Talk to me Mama
The Gift of Words: How Do Children Learn to Talk?
1- Szumlas G, Petronio P, Mitchell M, Johnson A, Henry T, DeWitt T. A combined reach out and read and imagination library program on kindergarten readiness. Pediatrics. May 24, 2021. Epub ahead of print. doi:10.1542/peds.2020-027581
2- McCray, J., Jie-Qi Chen & Sorkin, J. E. (2019). Growing Mathematical Minds: Conversations Between Developmental Psychologists and Early Childhood Teachers. New York: Routledge.
3- Rosales, A. C. (2015). Chicago. Mathematizing: An Emergent Math Curriculum Approach for Young Children. St. Paul, MN: Redleaf Press.
4- Suskind, Dana, MD. (2015) Thirty Million Words: Building a Child's Brain. New York: Dutton.
5- Hart, B. & Risley, T. (1995). Meaningful Differences in the Everyday Experience of Young American Children. Baltimore: Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co.
Government Turns to Babies to Save Education
Enlightened government in the State of Georgia is turning to infants and their mothers to save education. In her Ted Talk, Brenda Fitzgerald, Georgia State Health Official, put the development of babies’ vocabulary as a top priority in her health care budget. Children who grow up in high poverty households are more likely to drop out of school. They are less likely to become healthy adults.
Fitzgerald compared the war on poverty to the Health Department’s attempts to change life expectancy of Americans. In 1900 average Americans lived 20-30 years. In 2010, average Americans live almost 79 years. In 2012 fifteen percent of Americans lived below the poverty line. The number needs to drop.
Seventy percent of Georgia’s third graders do not read at grade level which makes them four times more likely to NOT graduate from high school. Fifty to sixty percent of the state of Georgia’s mothers are in the WIC program which is designed to help families living in poverty. To address the needs of children Georgia now requires families collecting the WIC stipend to check in every three months for an interview on the child’s language development and other educational progress. Talking more to a child is one of a parent’s most important jobs. It leads to a big vocabulary, success in school, jobs and better health later on.
Oakland California Thinks Baby Talk is Important
Carter Steele can’t talk; but he understands a lot. When his big sister says, “Don’t do that,” he doesn’t. When his mother asks, “Do you want chocolate or vanilla ice cream?” he points at chocolate. Babies need us to listen to them and to talk to them before they begin to speak. One way conversations (where we guess out loud what a baby would have said if only that baby could talk) are a good idea. It makes toddlers smarter because they start to understand a word before they can say it. And we should sing to them too, especially if we want our children to become good readers. It helps a toddler notice the sounds in a word. This is not news to talkative moms, but its importance is a surprise to some academic researchers and educational administrators.
The city of Oakland CA is paying attention to what toddlers know and can do. The Rainin Foundation commisioned a study of toddlers to find which skills predict success. Marc Hernandez, at the NORC, University of Chicago, questioned why some children are unprepared for kindergarten. What would help them be ready for school? Number one on the list is oral language. So, we should never feel we are talking too much to a baby. More talking makes for more vocabulary and that is what makes a better reader of every child.
See on line Rainen Foundation, Preschool Predictors of Academic Achievement in Five Kindergarten Readiness Domains.
Real Experiences Lead to Real Conversations, Lead to Real Understanding
In her discussion of reading, Christakis says, “The real focus in the preschool years…should not just be on reading, but on talking…because it builds understanding…Sometimes, to be fair, what children learn in conversation is wrong, or made up. They might conclude that pigs make ham, just as chickens make eggs and cows produce milk. But these understandings are constantly worked over, refined, adapted to new situations as the children acquire yet more knowledge through the harsh reality of say, eating a ham sandwich in front of a brutal older sibling who sets things straight.”
Christakis, Erika. The importance of being little: What preschoolers really need from grownups. Viking, Penguin Random House. 2016. p. 248.
“There is no scientific evidence to support the teaching of single letters in isolation in a preschool curriculum or the introduction of letters in alphabetic order.” At home, parents can encourage children’s writing of their own names. Children quickly learn letters of their own names or the names of their friends, because that kind of learning is emotionally important to them. In addition, children like to hear their own words read back to them by someone who is as powerful as a mom or dad. By writing down a child’s description of his own drawing and reading it back to him, a parent demonstrates the power of writing.
Christakis, Erika. The importance of being little: What preschoolers really need from grownups. Viking, Penguin Random House. 2016. p. 46.
It's as Easy as 1-2-3
The Center for Early Childhood Research (CECR) studied how children learn to count. It turns out that learning about “one, two, three” starts between ages one and two years old. Researchers could predict which children could count, by listening to their parents talk about numbers when the children were between the ages of 14 and 30 months old. They encourage parents to count everyday objects (apples, blocks, forks, pairs of pajamas) and use number labels (there are 4 people so we need 4 forks). Children learn to count by listening to their parents count out loud. www.babylab.uchicago.edu
When a child confuses the word “twisting” with a peanut butter jar, he’s mixed up the verb with the noun. Researchers at the Center for Early Childhood Research found that children learn a word like “twisting” faster if they act it out or actually twist the peanut butter jar themselves while a parent is saying the word “twisting.” The most powerful way to learn a new word like twisting, is to act out the word and say it out loud. www.babylab.uchicago.edu
The 30th Annual Children’s book fair
Authors brought their books. www.thechildrensbookfair.org Parents of every ethnicity could find books written for their children.
Check out some of these books and websites:
Khahari Discovers the Joy of Family written by Evan J. Roberts and illustrated by Janine Carrington is about a boy named Khaharai whose family challenges Mr. Fearful. www.khahari.com Empowered People Press.
Tabitha Fefee aka Mrs. Spirit is an author, spoken word artist, puppeteer and storyteller who performs fairytales and other stories. Tholmes.firstname.lastname@example.org
My Day at the Library written by Oriah Hill. Discover your library first through this book and then by visiting for Toddler Story Times at Chicago Public Library’s Blackstone Branch at 4904 S. Lake Park Ave, Chicago, on Wednesdays from 10:30 to 11:00 p.m. and Lap-sit Story Time on Fridays from 10:30 to 11 a.m. email@example.com
Spanish Language Usage
Two things parents of Spanish-speaking children can do to help them do well in English are to teach their children their letters and to talk about math ideas in Spanish. The research was reported by Corey Mitchell in Education Week’s Spotlight on August 12, 2016. The research project was conducted by the University of Missouri’s College of Human Environmental Sciences, Pennsylvania State University and Arizona State University.
Family Pictures, by Carmen Lomas Garza, Children’s Book Press: San Francisco, 1990.
Family Pictures are paintings and stories by Carmen Lomas Garza about her memories growing up in Kingsville, Texas. You don’t have to read the book which is in English and in Spanish. You can name the people in the pictures and talk about what they are doing together. They are picking oranges from the tree, celebrating a birthday party with a piñata, making tamales, and on the porch eating watermelon on a hot summer night. Talking through a picture book is a good way for two and three year olds to get a big vocabulary. Most of them cannot sit still for longer books, but they can flip pages and they love to have a mama talk about whatever page they have flipped to.
Gender and Language
The research on gender differences in talking is mixed. Louann Brizedine in The Female Brain¸wrote that women speak 20,000 words a day and men speak 7,000 words per day, but, others disagree.
Scientific American in 2007 reported on research by James Pennebacker that found both men and women speak approximately, 16,000 words a day. Catherine Griffin wrote about discovery of a language protein in Science World Report, February 20, 2013. Harvard School of Public Health wrote about research showing that men speak more in large groups and women speak more on collaborative tasks. A summary by Joan Raymond of the most recent research is in www.today.com/health/who-talks-more-men-or-women.com
In fact, we didn’t find research on gender differences in adults talking to children, so we stuck with our gut which is that mamas have more and take more opportunities to talk with their children. Please, everyone join in the conversation. A child’s brain does not care what gender you are.
"It is not a miracle. It is your mother."
In 1995 researchers finally nailed how children learn to talk. Before that everyone from our mamas to professors at Harvard and M.I.T. was trying to figure it out. My mama thought it was a miracle and she had a lot of company. Betty Hart and Todd R. Risley spent the better part of a decade researching and came up with the astounding finding (so obvious really) that children learn to talk from having adults talk to them when they are babies. By age three the children who talked the most had heard millions of words. Usually it is the mother who gives her child the gift of words by naming everything the child does and wants: “Are you hungry? Oh, you need your diaper changed. Oatmeal with brown sugar is so delicious…”
See a summary of the research in this link:
http://literacy.rice.edu/thirty-million-word-gap A summary from "The Early Catastrophe: The 30 Million Word Gap by Age 3" by University of Kansas researchers Betty Hart and Todd R. Risley. (2003). American Educator. Spring: 4-9, which was excerpted with permission from B. Hart and T.R. Risley (1995). Meaningful Differences in the Everyday Experiences of Young American Children. Baltimore, MD: Brookes Publishing
The book about the research is:
Betty Hart and Todd R. Risley. Meaningful differences in everyday experiences of young American children. Baltimore, MD: Brooks Publishing. 1995.
Importance of Play
PLAY is the way children work. It is how they learn to notice the people and things in their environment; how they learn to listen to other people’s ideas; how they learn to imagine, to work in a team, to plan. In short, play teaches children to regulate their emotions and behavior leading to their ability to perform well in school. Sara Smilansky studied play in Israel for decades. Her four stages of play explain what children are learning and doing when they play. Both the seriousness and the joy of children playing are a tribute to the importance of play in children’s lives. Parents, who give their children the words for what they are playing, give children the vocabulary to understand what they are reading at school later on.
Improving early child development with words: Dr. Brenda Fitzgerald at TEDxAtlanta
Dr. Brenda Fitzgerald has her reasons for lots of talking to babies.
Check out her language incentives in the State of Georgia.
Vocabulary Instruction: Tools For Teachers
Children must hear and use a word 24 times before 80% of them remember the word. Storybook reading, while beneficial, is not sufficient for oral vocabulary development. Children need explicit vocabulary instruction as well. All About Words, by Susan B. Neuman and Tanya S. Wright, offers teachers research-backed principles for designing pre-K-2 vocabulary instruction – while dispelling myths that are the basis of poor vocabulary instruction in school. Talmage Steele’s The Gift of Words, imbeds many of those principles in twelve conversation starters. See Teacher Activities in this website for examples.
Susan B. Neuman and Tanya S. Wright, All About Words: Increasing Vocabulary in the Common Core Classroom PreK-2, Common Core State Standards for Literacy Series, Teachers College Press, Columbia University: New York. 2013. 4-18-19 Blog