language

How Can Play Promote Language Development?

Written by Alexandria Pistilli, M.Sc. Candidate Child Studies Concordia University.

Montreal, Canada.

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The first few years of a child’s life are critical for language development. From birth to around 5 years of age, children’s brains are wired in such a way that it is easier for them to learn languages during this period. For this reason, the environment that we create for children can either promote or limit opportunities for language growth. Luckily, research shows that play can increase children’s language abilities.

1-    Ask wh-questions: Wh-questions (who, what, where, when, why, how) have shown to not only increase children’s vocabulary size, but also their verbal reasoning skills. This will allow you to encourage speech from your child while you both have lots of fun. Extend on what your child’s response (e.g. “What are you making?” “Toast” “Are you making toast for your dolly?” and have them question their actions (e.g. “What are you making?” “A tunnel” “Why do you need to make a tunnel?”). Point out objects and ask them about their properties, what they can be used for, etc. 

2-    Encourage a conversation. Allow your child the opportunity to respond to your questions. Our first instinct is to answer for them when they are taking time to respond, however, when we allow children time to think, they may surprise us! Even when their response doesn’t make much sense, go with the flow, and continue prompting them for more.

3-     Let your child take the lead. This will make sure they are engaged and that they are following their own interests. They are more likely to grasp onto language when they are immersed in their experience. Children have much shorter attention spans than adults do, so it is normal for them to switch activities rather quickly. As long as they are enjoying what they are doing, they will be more attuned to what you are telling them, making them more likely to pick up on new words. During play, it is important that you are supportive, attentive, and responsive. However, this is one of those situations where your child can benefit from being the boss!

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4-    Take play outside. During the warmer months, going outside can be refreshing for kids. Washable paint or sidewalk chalk is a great way to work on language in a creative way. By asking your child about what they are drawing, they will practice their language skills by responding to you in a situation that is different from what they are used to. It is important to generalize play to different contexts (so not just in the play room of your home). Practicing to write their name in sand, paint, dirt, etc will encourage your child to experiment with their writing skills too. This is a good opportunity to let them explore nature, see animals, and the changing on the seasons.

5-    Use familiar themes. It is easier for children to re-enact themes that they have scene before such as shopping, eating, playing doctor, teacher, restaurant, etc. You can add characters or plot twists to get your child thinking and practice their problem solving skills. This will extend their language and thinking skills. 

6-    Use props during story time. Interactive storybook reading and guided play are two great ways that parents can get involved in stimulating this growth in children. Accompanying books with props is a great way to engage your child while reading to them. For example: If the book is about farm animals, use toys or puppets to act out the story. Acting out parts of the story with your child will not only make reading fun, but it will get your child talking and allow them to be immersed while you teach them new concepts and words.

7-    Be present.  The best way to communicate with your child is when there are no interruptions- refrain from using your phone or watching tv in the background. Use this block of time to have some fun with your child while helping them build their language skills. Working together to complete a task such as a puzzle or building a tower or even playing princess involves both the effort of yourself and your child. Remember, you’re bonding with your child, practicing important skills with them, and most importantly, having fun!


References:

  1. Rowe, M., Leech, K. & Cabrera, N. (2017). Going beyond input quantity: Wh-questions matter for toddlers’ language and child development. Cognitive Science, 41, 162-179.

  2. Ribot, K., Hoff, E. & Burridge, A. (2017). Language use contributes to expressive language growth: Evidence from bilingual children. Child Development, 1-12.

  3. Massey, S. (2013). From the reading rug to the play center: Enhancing vocabulary and comprehensive language skills by connecting storybook reading and guided play. Early Childhood Education Journal, 41(2), 125–131. doi:10.1007/s10643-012-0524-y.

  4. Williams, M., & Rask, H. (2003). Literacy through play: How families with able children support their literacy development. Early Child Development and Care, 173(5), 527-533. doi: 10.1080/0300443032000088276

  5. Ginsburg KR. (2007). The importance of play in promoting healthy child development and maintaining strong parent-child bonds. American Academy of Pediatrics. 119, 182-191.


3 Important tips for selecting books for your children

Written by Cindy Hovington, PhD. Founder of www.curiousneuron.com

Montreal, Canada.

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I recently gave birth to my second child and I have enjoyed seeing this brand new little person learn something new every day. I often hear people say that an infant "just lies there", but I don't see it that way. Their brain is taking in everything they touch, see or hear and reading to them is one of the best ways to stimulate them at this young age.

Reading books as of birth helps many aspects of brain development. With my own children, as of 3 days old, any moment they were awake became "reading time". Especially with newborns who still can't grab anything to play with, reading to them should be the main learning activity to stimulate them while they are awake. You might only be able to read a few pages to them at first but slowly you will increase it to a book or even a few books in a row. Reading to them as infants will help them develop their language skills, build their visual skills, reading skills, develop their attention span and more.

Here is a list of some of my favourite books along with suggestions of how to engage your child as you read:

0-12 months:

TIP #1: Look for books that have you mimic animal sounds, give you the opportunity to point to objects. and that have very short sentences.

  • Moo, Baa La La La is a simple book that is a great starter for infants and has animal sounds.

  • With Dear Zoo, you can also make the animal sounds and have them lift the flap.

  • Good Night Moon and The Very Hungry Caterpillar are great to point to objects and use their finger to point to it.

  • As your child develops the ability to grab, take their hand and have them turn the page as you ask them to "tun the page". Eventually when you will ask them to turn the page they will do it on their own.

  • As your child approaches the age of 1, you can ask them to point to an object. For example, you can ask them to point to the "red balloon" in Goodnight Moon. I also have lots of fun taking my babies index finger and placing it in the little holes of The Very Hungry Caterpillar book. While making a "munching sound" I pretend their finger is the caterpillar eating the fruit.

12 months - 24 months:

TIP #2: Look for books that have fun rhymes and words that a child can easily learn to pronounce. Some repetitiveness is also great to help them remember and learn. 

  • Little Blue Truck is one of our favourites in our house and I love that it teaches kids to be kind to one another. The rhymes and animals sounds are fun for kids. 

  • Flip, Flap, Fly is fun to read, and I always have my child tell me which animal is coming up on the next page.

  • With Blue Hat, Green Hat, kids love it when you exaggerate the "OOPS" part.  I have lots of fun emphasizing the one right before the "OOPS". For instance, I would read the first page as follows, " Blue hat, green hat, REEEDDDD HAATTTTTTTTTT OOPS! When saying "red hat" I use a funny voice. With time, my daughter began anticipating that the OOPS was coming and it became a fun game. Using different voices is a wonderful way to engage children in reading.

  • Happy Hippo, Angry Duck also provides an opportunity to do this. Also, as a child gets closer to the age of 2, where they are learning to understand and deal with their emotions, this book becomes an important catalyst for dialogue on emotions. 

2 years and over:

TIP #3: Fun rhymes remain important since they are still learning to speak, but at this point, the story is also important and can create conversation between you and your child.

  • Start asking the question "why" with your child. Why did the sheep give the bear a pillow (The Very Cranky Bear), or why did the mouse tell The Gruffalo that everyone was afraid of him?

  • You can use the lessons learned from the book during their everyday life. For instance, believing in yourself even when you think you are not good at something (Giraffes Can't Dance).

  • A certain repetitiveness is also great to build their language skills. The Pout-Pout Fish and Room on the Broom do a great job at this.

One of the most beautiful aspects of reading to your children as of a young age is watching them independently get a book one day and handing it over to you to have you read it. Even if they can't talk yet, that action is loud and clear. It is a great way to spend quality time with your children. Eventually, you can start creating stories with your child and build on their creativity. Especially now, in my situation, reading to my toddler is a great when to include her while I am feeding the baby.

In my next blog post I will discuss how I use some books along with puppets to entertain both my baby and toddler. The possibilities are endless. Happy reading! 

 

 

Activities that will teach toddlers skills and prepare them for school

Written by Cindy Hovington, Ph.D. Founder of www.curiousneuron.com

Montreal, Canada.

Flip, Flap, Fly!: A Book for Babies Everywhere Board book

Flip, Flap, Fly!: A Book for Babies Everywhere Board book

Thinking of preparing an 18 month old for school might seem odd at first, however both brain and education research has shown that there are certain skills that can help prepare a child for school, and that these skills need to be developed early on. I previously blogged about the importance of executive function skills in students, but today I thought I would discuss ways we could help toddlers develop these skills by providing you with activities I do with my toddler at home. Keep in mind that there are no apps or battery operated toys that can replace the parent-child interaction. These skills are best developed when we play with our children. 

I recently read an article from the Mind, Brain, and Education journal that stressed the importance of developing executive functions skills (memory, inhibition, problem solving and attention shifting) and emotion regulation in children at a young age in order to help prepare them for school. The following tips and activities focus on toddlers and focus on these emotional regulation and executive function skills. 

Memory

My daughter and I love to act out songs we sing, for example: "Head and shoulders, knees and toes", "The wheels on the bus" and "I'm a little teapot". These types of songs with movements are great for memory. After a few repetitions, she begins to incorporate them as I sing. As a bonus, once your child becomes familiar the songs, you can also sing them in the car to keep them occupied if they start to become restless! 

Books like Flip, Flap, Fly! can also help with memory. Before seeing what animal shows up on the next page, you get a partial glimpse on the previous page. So before turning the page, I ask my daughter which animal is coming up. Memory skills, especially working memory skills (this is when you need to keep some information in your head for a short period of time), have been linked to the development of language, spelling, writing, reading comprehension, counting and mathematics (Epsy et al. 2004). They are especially important in math.

Sustained attention

Not only is this a great activity for motor skills, you can also use it to match and sort (beads of the same size or colour) and it helps them learn to stay focused.

Not only is this a great activity for motor skills, you can also use it to match and sort (beads of the same size or colour) and it helps them learn to stay focused.

Children don't automatically know how to stay focused for a long period of time. I often meet parents concerned about their child's trouble focusing and worried it may be an attention disorder. Children need to develop their attention skills. Reading books on a daily basis not only helps with language development but also helps improve their ability to focus. Interactive books such as lift-the-flap books are a great way to maintain their interest. I love using the Elmo collection of lift-the-flap books. There are an abundance of flaps, which keeps my daughter engaged. I also use it as a "search and find" book, asking her to find "Big Bird" or "Grover". If your toddler has difficulty sitting through an entire book, this book might be a good way to start.

Since she is too young for bead and lacing activities, I created my own version with pipe cleaners instead. Using large beads and pipe cleaners, which aren't as flimsy as laces, we create bracelets together (see picture).

Don't forget that sustained attention is not very long for most children. As a rule of thumb, it is estimated to be equivalent to their age in minutes. So if you have a 4 year old that stays put for 4 minutes, you are off to a good start! Build on it and don't forget to congratulate them after they've been focused for a while! 

 

Emotion regulation  

Ah yes, the toddler years... a time when children express their emotions and parents discover emotions of their own they never knew they had. It is a normal path for children to follow, but as parents, we need to help them deal with their emotions and learn to regulate them. If my daughter is upset about something, I try to help her understand what she is feeling, empathize with her and explain why I am asking her to do something she doesn't want to do. For example, if she cries because she doesn't want to get into her car seat, I would say: "It looks like you are angry, I know it's not always fun to sit in your car seat, but I need you to sit down so that we can go to the grocery store"... sometimes it takes a few attempts before it works, but being consistent with this really helps. As this handout from Harvard University states, going about it this way helps them learn to regulate their emotions and engage their executive function skills. A book that really helped me learn this method is called "No Bad Kids: Toddler Discipline Without Shame" by Janet Lansbury. Interestingly, recent education research has suggested that emotions and social skills also play a large role in school readiness. Children with stronger socio-emotional skills are able to build better relationships at school and have more control over their emotions in the classroom.

Sorting and matching

Placote - Le loto des petites phrases

Placote - Le loto des petites phrases

My daughter is my partner when it comes to house work. I fold the clothes, she tosses them on the floor. I clean the floor and she somehow gets food back on it within 5 minutes. One thing we enjoy doing together is sorting socks. It has become a fun game we play. I pick out 2 socks that are clearly different and ask her if they are the same; or I pick 2 matching socks and ask if they are the same. We also play with beads and buttons I picked up at Dollarama. I have her help me sort them in a muffin tin.

I recently discovered a language development game that requires the child match action cards to pictures. For example, parents can ask the child "Where is the dog that is sleeping?". Once the child finds the appropriate card and places it in the correct spot, the parent can reinforce their understanding by repeating the sentence ("The dog is sleeping") and attempt to also have the child repeat this. The game is called Placote - Le loto des petites phrases, found on BB.ca

 

Following directions 

We love playing dancing games where we walk around and I sing "clap your hands", then "stomp your feet" or any action movement you can think of. At some point, I will say "FREEZE" and we need to stop in place.

We also have fun cooking together. I place her on the counter where I am preparing food and give her a task. If I cut some vegetables, I ask her to place them in a bowl. If there are stickers on the tomatoes, I ask her to peel off the stickers and place the tomatoes on the counter. Giving 1 simple instruction or even 2 at a time will develop their executive function skills.

Imaginary play can also help develop these skills. If you are playing with a tea set or play food, you can ask them to "bring the milk and sugar" or "give you a banana and apple". Developing the skill to follow directions also  emotional-social skills?, which I can't stress enough with regards to their importance for school readiness. Children who enter kindergarten with stronger social-emotional skills have more positive attitudes towards school. 

Stay tuned for more activities in our upcoming posts to help toddlers develop all the skills mentioned in this post. Make sure you sign up to our mailing list!