Reading: Words and Music Games For Toddlers and Twos.

 

In my last post, I wrote about Claire’s language development and my concerns. While waiting impatiently for her first in-person assessment by a speech pathologist, I thought I’d get a couple books from the library to see what else I can be doing to help her with language acquisition.

The first one, Word and Music Games for Toddlers and Twos: More Than 150 Brain-boosting Activities, by Dr. Bonnis Macmillan, is a super practical little collection of ideas on how to interact with your child. It sounds sort of obvious — shouldn’t interacting with one’s child just happen? Well, no, I’m realizing. Interacting with tiny people is a skill. Some people (like my dad) are born geniuses at it, while others of us need a little help figuring out how to talk all day to someone who is not yet able to converse. I often find myself just narrating the events of the day because I know baby needs to hear me talk, but I’m pretty sure she just tunes that out; this book gave me ideas for how to directly engage her in age appropriate ways.

Some examples:

In the bath: “Pick up the fish and say ‘Oh look! The fish is diving, diving, diving under your leg! What is it doing?” Make it dive several times under the toddler’s leg and see if she can tell you ‘It is diving'” (10). [Continue with “the soap is washing, washing, washing…” “the boat is zooming, zooming, zooming…” — You get the idea.]

Simple songs: “Describe what you or your toddler are doing by singing new words to the tune of Row, Row, Row Your Boat: ‘Ride, ride, ride in the car (on the bus, on your trike, in the stroller, on mummy’s knee, on daddy’s shoulders…), Gently down the street, Merrily, merrily, merrily, I wonder who we’ll meet?'” (88). [Variations follow; you could go on forever.]

Why I found this book useful:

As you may already be realizing, for the parent many of the games and songs are mind-numbingly repetitive, which is of course exactly what small children need in order to learn language. According to the “Research Says” feature which scatters stats and info throughout the book, “the average number of words parents address directly to their child each hour varies from as little as 600 to 2,000. The more words children hear, the better their vocabulary and IQ scores” (13). Admittedly, I find this stat a little ridiculous: 600 hundred words an hour is 10 words a minute every minute of every hour (which doesn’t sound that bad to me); 2,000 words an hour is about one word for every two seconds of every hour. I cannot imagine keeping up this constant of a stream of words on a regular basis.

That said, I recognize simple the truth behind the research: the more I talk to Claire, the more she will talk, and that’s what I want. I admit to needing help with this. When we’re sitting on the floor playing blocks, my conversation might go something like this: “Where is the red block? Here is it,” followed by 30 seconds of silence while she adds it to the tower. This book shows how to turn that simple interaction into a more active and engaging word activity that now would look more like, “Where is the red block? The block is on my head. Can you put it on your head? Where is the green block? The block is on my foot. Can you put it on your foot?…” Is it overkill? Maybe. But I’m willing to give it a try. There a million books out there on improving communication skills with with your partner; this book gives your tools for improving communication skills with you little one.

Word of Caution:

Like much “expert” advice, I find the “Research Says” feature to be often guilt-inducing. Like this: “Children spoken to most by their parents during the first 3 years of life end up with superior reading, spelling, speaking and listening abilities 5 years later” (67). In my mind this translates to: if five years from now my child doesn’t have superior language skills, it’s my fault for not having talked to her enough. So it’s wise to remember the lyrics to an old Sarah McLachlan song, “there’s always some reason to feel not good enough,” and just take what you can from this book. Feel good about working on adding a couple ideas to your repertoire of baby communication skills and don’t beat yourself up if you never hit the magical 2,000 words an hour (because, really, does anyone?).

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Things You Learn When Your Toddler is a Late Talker.

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One of our favorite photos is of me propping a newborn Claire on my lap as my mother reads her a book. Even at that young age, she is clearly focusing on the book. She’s always been interested in books and, as academic parents, we assumed she would be word-focused like us — whether it be the written or spoken word. She walked fairly early at barely 11 months, and we were sure she would talk early, too.

But at 21 months, although she signs a lot, she has few spoken words. And I am anxious about it, even though everyone tells me not to be. Here are some things I’ve learned:

  1. It is very hard not to compare your child with other children. When Claire was just about a year, we were at a mom’s group gathering and one mom mentioned that her baby would stand in her crib and shout, “Mama!” I felt my first shot of angst. Claire had not yet said “mama.” Even now, she says “mama” often when I’m out and she wants me, but rarely says it directly to me. Children develop at different paces, I know this. But it’s harder to accept when you feel like your child is “behind.”
  2. Start early. Our pediatrician suggested that if Claire was still not talking much by 15 months we should start the process for seeing a Speech and Language Pathologist (SPL). At 16 months we had a phone evaluation and were sent to a class called Encouraging First Words. In the class, the SPL told us they would call us in about 2 months because many babies have a language explosion around 18 months. When they called around that time and she had not had The Explosion, we were referred to audiology for a hearing test. We just went to that appointment yesterday. The next step (after audiology sends their report) is to be booked for an actual assessment with an SPL. I suspect Claire will be close to two by the time that happens. Many people have stories of a family member who spoke late and had no other development issues. Waiting and crossing our fingers and hoping all is well, however, seems like too big a gamble to me. And the SPL said as much at the class, noting that many people wait until kindergarten to really address a speech delay, by which time bad habits may have set in. If by two or three Claire is talking like crazy, then no harm done in having gone through these steps — but if she is not talking, then I will be very happy to have jumped through all these hoops now and have specialists in place.
  3. Keep signing. I really have no idea what we would have done without signing. Even just knowing if Claire is hungry or thirsty is priceless, but there are many other useful things she can sign to help us understand her needs and wants. A common misconception is that signing delays speech, but the SPL assured us that this is not the case at all.  Several parents in the class noted that their children were biting and she suggested that this was from frustration at not being able to communicate. Signing alleviates this frustration, and, when combined with spoken words, actually helps to develop spoken language. There are lots of great videos on YouTube to help you teach your child to sign.
  4. It is super annoying when people say, “Oh just wait: once she starts talking, you’ll wish she never had.” Uh, no. I cannot wait to be able to truly communicate with my child. I will never tire of hearing her voice (unless maybe she’s 16 and screaming ‘you’re ruining my life!’ when I refuse to let her drive to Burning Man with her boyfriend).