How do you give your child the best start in life and the best chance at an Ivy League education? By the time a child reaches preschool, studies show that there is a big difference between children based on their language development as a baby and a toddler. The difference? 32 million words. How do you teach your baby 32 million words by pre-school? 32 million is a lot of words. You want your kid to be excelling and this simple thing can drastically change how much of a head start your child has. And not just that, research shows that this difference stays and can be seen even in high school and increase a kid’s odds of getting into a great college. So save that money you were going to use on a private preschool and invest it in a college fund instead and do this!
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So what do you do? Read Out loud (it worked for my child)
Yeah I know, what a novel concept but studies show that reading out loud can change the number of words they are exposed to by 32 million before they start preschool. L absolutely loves reading and reading out loud to your child is the best thing you can do for their education. By knowing this, when L was born I made it a huge priority to make reading a part of every day. I list the 15 ways I encouraged my baby book worm at the end of this article. Did it make a difference? Yes. I am telling you this not to brag, but to try and stress how important doing this will be for your children too. When L turned 10 months she said her first word besides, mama and dada, which was ball. By 14 months, she could say and use correctly 27 words such as hat, duck, dog, light, hot, baby, tip, up, down, no, done, etc. and can answer correctly 10 different animal sounds such as what does the pig say? Oink. At this age, a lot of children aren’t even speaking or might just have a few words under their belt. The majority of these words that she knows are in the books we read and she always says them while we read, so it’s clear that reading to her has been effective.
Why read out loud? Let’s take an in-depth look at why it’s important.
Let’s take a few board books (the three we checked out this week from our local library) and compare it to a conversation.
Board Book 1: Happy Hippo, Angry Duck by Sandra Boynton.
Here is a sample of words from this book, which maybe takes about 5 mins to read.
Mood, terrific, quite, only, hello, today, but, person, little, happy, angry, sad, your, hippo, duck, chicken, not, friends, grumpy, moose, excited, dog, worried, rabbit, contented, frog, sweetly amused, pig, or, maybe, as, might, feel, perhaps, cow, completely confused, fizz, lost, somehow, frazzled, friends, help, difficult, everyone, all, you, what, it, day, unless.
Board Book 2: That’s not my monster…its nose is too bobbly by Fiona Watt.
Here is a sample of words from this book, which maybe takes around 2 mins to read.
Monster, eyebrows, that’s, fuzzy, not, hairy, too, spikes, paws, my, rough, horns, are, ears, bumpy, fluffy.
Board Book 3: Dot Town, Where are you Blue? by Sonali Fry
Here is a sample of words from this book, which maybe takes about 8 mins to read.
Welcome, dots, evening, invite, party, chime, time, sight, give, sure, right, call, way, ballet, joined, what, has, said, wait, here, soon, why, moon, go, but, move, town, out, now, clown, circus, delayed, acrobat, leave, parade, band, marching, part, sand, waves, beach, enjoy, pirates, boat, sailing, farmer, cow, with, goat, he, cowboy, wild, west, castle, king, guest, am, adventures, great, minutes, happens, late.
Now let’s compare it to the 50 most common words used in everyday conversation.
The, of, and, a to, in, is, you, that, it, he, was, for, on, are, as, with, his, they, I, at, be, this, have, from, or, one, had, by, word, but, not, what, all, were, we, when, your, can, said, there, use, an, each, which, she, do, how, their, if.
What do you notice?
- Number of different words the child hears in 15 minutes of reading vs 15 minutes of conversation is drastic.
- The variation of words is much higher from reading than speech.
- More pronouns in speech than in reading, which are harder to follow.
- Reading a book gives you images that match along with the words, which aid in learning. Examples: Sailing on a boat, Joined a ballet, Angry as a Moose, Ears are too hairy.
- The sentence structure in books is also more varied. In speech, the sentence structure is usually the simplest because you respond quickly, which is normal but not the best for learning.
Other ways to help your child? Talk in a specific way. Narrate your day.
Narrate all the things you do every day using specific words. It is so easy to use pronouns. It is even easier to go about your day without describing what you do. These two simple changes could really increase your baby’s word exposure and subsequently their ability to master language which plays a role in every subject of education.
Here are some examples:
Let’s get dressed. First, we can pick out a shirt. Open the drawer and take a shirt out. This shirt is blue with stars on it. Do you see the stars? Okay, let’s put your head through the shirt. Now one arm through the sleeve and now the next arm through the other sleeve. Yay, now you have your shirt on.
(Playing with farm animals and a little box). Sheep. What does the sheep say? Baaa. The sheep says baa. Box. Sheep. Box. The Sheep jumps on to the box. The sheep jumps over the box. The sheep is under the box. The sheep jumps into the box. The sheep jumps out of the box. Jump. Jump. Jump. What does the sheep say? Baa. The Sheep says baa.
For more examples, I highly recommend becoming familiar with the research done by Dr. William Fowler. Here, I explain his findings and link to videos where he gives ideas on how to interact with babies.
What not to do?
Don’t make reading a chore, make it an exciting part of the day. If your child isn’t interested in the book or in reading, then that’s okay. Try another book or another time of the day. Find a fancy way to display their books so the covers show (like these awesome DIY bookshelves we made L). Go to Story Time at the library. Most libraries also have summer reading programs. L participated in a Summer reading program at 6 months and won a set of Boynton books for completing 8 hours of being read to by me.
Here are 15 ways to encourage a baby bookworm
1. Tummy Time Reading
If your baby isn’t a fan of tummy time, this might be extremely helpful. Grab a bunch of board books, open them and set them up around baby. When baby turns side to side or lifts their head, they get to see all the fun pictures in the board books. When they seem bored, turn all the pages to new pages. You can also read each page to them.
2. Rhymes and Songs
New babies enjoy listening to your voice as you read or sing. It is never too early to sing or tell rhymes to baby. Studies show baby is capable of learning language even before being born. Additionally, the more you sign/rhyme, the more baby will love it because they will start to remember it and get excited that they know it. A plus is that hearing your voice in general is very soothing to a baby.
3. Tiny Books for Tiny Hands
Once your baby is ready to explore and is putting everything and anything in their mouth, tiny board books are the best. Let them chew and explore opening the pages with books sized just for them. The pictures on the pages are full of colors and fun pictures. L has played with her set since she was about 3 months and still as a toddler loves them. When reading to them, 1 minute or less on 1 page is perfect. You don’t need to read from start to end, read the page the baby seems to be most interested in or chooses. You can expand on simple pages with asking “where is the…?” and then wait for their answer or babble for 5 seconds and then answer yourself, “There’s the … !” The reason for the pause is to mimic conversation. Baby will pick up quickly when its their turn and will love to answer with their babbles. It also is important for them to make lots of sounds as this is the first step towards words.
4. Invest in board books and a way to display their covers.
Investing in books is literally investing in your child’s education and it doesn’t have to be expensive. Look at my ways to save on baby items to know how to find inexpensive board books. My favorite board books include anything by Eric Carle, kids just love his artwork. The That’s Not My _____ Books are awesome sensory books, Dimity Duck especially if you have a baby who likes ducks, and anything Boynton which you can usually find in packs.
Draw your little one’s attention to books by displaying them in a way that baby can see the colorful covers and reach the books. My little one would spend hours taking books off her shelf, flipping through them or bringing them to me to read to her. It promotes independence and allows them to pick their books. A great simple way to do this is to make some DIY toddler-friendly bookshelves.
5. Go to story times and sing-alongs at your local libraries.
Check out your library and see what they offer. Most libraries have programs for little ones. Babies love seeing other babies and therefore will make a positive association with the library (books). Another plus is it is a great way to meet and chat with other moms. To know about more free activities and events like the ones at the library and make a few mom friends while you’re at it, read here.
6. Read during bath times
Once your baby is sitting up in the bath near the end of the first year, your little one might start to not like baths. Toys are one option to try to make bath better but we found the best distraction is bath safe books. L loves being read to or turning the pages and reading the book herself. This strategy has helped immensely when it comes time to washing her hair. L’s favorite bath books are “Who’s Playing on the Farm?” and “Found You, Magic Fish!”
7. Point to pictures and give them names.
As your baby gets older, you will start to find that the books they want to read over and over again are very simple. L loved the First 100 Words board books. Each page has items and their name. It is helpful to point to the pictures, give your child the name for things, and then help your child relate pictures and words to his or her life. For example, if the picture was of a ball, I would point to the picture, say ball, and then point to the ball in the room or go and get it. I would also say animal names and make the sounds they make.
8. Read the same book over and over again.
The main reason babies and toddlers like to read is that they start to know the book. So they like to read the same ones over and over. To increase the number of books your child is willing to listen to, start reading a lot of different books as soon as you can (newborn stage). Even if you think they aren’t getting anything from it, they are listening to the flow of the language. Once your child is old enough to indicate that they want to read a book, or read a book again and again, always say yes. Repetition not only helps to teach your child words, but also strengthens brain connections needed for future learning.
1. Make library trips fun and special
Toddlers can’t get enough of routines. A great way to incorporate the library into your routine is to make it a special outing. Maybe every Friday morning, you and your little one go to the library and return books. Your little one then gets to pick out brand new books and help check them out. Then end your outing with a picnic in front of the library or maybe go out to lunch or coffee. Want to have the event be less expensive? Opt for a café and get a coffee for you and bring a packed snack for little one but buy them something special from the café if you live in the cold like we do.
Another idea is to always meet a little friend at the library and make it into a play date. Positive association with books is key and no better way than to include a friend.
2. Have books and snuggles part of bedtime
While trying to promote reading in young minds, make some great memories. Add books and snuggles in a big comfy chair as part of your bedtime. For older toddlers, you can set aside a longer time duration to read like 45 mins, which is a great activity to calm down from the busy day. If you are wanting to find ways for your significant other to connect with your kids after a busy day and dinner, reading time is the perfect solution.
3. Ask kids brain engaging questions while you read
Instead of making reading a passive activity, get your toddler involved. Ask them a question, wait for and listen to the answer, praise the answer, repeat it and expand on it. Ask them who, what, when where and why questions and questions that connect the story to the child’s life. Ask them what they think will happen, will Jack find the dinosaur or will he get lost etc? Who is on the page? Why do they think a character is sad? Who is their favorite character? Where is the pig on the page? What do you draw? Where would you hide? You can also let them finish the sentences of their favorite book. Anything that engages the brain, grows the brain.
When they answer, always model correct speech when you repeat your child’s words. Extent what your child is saying by completely or adding to their sentences. Respond positively because studies show children learn more when they feel supported.
4. Invest in books and make a comfy reading nook.
Again, like board books for babies invest in books. You can’t go wrong here. Make reading more appealing by making a reading nook. In addition to books, make a comfy reading nook in the house. I love some of the DIY reading nooks on Pinterest. My favorite are ones that have a lot of pillows on the ground in some form of tepee or tent. Follow my toddler reading nook board on Pinterest to see many ideas.
5. Read during snack times
Anyone else have a toddler who would rather do anything but sit in a highchair and eat? This is your solution! Bring a stack of books and read to your little one while they eat to keep their mind occupied. This also works well for those toddlers who aren’t interested in reading or can’t sit still to read a book.
6. Keep reading outloud if your toddler walks away
Continue reading if your child walks away. Often they will come back to see the next page and very often they are still listening but just don’t have the ability to sit still for very long. Never force your child to listen or look at a book. This will not create a positive association with reading and could backfire to where the child hates reading time.
7. Present choices instead of open-ended questions
Allow your child to pick books but better yet give them a few choices and ask them to pick from those choices. Ex: Do you want to check out the very hungry caterpillar or The Eye Book by Dr. Seuss. Studies show kids have a very hard time with open-ended questions. Off topic side note: Apply this to behavioral issues too and watch magic happen. Instead of asking Can you put your shoes on? Ask do you want to wear your pink or purple shoes today? Then watch them go and try to put on the pair they want. Another example: Why did you push your sibling? Instead ask, were you frustrated so you pushed your sibling? Or, did you want that toy so you pushed because you were frustrated? Then, instead of telling them what not to do (Don’t push), tell them what to do. Next time, ask if you can have a turn once she is done. Let’s try it.
What brain boosting parenting tips do you use?
I am always looking for great ways to ensure I have given my kids the best start in life so they’re able to follow their dreams and goals, have great relationships, and be happy. So please share any tips you have in the comments below.
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Dr. Trina Fitzpatrick is a wife, mom, blogger, and a breastfeeding advocate. She is the co-author of the Week-by-Week Bump Smart Course, the Nesting Planner and the Breastfeeding Handbook. She attributes her success at breastfeeding her own children into toddlerhood with working with lactation consultants in the hospital in the early stages and on a weekly basis afterwards. By writing at MomSmartNotHard, she educates mamas-to-be on all things pregnancy, birth and breastfeeding. Read more about Trina.