Raising a Talker: Easy Activities for Birth to Age 3

Raising a Talker: Easy Activities for Birth to Age 3

by Renate Zangl PhD

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Overview

Raising a Talker: Easy Activities for Birth to Age 3 by Renate Zangl PhD

The research is clear: Early, language-rich interactions give young children a head start. Little tweaks and easy changes in the way you play and engage with a child from birth can help jump-start enormous learning potential.

The good news is that you already have everything you need to provide a language-rich environment from the earliest moments: yourself—your vocal cords, eyes, hands, and fingers—and a desire to communicate with a little one.

Raising a Talker combines fun, easy-to-do activities with research-based tips and developmental overviews. Learn how to naturally transform play sessions into meaningful language-learning experiences. The book includes:
Concise overviews of developmental changes and communication milestones in children from birth to age three,
Specific communication and language goals for each activity,
Observation guides to gauge the child's skills,
Language checklists to track a child's communication and language milestones quickly and easily,
Early warning signs for potential problems in communication,
And much more!

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780876594735
Publisher: Gryphon House Inc.
Publication date: 08/01/2014
Pages: 216
Product dimensions: 8.50(w) x 11.00(h) x 0.50(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author


Renate Zangl, PhD, is a developmental psycholinguist with a deep interest in how infants and toddlers acquire language and communication skills. She has more than 15 years of experience in research in early language learning and has worked at various research institutions in the United States and Europe, including Stanford University; University of California, San Diego; Graz University, Austria; and Laboratoire de Sciences Cognitives et Psycholinguistique, Paris.

Zangl has worked (and played!) for many years with young children when they first start to communicate, understand, and talk, and with bilingual children, children learning a second language in their school years, and children with special needs. Her work has been published in numerous books and peer-reviewed articles in eminent language journals (Language Learning and Development, Infancy, Journal of Cognition and Development,and more), and she has given presentations at national and international conferences.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1: From Birth and Up—Gurgles and Coos

Sarah came into this world just two days ago. She is lying comfortably and listening to speech, but not all of it is equally appealing. Sometimes she hears speech that is happy, with a high pitch that goes up and down. This is very pleasant and affectionate. Then she hears other speech, less happy and a bit boring, with a lower pitch and less variation in tone. She prefers listening to the happy speech, so she looks longer at the person who is speaking when she hears it. Regular adult speech is less exciting, so she looks away sooner. Newborns love happy speech and singsong talk. Developmental researchers Robin Cooper and Richard Aslin found that it is important for families and early childhood specialists to use lots of happy, affectionate speech when talking with little ones.

Researchers have found that the way mothers sing with their babies is similar across cultures. They sing in an infant-directed style, using a higher pitch, a slower tempo, and clear emotions. Infants listen more attentively to this exaggerated style of singing than to other singing styles. They smile, vocalize, and stay engaged longer with adults who sing and interact enthusiastically.

Real-Life Story

Joe looks lovingly at his one-day-old baby, Henry, and wants to get Henry's attention. Joe slowly sticks out his tongue, making it longer and longer while moving it from left to right. He repeats the motion again and again, noticing that Henry's eyes are opening up more and his tiny tongue is coming out a bit, as if he is imitating Joe.

Andrew Meltzoff and Keith Moore discovered that newborns mimic behaviors they observe in adults' faces—from sticking out tongues to moving their heads clockwise to whatever simple actions they notice in the adult engaging with them. Learning to communicate through mimicking is one of a baby's strongest skills. Newborns are incredibly smart and have tremendous capacities to track, compare, and mimic what they observe—all critical prerequisites for learning language. Babies are primed to communicate, and they do not lose any time getting started.

A Baby's Exposure to Language and the Environment
Babies first learn about language while in the womb. They remember something about the speech that they heard and will recognize it when hearing it for the first time after birth. This explains why a newborn prefers his mother's voice and her language over others. This seems to be true regardless of whether the mother spoke one language or two while pregnant. Babies also prefer listening to stories that were read to them before birth over new stories. Recognizing something in a world where literally everything is new is an important safety anchor.

Babies Love Voices, Faces, and Touch
We all communicate with more than our words. For babies, communication begins with loving smiles, gazes, and touches. Have you noticed that a baby enjoys staring at you, especially when you talk lovingly as you smile and gently stroke his soft cheeks? Your voice, eye contact, and touch are magnets for a baby.

Baby Talk

Many parents wonder if baby talk is good for babies. Science is clear: Baby talk is excellent language and brain food for little ones. When babies hear baby talk, they stay engaged in the conversation longer, are more attentive, and smile and vocalize more. Babies' brains are on high alert when listening to baby talk compared with adult talk. Note that baby talk is not silly speech with made-up words; it consists of real words and real sentences spoken with a high pitch and singsong melody. When you speak in baby talk, you articulate sounds more clearly, drag out vowels, and pause longer between sentences. All of those traits make baby talk ideally suited to the auditory skills of infants who hear best the sounds that are higher in frequency, slower in tempo, clear, and distinct.

Coos and Turn Taking
Even though he cannot yet say words, an infant already has a pretty large wordless vocabulary that he uses to communicate. There are cries (increasingly differentiated to reflect different needs), burps, throaty grunts, gurgles, sighs, and first real sounds—called coos—which show up at about one month. A baby may coo a lot or rarely, for long periods or in short bursts. All of it is normal. Although his first vocalizations just happen, he soon realizes that they have significant power—they make family members and caregivers attend to him.
Does a baby already understand what I say?Not quite yet; however, he does listen carefully to the tone of your voice, which carries your message.When should I first start talking with a baby?Right away. A baby's hearing is better developed than his sight. In fact, infants can discriminate any speech sound and are fascinated by human voices. He is ready to listen and learn.

The best way to encourage a baby to communicate is to consistently and lovingly respond to his sounds, which sends the important message that he is noticed and heard. Good communication is all about turn taking. Your interactions with baby teach him that people do not talk continuously, but they also pause, listen, and respond to others. Soon, you will notice that when you talk, the baby listens, and when you pause, he answers—flinging his arms, bursting into coos, and so forth. Your response likely will trigger another response from him, which triggers one from you, and the first back-and-forth exchanges emerge.

Babies Begin to Smile
When a baby is just four to six weeks old, the first social smile may show up, triggered by chatting with or smiling at him. This kind of social smile is an important milestone. It differs from a spontaneous, random smile that he makes at the wall or the crib: It suggests that he sees you, realizes that you are smiling, and responds to it with his own smile. Social smiles make adults feel more connected and acknowledged, and they strengthen bonding.

Babies Become Interested in Objects
Sometime in the second month, a baby may start to swipe at objects close to him, using either his hands or his feet. Like his first sounds, his first swipes are accidental, but the effect gets his attention. This is the perfect time to hang brightly colored objects where he can reach them. He also starts to track objects with his eyes, although erratically. He will swipe at and track objects even more if you talk with him at the same time. You can use language to encourage his explorations.

Language Checklist 1: From Birth and Up
attend to you and quiet down when you look at and lovingly talk to him?
seek your face and the voice he hears by turning his head and moving his eyes and, later, his head?
demonstrate a sucking/swallow reflex when using a pacifier or a nipple?
respond to your voice with body movements, vocalizations, or smiles? make social smiles?
ocalize with soft gurgling sounds or vowel-like sounds?
seek other sound sources such as music, toys, rattles, and so on?
respond in conversational pauses with gurgles, smiles, and so forth?
mimic your facial expressions?
make eye contact?

Communication Tips
* Stay close (8-12 inches).
* Get the baby's attention through happy speech, eye contact, smiles, and gentle touches.
* Let him explore familiar voices and faces so he can learn to distinguish them.
* Mimic his vocalizations.
* Have face-to-face chats.
* Use baby talk frequently. * Model turn taking, the back-and-forth of a conversation.
* Always pause to give him a chance to answer.
* Talk to him as if he can talk with you—treat him like a full conversational partner.
* Use body language (waving, kisses, and so on).
* Sing traditional and personalized songs.
* Let him listen to the sound of his own name.
* Deliberately set aside conversational times with him when you are not distracted.
* Play when he is alert.
* Give him downtime.

Let's Play: Invitations to Look, Listen, and Touch
First Communication through Your Voice, Eyes, and Hands
Naturally curious, a baby wants to engage with you. You get his attention through your loving voice, tender gaze, and gentle touches. This starts a nurturing communication that makes him feel acknowledged, comfortable, and secure and fosters a healthy, strong attachment to you.
Goals:
*Talk with the baby using baby talk.
* Give him opportunities to explore and distinguish familiar voices and faces.
* Provide one-on-one time with him.
* Make eye contact.
* Smile often.
* Give him opportunities for turn taking.
* Sing together.
* Let him hear his own name.

Skills Fostered:
* Body awareness
* Listening
* Social-emotional skills
* Visual skills

Sit with the baby securely placed on your thighs, his face oriented toward yours. Look at him and sing or say his name in a friendly, slightly higher tone than usual as you make eye contact: "Hello, Harry. How's my little baaaby?"
2. Your voice acts as a compass, orienting him to your face. Smile when he looks at you. As soon as he looks into your eyes, gaze lovingly back into his, and tell him how much you love him. Gently touch his cheeks, kiss his nose, and so on.
3. Rock or sway from side to side; this motion is soothing for him. Keep talking or singing. Your friendly voice holds his attention and relaxes him, and he learns about the sounds and rhythms of your language as you chat with him.
Infants are more interested in looking at a face that has looked at and talked with them. When you talk, your voice guides your baby to your face and holds his attention. In combination with your voice, your face makes the baby interested in you. He will gaze at you longer and likely vocalize more.

What to Look For: Does he respond to your voice through body movements, smiles, or vocalizations?
Does he watch your eyes or mouth as you talk with him?

How Are We Different?
Listening and watching is where language learning begins and where a baby gets to know his caregivers better. For this activity, you will need two people. A deliberate switch from one person to another gives the baby lots to learn and provides some wonderful communication opportunities.

Goals:
* Give the baby opportunities to learn about voices and faces.
* Let him listen to baby talk.
* Help him recognize family members' and caregivers' voices.
* Let him tune in to the rhythm and sounds of his language.
* Encourage him to imitate and vocalize.
* Help him explore and discriminate familiar faces.

Skills Fostered:
** Auditory discrimination
* Social-emotional skills
* Visual discrimination

1. Have the baby lie in the crib or on the changing table, facing you.
2. Introduce yourself. Try to lock eyes while you speak using a friendly, affectionate tone: "Hi, Noah! It is me, your mommy (or teacher or aunt or brother). Your mommy is here! How do you like my voice?" Speak slowly and pause between sentences.
3. Talk about whatever comes to your mind: the weather, your favorite movie; it really does not matter. All that counts is that your voice sounds happy, that you articulate clearly and pause between sentences, and that you smile. After some time, say goodbye and move out of the baby's vision.
4. Let the other person appear and introduce himself. Move in to about ten inches from the baby's face, so he can see the person's face well. Start talking to get his attention: "Hi, Noah. It is me, your daddy (or teacher or grandfather or sister). What a surprise! Daddy is here, too! What do you think of me, my sweet little boy?"
5. Just keep talking, but pause deliberately at times so the baby can answer. He is not interested in nonstop chatter, not even as a newborn.
6. Switch people as long as the baby enjoys the game. Because little ones like new experiences, the baby will give renewed attention to each change in voice and face.
Newborns perk up and suck on a pacifier more when they hear their biological mother's voice. It is familiar, which feels good and safe in a world where there is so much new. It takes a couple of weeks for the baby to prefer Dad's voice over that of another male. This suggests that the speed with which babies recognize voices as familiar depends on the experiences they have had.

What to Look For:* Does he become quiet and attend carefully to each person's face?
* Does he respond to the voices and faces through body movements, smiles, or vocalizations?
* Does he show renewed interest when he hears a new voice or sees a new face?

Let's Sing Together
Singing is probably one of the first and best language activities for a baby. What you sing does not matter; just sing often and do so in baby-talk style. Play around with volume and pitch, and see if the baby responds to these changes. Use his name in your songs, so he becomes familiar with it. Hearing songs and lines repeated helps him recognize the rhythm and, later on, chunks of phrases and words in songs he has heard over and over again.

Goals: * Get the child's attention through singing and saying the baby's name.
* Give him the opportunity to listen to the rhythm, sounds, and words of play songs and lullabies.
* Help him discriminate changes in loudness, pitch, and speed.
* Help him learn to recognize his own name. * Let him explore faces during singing.

Skills Fostered:* Auditory discrimination
* Visual skills
* Body awareness
* Gross motor skills
* Social-emotional skills

What shall I sing?
Adjust what and how you sing to the baby's state. If he is tired and about to fall asleep, sing a slow, soft lullaby with a low pitch and a soothing tone. If he is alert and energetic, sing a fast-paced song. If you feel shy about singing, hum a melody with a rising and falling intonation. By singing yourself, the baby gets a much richer sensory experience than recorded music can give him. He hears, sees, and feels you, which supports language learning and bonding.

1. Sing popular lullabies as they are, or replace the names in them with the child's name—for example, convert "Mary Had a Little Lamb" into a touch-and-kiss song about body parts:
Henry has a little nose, little nose, little nose! Henry has a little nose that I am going to kiss! (kiss his nose)
Henry has a little hand, little hand, little hand!
Henry has a little hand that I am going to kiss!
(kiss his hand)
Henry has little toes, little toes, little toes!
Henry has little toes, little toes that I am going to kiss!
(kiss his toes)
And every where that Henry goes, Henry goes, Henry goes,
Mommy is sure to go
Continue with other body parts, touching and kissing them as you sing along.

2. Combine songs with gentle movements of body parts to promote body awareness and gross motor control.
And Henry's left arm goes out, (gently lift, stretch, and hold his arm)
and Henry's right arm goes out, (gently lift, stretch, and hold his arm)
and Henry's left arm goes in, (gently bring his arm back in)
and Henry's right arm goes in. (gently bring his other arm back in)
Continue with his legs, moving them gently up, down, in circles, or sideways.
3. Create songs by simply singing about what you are doing. Integrate singing into your everyday routine.
4. Rhymes are ideal for language learning because of their words and simple melodies. Combine the songs with loving gestures to make them even more fun for the baby. Sing familiar rhymes, or make up your own.
Tick (touch the baby's nose)
Tock (touch your nose)
Goes the clock and not the sock.
Tick
(touch his nose)Tock (touch your nose)
Another day goes by,
and I say hi!
(wave at him)

Nursery rhymes are a staple in young children's lives, but do they actually offer any benefits to children? Researchers Peter Bryant and colleagues found that, by age three, children who know more nursery rhymes develop a better knowledge of sounds and are better at spelling and reading later on. The repetition in a nursery rhyme hightens children's awareness of the sounds in words.

What to Look For:
* Does the baby respond to your songs through body movements, smiles, and vocalizations?
* Does he fall asleep when you sing soothingly?
* Does he react differently when you talk with him than when you sing?

My Turn, Your Turn
This activity promotes an essential of every conversation: taking turns. Since taking turns is so fundamental to any conversation, it is best to model and introduce the concept right away.
Exploring the merits of turn taking in early conversations, researchers found that turn taking primes babies to vocalize and communicate with caregivers. Three-month-olds who were engaged in typical turn taking vocalized more than their same-age peers who experienced random responses from adults. And, their vocalizations sounded more like speech sounds than noise. This means you can affect how much a baby vocalizes by carefully structuring your conversations to include nicely timed back-and-forth exchanges.
Goals: * Give the baby opportunities to learn the back-and-forth structure of conversations.
* Model appropriate turns and chiming in.
* Give him opportunities to vocalize.

Skills Fostered:
* Coordination
* Gross motor skills
* Listening skills
* Social-emotional skills
* Timing
* Visual skills

When can I expect a baby to take turns?
That depends on how often you model turn taking with and for the baby. If you do so from the beginning, he will have a good sense of it by about three months.
What counts as a turn?
Anything at this age counts—any sound, noise, action, or reaction by the baby, including crying, burping, staring, or widening his eyes.
1. When the baby is alert, engage his attention. Comment on his sounds and reactions. Imitate whatever noise or expression he makes. At first, you may have to perform both roles: Ask a question, and then pause a few seconds before answering. A baby reacts more slowly than you do.
2. Wait for him to respond in some way. If he does not, answer for him after a pause of several seconds.
3. Extend and continue to comment on his sounds: "Is that what you think about last night? What an interesting idea you have!"
4. To encourage him to respond, raise your voice to a higher pitch, make a surprised face, smile, and look expectantly at him to clearly indicate it is his turn.
5. Accept anything as a turn—grunts, gurgles, coos, widened eyes, and so forth—and respond to it. Babies want to be noticed, and responding to their behavior encourages them to engage more.
6. Comment on his actions—for example, if he waves or wiggles his hand, pick up that hand and answer as you wave back at him: "Who is waving? It is Alex! Alex is waving." Again, notice if he answers your words and gestures.
7. Make a funny sound, such as clicking your tongue, clapping your hands, or snapping your fingers. Watch how he reacts.
8. Ask questions and touch the body parts you talk about—for example, ask, "Where is your nose?" going up in pitch on the last word. Pause for a few seconds, and then answer, "Oh, there is your nose," as you touch it. Or wiggle your fingers and say, "Here are my fingers. They're gonna get you!" as they approach and gently tickle him. Repeat the same sequence a few times, and then stop midway and wait expectantly with your hand still. See if he reacts.
9. Stick to the same structure and timing in songs, first games, and routines. Such repetition helps a baby understand the structure of conversations and anticipate when it is his turn.
10. Use popular nursery rhymes that incorporate actions—for example, play "This little piggy goes to market," as you gently tickle or massage each of the baby's toes. Pause after each toe and expectantly look at him. Create your own rhymes as well.
11. Play peekaboo. Look at the baby's face, and once he looks back at you, move your face back slowly while saying, "Peeka . . ." Move forward slowly, and when you are very close to him, gently say, "boo!" Stay within ten inches, so he can see you. Repeat the sequence a few times, and see how he reacts.
What to Look For:
* Does the baby begin to react in some way to your pauses, such as moving, staring, or widening his eyes?
* Does the baby chime in with little noises? (The timing does not need to be perfectly coordinated.)

Table of Contents

Introduction
Chapter 1: From Birth and Up—Gurgles and Coos
Chapter 2: Three Months and Up—Vocalizing and Communicating More
Chapter 3: Six Months and Up—Babbling and Longer Conversations
Chapter 4: Nine Months and Up—Understanding Words
Chapter 5: Twelve Months and Up—Saying Real Words and First Make-Believe
Chapter 6: Eighteen Months and Up—Growing Vocabulary and Understanding
Chapter 7: Twenty-Four Months and Up—Developing Grammar and Language Play
Chapter 8: Early Warning Signs—When to Talk with a Pediatrician
selected References
Index

Interviews


Parents, grandparents, and caregivers of infants and toddlers

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