Daddy is opening the refrigerator. I'll get you something to eat. You'll feel better soon. Is it time to change your diaper? Oh yes, Grandpa thinks we need to change your diaper. Let's go to the changing table and put on a new diaper." There is complete focus on the baby here.

Child development expert William Staso writes that children should be spoken to as if they understood every word you were saying. In the beginning months your baby will not understand the words you say - but there is much about your voice patterns and the word sounds you make that are important. Good foundations of language begin shortly after birth and affect the brain for a lifetime.

Is conversation difficult?

Yes, but it can be done with a little help. It is common for adults to be good at giving directions like "Eat four more peas," but we often have difficulty talking with children. They need to hear 3 million words of conversation before entering school based on extensive research by Hart and Risley. The greater the number of words children hear before age 3, the higher their IQ, and the better they will do in school. TV, DVDs and computer games do not do the job.

The city of Providence, R.I., just received a $5 million grant from the Bloomberg Philanthropies' Mayors Challenge to teach people to put down smartphones, carry on conversations while doing simple fun activities and read out loud. Activities like art, playing cars, going for a stroll and playing together with figures and blocks on the floor naturally lead to conversation.

Then when adults can't think of anything else to discuss with children of any age, reach for a library book from your pile and begin reading to your kids. Reading several times a day and every day counts as conversation toward the 3 million words.

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Football fans

If you've ever answered "Who has the ball?" with "It's halftime," you might recognize The Airhead. Check out the characters in our cartoon gallery of oddball fans.

Special Reports