The only time I ever felt qualified to be a parent was before I had kids. ~ Father in comic strip “Baby Blues”
Infancy, the first year of a child’s life, comes from the Latin for “without words.” Watching your infant’s glee when s/he begins to independently roll over is one of many physical feats s/he is working hard to master. Pulling up, sitting alone, and crawling opens your baby’s world in a new way.
Now, learning to walk is what all these efforts your infant is guiding him/her self towards. How your baby achieves these physical goals can give you some understanding of her/his personality.
Rahima Dancy, who authored You Are Your Child’s First Teacher offers some insightful observations.
Does your baby:
- Constantly “work” at moving his/her body along OR is s/he content to stay in a seated position?
- Seem to understand falling is part of the process & “forge” ahead OR become discouraged & seem hesitant to keep trying?
- Use her/his arms & hands to reach for things OR just pick up things close by?
- Howl & continue with his/her efforts OR stop & whine?
Praising and encouraging your striving infant will definitely help, but remember- it is her/his body that s/he needs to conquer. Sooner or later, the will to JUST DO IT overcomes the frustration and “growing pains.” Your infant’s growing brain is an important part of this process.
Curious about what the brain does? I found an interesting brain image listing some of the separate brain functions scientists have discovered. The “corpus callosum”, the Latin word for the brain, is divided into 2 parts – the right side & the left side.
The Right side of the brain is labeled the Creative and controls:
- the left side of the body
- gross motor skills (large body movements)
- visualization: the big picture, images & symbols
- long term & visual memory
- “outside of the box” & spontaneous thinking
- feelings & encoding (creating secretive messages)
The Left side of the brain is labeled the Logical and controls:
- the right side of the body
- fine motor skills (hand tool control)
- language: letters, numbers, grammar, punctuation, detail
- short term & hearing memory
- rules, patterns & planned thinking
- analysis & decoding ( solving secretive messages)
Which brain-side rules you? Some people’s brain-sides have equal control or an interweaving of skills from both sides. For example, I love language , but numbers-not so much.
Gifts of the Brain
In Dr. John Medina’s book Brain Rules for Baby , he shares 5 of the intellectual gifts with their characteristics your baby has nestled within her/his brain:
The Visionary: Desire to Explore
- loves & needs to experiment, test & “tinker”
- asks extraordinary questions about ordinary things
- sees connections between unrelated ideas, problems or questions
- asks “what if” “why not” “how come you’re doing it this way”
- does not value “right” answers over challenging questions
The Planner: Self-Control
- loves to plans & problem-solve
- has the ability to shut out distracting thoughts
- sets goals with the foresight to complete them
The Creative: Power to Invent
- copes with puzzling situations
- sees new relationships between “old” things
- thinks up ideas & things not currently existing
- engages in healthy “risk-taking”
- Stirs positive and/or negative emotions in others
The Orator: Influence of Language
- communicates using a variety of vocabulary & sounds
- understands the social meanings of words
- born with the ability to learn & speak any language
The Mime: Silent Messages
- interprets nonverbal communication
- uses facial expressions to communicate
- uses body gestures to communicate
Some brain gifts are stronger than others in each person. Sometimes a little “exercise” will encourage and strengthen quieter gifts. Which ones do you feel particularly “gifted” with in your life? How will you nurture these gifts in your infant?
Nurturing Your Infant’s Brain Growth & Development
Remember your infant will grow & develop in her/his own way at his/her own pace. S/he will progress in a sequential, or orderly, way & build on the skills s/he has already learned.
Depending on your baby’s personality, s/he may focus on only one task/goal at a time. So, if s/he is working hard on walking, language may be slower. Once the walking goal is met, you may hear an increase in babblese.
My son walked very early ( at 8 months) and didn’t start speaking until much later. He was enamored with his physical world and how he was able to “grasp” it!
Dr. Margot Sunderland, a child psychotherapist & author of The Science of Parenting, wrote ” your baby’s frontal lobes are in front of her/his brain. Their many important functions give us the following abilities:
- to learn
- to pay attention
- to concentrate
- to plan & problem-solve
- to manage stress
- to control impulses
Those frontal lobes need a lot of stimulation from relationship interaction to increase social, emotional & intellectual growth & development”.
Dr. Sunderland goes on to offer several strategies & techniques for nurturing the growth & development of your infant’s brain:
- talk to you infant ALOT, using “normal” , yet simple language
- always make eye contact & smile
- use words with body gestures for everyday language: eat, drink, I love you, hug, sad, happy, hurt, mad, scared
Talk to your infant during the day when s/he is with you. Pretend you are his/her Tour Guide to a new world. S/he is ready to learn & be a part of your world because you are the most important part of his/her world.
Brain Boosters for Your Infant
Talking & playing with your infant are necessary to help his/her brain grow & develop. Child research supports this interaction as a major key to a healthy & responsive intellect.
Words of Caution: Dr. John Medina listed a few major Early Learning Stunters in his book, Brain Rules for Baby:
- Keep the TV, video games & computer off
- Keep your baby physically active
- Keep giving your baby lots of face-to-face interaction
In July 2016 Mom of 11 Kids posted an infographic: “Seven Ways to Boost Baby Brain Development”. They are simple, daily activities you will do without much “to-do”:
- Play peek-a-boo & other hiding games
- Play patty-cake & other hand games
- Read together every day
- Play with toys that teach, like blocks
- Get messy with water, mud, puddles
- Sing songs & verses together with repetition, rhythm & rhyme
- Teach as you eat different foods – taste, touch, smell, colors, shapes, cold, sweet
These brain boosters build vocabulary as well as oral language. Both are strong literacy elements. Don’t forget to ask questions. You might get your first nod and/or head-shake.
How To Use Oral Language for Your Infant’s Literacy Growth
Continuing with Dr. Sunderland’s techniques for brain growth, she has specific strategies for parents to use when communicating with their child(ren):
- Watch, wait & listen after giving your infant a toy
- Copy & comment on her/his responses
- Use comments & choices instead of commands
- Use lots of facial expressions & touch
Go Out into Nature Everyday for At Least 20 Minutes
- It will calm your baby
- It positively impacts your infant’s brain wave patterns
- It lowers the frequency of stress
- The variety of textures, sights, sounds & smells are wonderful for your baby’s senses. Tasting can be , well you know……
My children ALWAYS loved being outdoors, regardless of the weather. When my son was an infant, I would settle him under the trees while I hung up his daily dozen diapers. His babblese was joyful and expressive!
Yes! Your Infant Is Talking to You (in Babblese)
Responding to infant’s language is one of the most important things people can do to encourage & increase more talk. Having conversations with your infant is a major pathway to literacy.
Oral language has 2 parts: Expressive Language – actual speech and Receptive Language – hearing & understanding what you hear. Between the ages of 9 and 12 months, you may see & hear a steady increase in both what your infant is saying and understanding.
Remember each child learns in her/his own way. Some are listeners, some are talkers; some have a lot to say, some have a few special words; some love to talk, some not so much. Know any grown-ups like that?!
FYI-here’s a chart (love making these!) with some Expressive & Receptive Language milestones your infant may have met:
Infant Oral Language Milestones (7 - 12 Months)
|AGE IN MONTHS||EXPRESSIVE LANGUAGE|
|By 9 months||*Imitates sounds|
*4+ sounds in babblese
*Takes turns in vocalizations
*Begins using hands to communicate wants/needs (reaches to be picked up)
|*Consistently responds to own name
*Looks at familiar objects & people when named
*Follows some routine directions when paired with gestures
*Not fearful of everyday sounds
|By 12 months||*Says 1 or 2 words|
*Begins speech sounds
*Babblese has "strings"of speech
*May nod "yes"
*May shake head "no"
*Babblese has the sounds & rhythms of speech
|*Understands up to 50 common words-baby, bottle
*Responds to simple directions- "come here"
*Follows your gaze & points
*Notices when hurt
If you and your loved ones are looking into your infants eyes and talking to her/him every day, oral language will continue to grow. Playing with your infant is a great time to have conversations. Encourage loved ones to participate daily.
Literacy Needs Playtime
Your infant is probably no longer in an Unoccupied Stage of play (Kalokyri’s “Facts About the Importance of Play”), but comfortably immersed in the Solitary & Constructive Stages of play.
Having mastered some movement goals-sitting up, pulling up, crawling- means your Infant is ready to discover his/her world. Make sure your home is a safe place for your crawler (and those babies can pick up some speed!) to explore. Get low on your hands & knees (with padding, of course) for a dust bunny view (I mean…..).
Try not to “teach” too much, but help her/him find out what’s making the world around him/her come into his/her experience. Again, instead of you all the time, have older siblings and/or loved ones attend to your infant’s fussiness or frustration when it happens – and it will! Taking your grumpy cub outside is usually a great soother and/or distraction.
When playing with your infant, remember to See & Play, Hear & Play, Touch & Play, and Grab & Play. Involving as many of the 5 senses as you can during playtime encourages literacy through language, interaction and experience. Building on the skills your baby knows will give her/him confidence to try new activities and make the physical world more familiar and exciting.
The Game Play of Literacy
Interactive games are your infants (and most children’s) favorite ways to play. They promote language, discovery, surprise, fun & laughter. Games using hands and feet bring giggles. Hiding games bring loud laughter (and hiccups). Make sure to maintain eye contact. Use rhyming & repetitive language.
Interactive Game Ideas
- clapping to rhymes & songs
- face-to-face play
- lap movement
- bathtime bubbles
- song & dance
The Power of Music
During your pregnancy and your newborn’s first 6 months of life, I’m sure you used the power of music to soothe, calm & entertain the 2 of you. Lullabies, classical music, new age, jazz, and, even some soft rock were/are great ways to communicate with each other.
Now, you may notice a little rhythmic wiggling when certain songs & music is played. Using music as a fun way to “teach & play” with your infant. Try some of these musical activities:
- Sing songs with rhymes, like “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” in the tub.
- Sing songs with body play, “Itsy Bitsy Spider”.
- Sing songs using your infant’s name while doing activities together, like “This is the way we…”.
- Use toys as instruments while you sing songs, like “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star & Mary (or baby’s name) Had A Little Lamb”.
- Sing or hum (make up some words) while you dance with your baby.
You can, also, sing while creating interactive games with toys. It is lots of fun! Listen to how siblings & other loved ones talk, sing and play with the “new baby bird in the nest”.
Games with Toys as a Power Strategy for Literacy
A few words about toy selection- Gender Stereotype Freedom. Make sure all kinds of toys are available for your baby. Girls need to know about cars & trucks -how else will they learn to drive & maintain them. Boys need to know about dolls -how else will they learn to care & nurture their own children. Believe it or not, this can be a literacy opportunity-stretching both sides of the brain.
In my Home-Care & Day-School for children (yes, it’s going to be more than a few words-but this is true-life data), my toddler girls loved playing with cars, trucks, blocks. Think engineers, architects & designers. My toddler boys loved playing with stuffed animals, kitchen sets, dollhouses. Think veterinarians, chefs & designers. Not to mention what great partners they will be in a marriage. I’m just saying……
Does your infant have TOO MANY TOYS? Think your infant is feeling overwhelmed and/or overstimulated to the point of boredom?????
Try putting away some of the toys. Hold several choices in your hands to see which ones s/he reaches for. After a few weeks, bring out the “new” toys and see if s/he has an interest in them.
Babies usually enjoy playing with toys that:
- Have different textures
- Are very bright & colorful
- Are musical
- Make noises
- Have mirrors
- Have knobs, pushers, etc (reaction toys)
- Can be banged on to make music
- Can be easily grasped
- Can be chewed on
Check out the Six Games with Toys activity list with directions I created for some play ideas:
Don’t be too surprised if that $100 toy you absolutely had to have because you knew it would be your baby’s favorite toy is ignored for the box it came in. Your home is packed with “toys” your baby will love and play with all the time.
Your Home Is A Toy Land
Although there was a playroom in my Home-Care/Day-School, the toys were always dragged out of the playroom and into the living room and/or dining room.
Couches & chairs became stages, platforms, building sites & race tracks. The kitchen table – the same- with additional puzzles, papers, play-doh, & crayons.
So, I tucked toy bins in these areas for clean-up time. Those filled carriers, then, were stacked in the playroom at the end of each day.
Scarves, towels, socks, & pieces of colorful, textured fabrics become capes, hats, doll blankets, animal tents, meadows, ponds, puppets, beds, & rooftops-once they pass the taste test, of course.
Putting on & taking off hats, socks & shoes can entertain your older infant for quite a few minutes-over & over & over again. Day after day after day….
A favorite Toy Land spot-the kitchen!
Baby’s Kitchen Play Land
Keep in mind – play is your baby’s work. Where ever you are, s/he wants to be near. My baby’s food was handmade as well as our daily bread (I love to cook!). I spent quite a few hours a day in the kitchen. I discovered, as did my baby, the kitchen is a full of toys.
When my son began his search-and-see, I made sure the bottom kitchen cabinet had large bright plastic & wooden spoons, measuring cups, a colander, some pots & pans with their lids, plastic mixing bowls, & some storage containers with lids. His clang- bang music was quite a dinner bell!
Sturdy empty boxes in a variety of sizes , especially those large, appliance ones, are worth the trees that donated their lives to make them. Be ready to cut out some windows & doors. Creativity & exploration will last longer than the boxes will!
Sounds like lots of messes every day, you say?!?
Creativity + Discovery = A Learning Mess For Literacy
Personally, I would be considered a Master Messer. Not in a destructive way, but messes are part of the “creative & productive process.” Making a mess and, then, cleaning or putting things away teaches cause & effect, freedom of expression, etc. The way I see it-” making a mess is part of success!” For me & children, anyway…..
When children are busy having fun & learning – be ready & hope for- a mess. Listen & participate in the language of exploration, sequence, cause & effect, details, etc. All the “story” elements are present. The Story of Discovery!
Of course, some are bigger than others…..
Try these messes on for size:
- Water play in the tub: splash, squirt, pour, fill, sink, float, full, empty & bubbles (say the words to match the action)
- Water play in the sink (see above)
- Water play outside in the pool, water bucket, wagon, wash tub
- Fill &Dump with water, toys, sand, dirt, mud (stay very close)
- Finger-painting- find an edible recipe, like one made with cornstarch
- Scribble with large pieces of paper & fat crayons (talk about color, shapes & pictures/stories)
- Paint with a large paintbrush & colored water
BTW-Those plastic kitchen utensils make great water toys , sand, mud & dirt toys, too. A word of caution– use big rocks, pebbles are too temptingly taste-worthy!
Sing a “Clean -Up” song. Wipe your baby down & maybe change clothes. Have a drink & a snack. Settle in for Book Time!
Book Time & Infant Literacy
Children are made readers on the laps of their parents. ~ Emily Buchwald
“Brain Wonders” is a joint project by Boston University Medical Center, Erikson Institute & Zero To Three (see link).
Their 2003 study on Early Literacy supports, not only the “new understanding of early literacy development”, but also, “its critical influence in shaping brain development.”
The research states:
- Language, reading & writing (early scribbling in infants) develop at the same time , making them interconnected.
- This development process that begins in the first 3 years of life is continuous.
- Real life settings through positive interactions with people, books, stories, paper & crayons are important factors in literacy skills development.
Please note: early literacy does NOT mean early reading. Trying to teach infants & toddlers to read before they are developmentally ready can cause more harm than good. The frustrations and failures will have a negative impact on their motivation to read.
How To Create Your Infant’s Love of Books & Stories
Believe it or not, chewing on a book page is part of early literacy behaviors. So, plastic, vinyl, cloth & sturdy board books need to be part of your infant’s hands, feet & mouth-on library.
Place them in the crib, playpen (if you use one), tub, diaper bag & a floor bin/basket for ready-access. Don’t forget to put a few books in the kitchen play-cabinet- fruits & veggies, breads & milk, pasta shapes & kitchen tools.
Include books with bright colored real-life images of everyday, familiar objects & toys, shapes, colors, animals, other babies’ faces & faces of loved ones, including pets.
Handmade books will become well-loved. Get your camera ready for “Baby Book Time Publication”. Click & slip photos into a mini-foto book with plastic sleeves. Here are some Book Titles:
- My Family At Home
- Other Family & Friends
- My Pets
- My Toys
- In My Bedroom
- In the Kitchen
- Play Time Outside
If your infant has become a curious crawler, make sure you have a basket of books as part of his/her path. Cloth, plastic & sturdy board books will suit your infant’s “taste” at this time.
How To Read Wordless Books
Bright, bold colored picture books without words are a wonderful beginning into her/his discovery of the book world. You & loved ones can make the “stories” personal & suitable for your young learner.
Whether you’re inventing a story to go with the pictures or just talking about the actual pictures, think about using these few tips:
- Make sure there are no more than 3 images per page
- Trace the images with your finger and, then, your baby’s finger
- It’s okay to skip pages if your baby’s interest seems to lag
- Talk about the images using short, simple sentences
- Try to use rhyming words: cat, hat, mat, bat
- Sing the book
Wordless picture books will inspire a story for many years into your child’s life, even after s/he becomes a reader of words. It will amaze you how many different stories can be told about the same pictures as s/he gets older. And the story being told can depend upon who & when it’s being told. If only stuffed animals could talk…….
Picture books without words encourage many literacy development skills, while answering the following questions:
- What is happening in this picture? comprehension/understanding
- Why is this picture important to the story? vocabulary, oral language
- What makes you think this picture is important? inference. drawing conclusions
- What do you think will happen next? prediction
Well if you’ve made it to the end of this post-
Thank You so much for reading!
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