Talking about Books and Language

 This post requires a confession. At times I have read to my kids solely to get life back under control. That's right! Sometimes and especially when my kids were little, close in age, and loud and demanding, I would read to my children to calm things down and so I could have a break of sorts from the chaos. Perhaps because of this I also did not care so much for wordless picture books because they required thinking on my part dear friends, and I was looking to calm down, not think!  Really all good speech-language pathologists know that good language enhancing reading time includes thinking, and talking. Ahem, that just doesn't mean we do it every time right? 

Now that you know my secret, you can understand why I felt just a tad bit guilty immediately after hearing about recent research about the value of wordless picture books and their ability to naturally enhance parent-children book reading and discussion.  For just the same reasons that I occasionally didn't want to read a wordless picture book,  these books encourage much more language (and thinking) and discussion between children and parents. That may seem kind of obvious, but it was a good reminder to me. I love that in this article the researchers give credit to what parents already instinctively do when reading wordless picture books and recommend they extend these techniques to other activities.

The knowledge of this study (and my confession to myself) has really encouraged me to up the ante on my book reading interactions with my youngest son more often.  I find myself thinking about the study when I am reading to him before his nap and elaborating just a little more about what is going on in the story or pictures and encouraging him to do the same.  All this can enhance language development and bonding.  Do you know what else? It turns out that it calms things down and becomes a break from the chaos just the same, or perhaps even better.

Joint Attention Part Two: Looking and Learning in the Real World

If you missed the first post about the importance of joint attention, you can read it here.

Let's look at what joint attention looks like in the real world.  First notice when your child is involved in joint attention with you.  Although it begins to develop early on as an infant, joint attention is a great language tool for many years. In fact, think about communication--we are focused on the same thing together --ideally jointly attending to a subject! Considering children, joint attention may be especially effective when child initiated since that is where interest lies.  When your child sees an object and wants you to join in his gaze by looking at you and the object, by pointing, gesturing or vocalizing, respond accordingly!  Talk about it!  Try using simple language such as
"Horse! You see the horse! It's a little horse, isn't it?"

By trying to speak in a natural voice, and over time with these experiences, your child can learn language.  If you notice that your child is watching your gaze to see what you see, again, talk about it in a simple natural way.  When looking at books, respond to what your child is most interested in and don't feel it is necessary to read all the words of a book to your toddler.  Simplifying text based on age level is definitely appropriate.  Babies and toddlers often enjoy and can respond to one word labels in books and pictures. Finally, when engaging in the repetitive routines of life, talk about what you are doing.  Your child is most likely paying attention to what you are doing when you are bathing her, dressing her, or feeding her and becomes accustomed to these daily tasks. Talk about these things in simple natural language, using similar language each time, perhaps using melody to make it playful, or even making it into a song.   When swinging for example you can sing "swing, swing, swing!"  The natural game of grabbing toes as your child comes back to you in the swing and saying, "Got your toes! Got your toes!" is a great repetitive and social language game.

If your child hears these verbal routines over and over and often enough, they can absorb more language, understand more, and become ready to say more as well!

Look! Look! Looking at Life Together With Your Child Part One

Around the middle of their first year of life, an important language skill shows up for typically developing children. They begin to notice what you are noticing, and  hoping you will notice what they see too. This experience shared by two is called joint attention.

Why is this important in developing language?  Two important reasons are worth considering right now.  Joint Attention benefits:

1:  the development of a desire to communicate with others

2. the further development of receptive language, or language a child understands.

In other words, these skills  increase and exhibit a child's desire to engage with people and understand and be understood by them, as well as increase what words and concepts they understand.  These are vital in communication, and also aid what so many parents are after--talking!

By learning to look at what you are looking at, and hearing what you have to say helps your child develop a social  connection with you.  What's more, they not only continue to learn to enjoy people, increasing their desire to communicate, they realize that the stuff coming out of your mouth means something, and by following your gaze or point, they can sometimes figure out what you mean!  In what we would consider  atypical development, children fail to look and learn about things from you as much as we would expect and sometimes seem to live in their own world.  If they are not realizing that they can focus on what you focus on, and that what you are saying is related to that, it will be much more difficult for them to desire or even realize they can communicate with you, let alone realize what you are saying and what they can say themselves. Healthy communication is what we are after!

Other ways your child engages in joint attention activities are by pointing, gesturing, or making sounds to get you to notice what they notice.  They also might following your gaze to an object, by attending to books or pictures and listening to you talk about them, or even by playing peekaboo or other social games with you.

The desire a child shows for you to interact with them by exploring an object or looking at something interesting with you, is a healthy habit to encourage!  The desire for a child to be with you and have you interacting with them may make some young children seem difficult to care for, and can even feel tiresome at times but truly this is thing to celebrate!  Your child learns by being with you and interacting with you, and it is almost impossible to overdo it. As your child focuses on something, or attends to what you are focusing on, talking about this often feels natural, and this is a good thing!  When you talk about what your child is focused on it potentially helps your child to learn to understand the language associated with this object. The language your child understands is called receptive language and is again important prior to getting those words out of their mouth! First, they have to understand what they mean. Typical children understand a lot more than they can say, and enhancing what they understand may help them be able to express more and perhaps do it more quickly. As simple and natural as it sometimes is, joint attention is a great way to enhance receptive language development, which can enhances expressive language, or what your child can say.  If your child does not look at and engage in joint attention activities, take note that this is not typical language development and is red flag in possible need for help.  If your child is showing great signs of joint attention, enjoy and enhance these occasions!  To read more about joint attention, see Part Two!


The Learning Triangle

as presented by PBS Kids Ready to Learn Workshop

A triangle has three points and with regard to the learning triangle, each point identifies an aspect of learning including reading, viewing and doing. Implementing the triangle of learning every time you read a book will enhance learning. You know this is true because it has worked for you. Think of the books you have read in High School and were required to write essays and papers about. Do you remember them better than a book you read much more recently? What about the book that "spoke" to you because you related to it so well. Does the message from that book surface more readily than others regardless of order of appearance? This is because you are giving your mind additional avenues to learning and remembering. Providing children experiences related to what they have just read will enhance their learning and memory of what they have just read. The reading triangle is simple and designed to do just that - help you remember. Shall we talk about this more?

1. Read! Read a book. Ask questions about the story's characters, pictures and plot. Invite children to retell the story by reading pictures.
2. View. Actively watch an appropriate and related program with your child. While watching, ask open-ended questions. "What do you think will happen next?" If the characters are dancing and singing, dance and sing with them. Moving the body uses different parts of the brain and invites different memory tactics.
3. Do. Young children learn best by doing and using their five senses to explore their world. Extend the learning about the topics by engaging in a follow-up activity. This could be art or cooking project, a song, a game or anything!

The Triangle of Learning and its application to me, a mother of four enthusiastic learners:

The learning triangle has become one of our favorite things. We have learned to thoroughly enjoy this idea as we bond and enjoy one another through shared books and, thanks to the learning triangle, movies and adventures. I am not exaggerating when I say that many of our most memorable times together have been sponsored by a good read. A book creates a new way for us to recreate inviting new ideas, themes and templates to act on our imaginations. A book is as variable as its topic and its reader. A book, as it has been said so many times before, opens the mind to a world of endless possibilities. Let me share with you some ways that the triangle of learning has succeeded in fulfilling a passion for learning as well as many treasured occasions in our family.

The Chocolate Touch by Patrick Skene Catling
1. Read! I read the book aloud to my children.
2. Activity. I visited the bin candy and purchased six pieces of 30 or more different kinds of chocolate including milk, dark, white, clusters, mint, caramel, raspberry, crispy, etc. Then we rated each kind of chocolate with a one through five, five being The Best Chocolate Ever and one being Gross. It was enjoyable and my children were very careful raters. We glued the wrapper from the chocolate or drew a picture of the chocolate in a box on a page and rated it beneath producing a fun final product. Being the speech mom that I am, I took it to the extreme when my son said he would rather have the pizza touch. So, next, each of my sons dictated and illustrated a story of their own, one titled The Pizza Touch, the other, The Bubblegum Touch. What a template for creativity!
3. View. We watched Willy Wanka and the Chocolate Factory. Fact: children respond more positively when this is a shared activity (with mom) and because we shared something together such as a book about chocolate.

This book is a spin off the story King Midas and the Golden Touch so, naturally, we visited this story as well.

Holes by Louis Sachar
1. Read. I read the book Holes aloud to my sons. This book is not a light read and it is one I am glad I shared with them and, at their young ages, did not invite them to read independently. There was much to consider and discuss throughout the reading of the book - many questions to ponder and lessons to learn but this book needed a guide, a parent to lead the mind in a constructive direction. It was a eye opener in many aspects.
2. Activity. We dug a hole! It was exhilarating and fun for all of us. It may sound like work, however, we had something in common - we shared the book Holes. Our hole is about four feet deep and two feet wide and a favorite place for my boys to hide.
3. View. There is a movie about this book but we haven't seen it.

Davy Crockett by Enid Lamonte Meadowcroft
1. Read. I read this book aloud to my children. A delightful read for young boys.
2. Activity. We happen to have coon caps thanks to the boys Uncle and Cabella's and we simply acted out the story as well as our own story in the same setting. Learning happens. Activities such as this don't need much initiation on my part. This type of imaginative play is a common part of my boys life.
3. View. We watched Davy Crocket, of course.

We read several books in this series including Daniel Boone, Geronimo, General Custard and Crazy Horse. A great and fun way to learn a little history. We were so taken with it that I sewed a tepee, we made drums, we wrote in characters, and made costumes with head-dresses.

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang
1. Read. We listened to this book on audiodisc together. Should I mention that this book is quite different from the Disney movie so if you think you know the story because of the movie, you don't. The reader was very fun with an accent and sound effects and everything.
2. Activity. We made Bon Bon fudge using the recipe in the book.
3. View. We watched Chitty Chitty Bang Bang while eating Bon Bon fudge. Thank you Mr. Bon Bon.

Chalk Box Kid by Clyde Robert Bulla
1. Read. I read this story with a small group of 3rd grade students.
2. Activity. We covered a hall wall with black paper and drew our own garden with chalk. We were very proud of our masterpiece.
3. View. We did not view anything related to this book because of the classroom setting I was in, however, we next read a book Riding Freedom and watched short clips from that time period helping the students visually identify the difference between our time and the 1800's.

Every night my husband and I read to our children (excluding some holidays or late nights). We take turns reading a novel to our oldest two while the other parent reads picture books to our youngest two. This is bonding. And truly, reading is a favorite pass time for each of my children. Following each chapter book, the boys anticipate an activity and view together and this has created a beautiful tradition and a great way to spend time together. I feel passionately about the strong and positive effect the implementation of the triangle of learning has had on our family. I want your family to experience this too. If you have used the triangle of learning in the past, please share your experiences with me. Happy reading and learning.

Twenty Minutes a Day

Read to your children,
twenty minutes a day.
You have the time
and so do they.
Read while the laundry
is in the machine,
Read while dinner cooks;
Tuck a child
into the crook of your arm
And reach for the library books.
Hide the remote,
Let the computer games cool,
For the day your children
Will be off to school;
"Remedial?" "Gifted?"
You have your choice;
Let them hear their first tails
To the sound of your voice.
Read in the morning;
Read over noon;
Read by the light of the
Goodnight Moon.
Turn the pages together,
Sitting as close as you'll fit,
Till a small voice beside you says,
"Hey don't quit."
by Richard Peck