Saturday, February 15, 2014

Let's Talk Baby Talk!

Happy Saturday, friends!

My grandfather-in-law frequently saves articles he finds for all of the grand-kids in their particular area of interest. Back in October, he gave me an article from the Tampa Bay Times entitled, "Baby Talk Bonanza." Yes...it has taken me this long to read it through in full and write about it. But hey, at least I get to things eventually!

Anyway, the article is one of the best articles I've read in a while in relation to speech and language development. It centers around research by Dr. Dana Suskind, a cochlear implant surgeon at the University of Chicago Medicine. Dr. Suskind knows that the implantation of a cochlear implant (or two) is just the beginning of a long process. The ultimate goal is not only for the child to hear, but for the child to talk. Dr. Suskind began to notice that the children who came from families of lower socioeconomic status weren't making as much progress as those children from families of higher socioeconomic status. She wanted to educate the families on the importance of talking to their children and the best ways to facilitate conversations with their kids. Dr. Suskind studied research from child psychologists Betty Hart and Todd R. Risley. Their research indicated that children born into poverty hear 30 million words less by the age of 3 than children born to parents of higher socioeconomic status. The 30 million words less creates a gap in literacy preparation that follow these children for a lifetime. Dr. Suskind wanted to teach these families how to talk with their children, so she started a program called "Thirty Million Words." For the families participating in the study, Dr. Suskind and her team would visit them and train them in a parent-talk curriculum they had developed. The child participating in the study would wear an electronic device during the day to record the number of words spoken, the number of words heard, and the number of turns back and forth in a conversation. They did not count television as conversation. The data would then be analyzed, and the parents would be taught based on the data.

Now, Dr. Suskind dreams of starting a sister program to Michelle Obama's "Let's Move" campaign, called "Let's Talk." (I LOVE THE NAME! haha) She hopes the campaign and developed curriculum will help teach all families the importance of communicating frequently with your children in terms of teaching them to talk, and preparing them for a lifetime of learning.

You can see the entire article here:

You can visit Dr. Suskind's Website here:


As an SLP, I see every day the importance of back-and-forth communication with children. Not only to they crave communication and attention, but they gain invaluable information from each and every conversation. They learn new vocabulary words, they learn factual information, they learn to respond and ask questions, and even more so, they learn the "art" of communication: the eye-contact, facial expressions, body language, etc. that are so important for social development. 

As a new parent myself who works a full-time job (more than one actually, if you count blogging/making materials), I know how difficult it is to carve out time to interact with your children. There is so much to do every day when I get home: laundry, cleaning, cooking, exercise, etc., etc., etc. It's so easy to give them a few toys, turn the TV on, and in my case, put them in the walker. And there is nothing wrong with this...in moderation. With all of the educational shows, iPad apps, and toys these days, children can learn on their own. But nothing replaces old-fashioned back-and-forth talking. I have students who cannot tell me the names of different food or clothing items, but they can tell me anything I want to know about the latest video game.

I run the risk of offending when I tell this, but I had a professor in college tell me one time that two different children go to the grocery store with their parents and pass by the produce section. The different children point to an eggplant and say "What's that?"  One mother says, "Oh! It's an eggplant. See how smooth and purple it is? It is a fruit. Let's buy one and taste it at home." The other mother says, "Get back in the cart." Now, I am in no way implying that the second mother did not care about her child. She meant no harm in what she said (or didn't say). But it goes without saying here that the first child learned what an eggplant is that day, and the second one simply did not. 

I tell parents all the time that you can do "language therapy" anywhere. In the car, on the bus, at the store, in the bathroom, etc. And you don't have to have fancy expensive materials to do it. The best thing you can do for your child is talk to them

Please understand, I'm speaking to myself here, too. My little girl is 5 1/2 months. She is sitting up by herself, watching everything, smiling, laughing, and babbling. Her "talking" is stringing together syllables intertwined with (really loud) squeals. She furrows her eyebrows and looks right at you and "talks." I look right back at her and say "Then what happened? Tell me more!" She is quiet when I'm talking, and when I stop, she begins babbling again. Even at 5 1/2 months, she is learning the art of turn-taking. But I'm not always this engaged in her talking. Even as an SLP who knows the importance of continuous interaction, I found myself "Facebooking" when I was feeding her a bottle, or talking on my phone when I was holding her, or turning on Sesame Street while I was working around the house. I realized a few months ago that when I was scrolling through Facebook while she was eating a bottle, I was robbing her of a perfect opportunity for her to observe and hear me talking to her. She was still and content during that time, and I wasn't taking advantage of the opportunity.

So I made a few changes. I no longer touch my phone when I'm feeding her. The TV is not on when we are eating.  And I carve out 30 minutes each and every day to give my undivided attention to introducing her to something new. It doesn't have to be anything big. We don't usually go anywhere. I just pick a new experience to introduce her to, and we do it. I talk to her about what we're doing, what she's seeing, and what she's hearing, even though I know that at her age, she doesn't understand what I'm saying. While I'm showing her these things, I'm also training myself to be a constant communicator. Because in a few months when she is able to understand, I'll be in the habit of communicating with her continuously. 

If you're a parent, no matter the age of your children, I challenge you to carve out specific time to spend with your kids doing something. It doesn't have to be 30 minutes. It could be 10. Bake cookies with them, but talk about each step as you're doing it (sequencing), read a book and ask questions every few pages (comprehension), play guessing games and see if they can guess what you're thinking of (inferencing), play Simon Says (following directions), or show them something they've never seen before (vocabulary). Not only will you enjoy the time, but your children will learn invaluable information that will prepare them for learning.

There will be times where it just doesn't happen. And that's ok. But the point here is you don't have to be sitting down at the kitchen table working on math homework for you to be teaching them something. Kids are learning constantly, no matter where they are. As parents, let's challenge ourselves to take advantage of these learning opportunities when they arise! 

Below, you can see what we did yesterday for our 30 minutes of learning. We went to the pond and fed the birds. (Ok, I fed the birds and talked about it while Halle Jane watched with her mouth wide open!) It was fun for me, and she got to see something up close that she's never seen before!


What are some of your favorite things to do with your children? I'd love to hear!!!


 



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