Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Supporting Gross Motor Development

Since we talked about the first year of gross motor development—first lifting of the head through walking—we should take up a discussion on the activities that parents may or may not be doing that helps support gross motor development.
Here is the disclaimer—babies will be driven to complete these developmental tasks whether or not you provide a supportive environment for this development. However, knowing that there is a developmental sequence, parents may want to provide a good environment for learning the current task rather than pushing a baby to achieve, as an example, walking before the child is actively moving about by crawling or creeping.
In the first months, as the baby strengthens his head, neck, and upper body, the best activities are on the floor in a safe location with things that are interesting for the baby to look at. (Remember—you are the most interesting thing for your baby to look at!) Other objects that babies go for are colorful toys and toys that they love to put into their mouths.
Next, as the motivation increases to reach the toy, you can place it just a teeny-tiny bit away. Maybe close enough for baby’s fingertips to feel the toy. Soon, as the front half of baby has gained strength to push his chest off of the floor, the back half will try to catch up, pushing and twisting to give forward momentum.
As baby begins to pull himself to standing, you can place toys on the sofa next to you, encouraging baby to take those first tentative steps cruising around a sturdy piece of furniture.
The last stage is letting go of your hand or sofa, and moving out onto the wider arena. There’s no holding back now!

Climbing up the ladder
Look at me!
I’m at the top of the apple tree.
I’m picking apples,
One, two, three.
Now the tree is bare as it can be.

Pantomime climbing a ladder
Point proudly to self
Point up high
Pantomime picking 3 apples
Shrug shoulders

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Motor Skill Development

The fun part of writing this column is to watch the little ones in our community and out of those observations, share some aspect of development with readers. This week, during our lovely August weather, a young mom was outdoors with her one year old. They were taking a walk.
Babies, almost immediately after birth, have a drive to exercise their muscles to go from prone–to upright and walking in only a little more time then the time it took to grow from conception to birth.
They gain control, first of the head and trunk. Little by little as we carry our baby, we begin to minimize our careful support of the head as the neck and trunk muscles grow stronger. When babies are placed on the floor on their tummies, they further exercise these muscles and those in their arms and shoulders as the lift first the head and later the chest from the floor.
Growing even stronger, the muscles in the legs and back help them to flip over onto their backs. We often see a startled look as if baby did not quite know what happened. Soon a twisting and arching motion will flip a baby back to his tummy. At this point a baby may use the roll from tummy to back to tummy to help explore and locate a favorite toy. Pretty soon the baby will be up on hands and knees, sometimes crawling on hands and knees or sometimes doing the army crawl on forearms and tummy.
Whatever way baby moves about on the floor, there will be a time when the urge to stand and then to take wobbly steps will take over. Crawling will become a mobility method of the past, unless of course, speed is the priority!

Busy busy busy busy
Busy little squirrel
Running running jumping
In a dizzy whirl
Stopping now and then to eat
A tasty little acorn treat
Busy busy busy busy
Busy little squirrel

Pantomime or sign some of the key words in the poem.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Summary of Early Literacy Strategies

These past few weeks we have been talking about early literacy. This is such an important topic because all parents can vastly increase the ease in which their children learn to read. Parents can do this  simply by focusing on the quality and quantity of their own communications with their child from birth to school age. Because we all want the very best start in reading for our children, I will review the salient points in early literacy:
Talk and sing to your baby before birth. A fetus can hear soon after four months and besides all the internal sounds of your body, babies hear the mother's voice more clearly than all other external sounds. By singing and talking to your baby before birth, you are capitalizing on this.
Talk and sing to your newborn when they are awake and alert. Do this a lot! Newborns are wired to pay attention to language that is directed towards themselves. Talking to another adult, the conversations on television, and songs sung by professional singers don't count! The more language your baby hears from you, directed towards him or herself, the more readily will they begin to understand language.
Take conversational turns with your baby. If he yawns, you take a turn to yawn. If she opens her eyes wide, you open your eyes wide. This will help your baby learn that what he has to say (or do) carries meaning and his parent understands the meaning.
As babies begin to pay attention to objects, show and talk about a chubby board or other style toddler book that you enjoy.  Provide a few different books during this time, but not too many because babies love repetition. Try to figure out which book is your baby's favorite.  You can read the words or simply talk about the pictures in the book.  Help your baby to turn the pages when she is able to grab for the book.
Toddler time from about eighteen months to three years is an important time to maintain routines regarding reading books. The same comfortable chair, a small stash of favorites, and an occasional new book build happy reading routines. The key point is to read every day and to keep the time within what your child can manage. Here you can use favorite songs and fingerplays both to develop a reading time and to extend the amount of time your toddler stays interested in the reading activity. Parents often use bedtime as storytime but it isn't always the best time if toddlers are overtired.
Around age three or before, you can begin to provide crayons and paper. Encourage your child to tell you about his picture and try not to become the one drawing the pictures! If your child tells you the scribble is a cow, print the word 'cow' on his picture. The goal here is to develop meaning from the words and pictures.
Using these strategies and many more that you come up with will build a good reader from birth.  This is the goal of early literacy.

“Gunk, gunk”  (or “mm, ah”)
Went the little green frog one day
“Gunk, gunk” went the little green frog.
“Gunk, gunk” (or “mm, ah”)
Went the little green frog one day
And his eyes went gunk, gunk, gunk.

This song is just silly.  Blink eyes each time you say “gunk”.  It is fun for the children to watch your eyes and try to imitate the blinking.
Even more fun is the “mm, ah” variation.  Instead of saying “gunk, gunk”, say “mm, ah.  When you say “mm”, you scrunch up your face and close your eyes.  When you say ă, you open your eyes and mouth, thrusting your tongue out and downward

Saturday, August 6, 2011

How does talking to babies improve literacy?

Last week we talked about the effectiveness of talking to your baby. The question might be, “How does this improve literacy?” Here is one reason.
The brain of a newborn is prewired to learn any language. A two-month-old can distinguish between two different languages. How do they do this? The rhythm of languages differs greatly and babies rely on rhythm, not on sounds to distinguish between languages.
This is pretty impressive, but there is more. By the time babies are eight to ten months of age they will focus on the sounds that are in their own language. Babies were tested to see if at this age they could tell the difference between the sounds, ‘pa’ and ‘ba’. Researchers did this by electronically monitored a pacifier. When babies heard ‘pa, pa, pa’, they sucked strongly for a time. But then the sucking diminished. When the sound changed and they heard ‘ba, ba, ba’, they showed their interest by sucking strongly again.  Of course there was a control group who only heard one of the sounds. This proved that the babies who heard both sounds could tell when the sound changed.
There have been many, many studies similar to this that indicate that even very young infants pay attention to sounds in their environment. It is because babies are wired to be interested and to be able to distinguish sounds at a very early age, that they can learn the language in any culture they in which they are raised. However, it takes lots and lots of quality talk time to insure that babies have had practice in discerning sounds.
So what happens if there are very few sounds as in the case of a parent who rarely speaks to his or her baby. This baby’s brain has had very little practice time. I guarantee this little one will be much slower in learning to read than their peers whose parents talk with their babies.
I would like to share two great resources on this topic. The first was given to me by Hollis Helmeci, our librarian. It is a website and a blog that gives many strategies for helping your child learn to read. The second is a book that I have mentioned before, How Babies Talk, The Magic and Mystery of language in the First Three Years of Life. Happy talking!

I’m a little sunflower, I’m so small
Soil, sun, and water make me tall.
When I get all grown up
You will see
That I’m as big as I can be!

Sit, crosslegged on floor, Pat the floor for soil, round the arms for sun and wiggle fingers for water. Sit on knees Stand with hands on hips. Stand tall with arms reaching high.

(tune:  Sing a Song of Sixpence)

Monday, August 1, 2011

Talking to Babies

As stated in our last column, learning language follows a developmental sequence with auditory receptive language being the first step. A great deal has been written about how parents affect their children's development in language. Here is one suggestion that is show by research to be the most effective.
 To enhance children's auditory receptive language, parents need to talk to their children. Some very interesting research was carried out in the sixties. The language environment for 18-month-old children was measured to determine how many words per hour mothers spoke to toddlers. Three clearly defined groups arose from the study. One group of moms spoke between 600 and 700 words per hour. Does this seem like a lot to you? The 2nd group of moms spoke between 1100 and 1200 words per hour. The 3rd group of moms spoke over 1500 words per hour.
But this isn't the end of the story. These mother child dyads were tested again at 3 years of age. The 1st group increased the number of words per hour to about 900. The 2nd group increased their number of words per hour to about 1500 words. The 3rd group increased their number of words to about 3000 words per hour.
When these children started kindergarten and then moved on to 1st grade, the children in the 1st group generally had difficulty learning to read. The 2nd group did okay. However, the 3rd group learned to read easily, fluently, and excelled in all academic areas.

These are grandmas’s glasses
And this is grandma’s hat.
This is the way she folds her hands
And puts them in her lap.

These are grandpa’s glasses
And this is grandpa’s hat.
This is the way he folds his arms
And sits like that.

Pantomime motions, change voice to a bigger voice for the grandpa stanza.