If you want to pour the magic of books and language into your baby or toddler, you often have to run after her, much like you do to comb her hair. It can be very frustrating, and it's all too easy to just let it go.
We mustn't give up! They need us to pursue them, in love and with humor, so that essential speaking, reading and writing skills are fostered through early language stimulation. We commit to this not so we'll produce super-toddlers, but because normal development--reading by six or seven years old--requires that language stimulation start as early as baby and toddlerhood.
Most schools now push kids to read by the end of kindergarten, and I'm not supporting that here. There's nothing wrong with it for many kids, but boys often need more time, without any pressure.
Most of our own toddlers have been so active, that reading anything at all presented a challenge. We had to tweak traditional parent-child lap reading to make even one Goodnight Moon reading happen.
Here are some things we've tried, with success:
- read or sing in the car, with the toddler strapped in
- read or sing before, during or after meals, while the toddler is still in the highchair or booster
- read or sing standing next to the crib, so the toddler is free to move a bit in the crib
- try lap reading when toddler is somewhat drowsy, like before or after a nap
If you don't have a supply of board books, buy them at thrift stores and garage sales and use your local library. Gather lots of books, learn an array of children's songs, and recite traditional nursery rhymes. Sing and chant when you can't read. Even if they're only partially listening, it still helps enormously.
If he wants the same book all day long for a month, read it cheerfully. Repetition is how we learn language, which is why so many books and songs for young children feature repeating parts or patterns, such as "Run, run, as fast as you can. You can't catch me, I'm the gingerbread man!"
What to gather for babies:
- books that feature pictures to point to and name, like ABC and first-word books (they need to learn the names of all the things in their environment, names of animals, etc.)
- simple lift-the-flap books
- touch and feel books
- simple sing-song rhyme books
- simple nursery rhyme books
What to gather for toddlers and preschoolers:
- pattern books with simple sentences that encourage participation (Brown bear, brown bear, what do you see?)
- repetitive books/songs (This is the House That Jack Built, The Jacket I Wear in the Snow, The Green Grass Grows All Around)
- lots of rhyming books (rhyming can take a few years to master--not as easy as we adults think--but it's essential to beginning reading)
- Dr. Seuss and other books that play with phonics and rhyme (hook, book, crook)
- books with simple plots (preschoolers)
- fairy tales (preschoolers)
- concept books (shapes, colors, numbers, ABC, opposites)
Other media for alphabet learning:
- Leapfrog Fridge Phonics (magnetic letter names and sounds, electronic and fun!) - visual, auditory, tactile
- Richard Scarry's Best ABC Video Ever (or DVD?) (visual and auditory learners)
- Leapfrog Letter Factory Video or DVD (visual and auditory learners)
- wood alphabet puzzles (tactile and visual learners, could be auditory if you say each letter and picture)
A note on speech and language issues: Keep in mind that age at first speaking is not necessarily indicative of your parenting skills. Heredity plays a part in language development also. We've worked hard on language, but we're a family of early walkers, later talkers. In addition, all my kids have needed assistance with articulating certain sounds, such as the th. I'm currently helping my four-year-old articulate (produce in the mouth) the w, r, and th sounds. My two-year-old talks plenty, but we understand less than half. She may need the most help with articulation.
Receptive language refers to how much your child understands, and is more of an indicator of potential problems.
If receptive language is delayed, a speech pathologist must determine why your child doesn't know more language. Is the problem a lack of language stimulation dating back to babyhood? In that case a therapist must work to fill your child with language as quickly as possible. Or, the problem may be related to a processing disorder--what happens once the language is received by the brain, for example.
Indicators of receptive language are:
- how many words does she know the meaning of
- how many objects can she point to in books (at your prompting)
- how much conversation can she understand and follow
- how many commands can she follow
Expressive language refers to what your child can say, and how well she can produce speech sounds:
- can she ask for what she needs
- can she use two-word phrases by age two
- how well does she articulate (produce in the mouth) what she wants to say
- at age two, a stranger should understand 1/2 of what your child says, without context
- at age three, a stranger should understand 3/4 of what your child says, without context
- at age four, a stranger should understand 4/4 (or everything) your child says, without context
- a speech therapist can determine whether a problem with a certain sound is just developmental--will correct on its own--or whether weekly speech therapy, and corresponding homework, will be needed. It depends on what the problem is within the mouth, pertaining to the particular sound. Articulation issues--in the absence of overall language problems--are usually corrected in six months to two years with once a week, short meetings with a therapist, and homework at home. Articulation problems on their own do not indicate any disorders.
- your school district will evaluate your child and offer services, if needed, starting at age three. You will need to drive your child to a neighborhood school for the services.
Every child has an individual developmental timetable. My husband's nephew didn't say a word until age 3, but never needed any speech assistance. My brother's son was the same--nothing until age 3, and then sentences. Many famous people didn't talk until far later than average.
All children are different, and it's easy to be alarmed by warning signs that seem to apply to your child. For example, my Mary didn't say much until 27 months old. I had her evaluated and was told she had apraxia of speech (fairly serious neuro/motor issue). I researched it and didn't agree, and I declined speech services for her. She spoke in sentences six weeks later. Research, but then follow your instincts, is my best advice.