Friday, May 17, 2013

Language Development in Children

One of the joys of watching your child grow is hearing them learn to speak. We are having a lot of fun in our house listening to my son's voice emerge. It is rewarding and precious to discover his first words and for his intentions to finally make themselves known. My son clearly likes music because he the bathtub, in the car, in his crib...Our family pets are also rather important to him because he learned "Doggie- Woo, woo, woof" and "Kittie" rather quickly.

Since education (and English in particular) are rather important to me I decided to brush up on some of my knowledge of language development. I highly suggest reading Beyond Baby Talk by Kenn Apel and Julie Materson. 

Here are some of the most exciting things I learned from reading this book:

Child-Directed Speech or C.D.S.

This used to be called "Motherease". This relates the the style in which you address the child you are talking to. It is characterized by the "speaker's pitch" going "up and down more often than during typical speech" they "also tend to use a slower though they have an unconscious appreciation for the notion that the baby may need a little more time to take in or understand the incoming information"(45). This is not baby talk in the sense of using words like "goo-goo" and ga-ga" but that the speaker uses "simple words. You're likely to hear a word like bye-bye or blanket...but you probably won't hear quilt". One of the aspects of C.D.S. is also "attributing meaning to the baby's comments that might not really be so meaningful" (47). For example when a child starts to make a sound like wa-wa and the parent responds positively and applies meaning by attaching a drink of water to the sound. C.D.S. is also "characterized by a high degree of responsiveness" (46) from the adult who is caring for the child.  C.D.S. caregivers also responds positively and enthusiastically to the child when the child makes noises or produces sounds that are largely incomprehensible. This encouragement gives your child confidence and makes them want to practice more language.

Television and Your Child

Surprisingly enough this book did not bash television. The authors support a balanced approach to television and computer time but also state that some television shows like Sesame Street, Mr. Roger's Neighborhood, and Rubbadubbers use the C.D.S. approach to language and can actually help your child learn language (166). This book had some great things to say about the original Mr. Roger's Neighborhood show. One of the reasons Fred Roger's is educational, in terms of language development, is because he uses C.D.S. and sentences that contain just one verb. They also state that some television watching can be "helpful for children's development of positive imaginative play" (167) because children will mimic the characters they watch on the shows, they "may actually use what [they] see (s) on television as a basis for playing with [their] friends". They also state that watching television may also cause "children to challenge themselves to try new actions or methods of play". As a parent this is an exciting finding yet it brings great responsibility because this means it is important to be aware of what my child is viewing on television so that they do not mimic behaviors or situations I do not wish for them to mimic. The authors do state that it is of vital importance that parents watch television with their children and discuss what they are seeing. Considering the messages that your child could pick up while watching television, it seems to go without saying that we should never abandon our children in front of the television.

Television may also help your child's development by exposing them to different cultures and languages. In a study done on preschoolers it was found that "after watching shows involving children from a variety of racial/cultural backgrounds" that those children were "more apt to choose to play with children from any culture, either theirs or another" (169). Having a willingness to make friends and play with others who are different from themselves is an amazing skill for our children to have. It will not only aid them on the play ground but also in life.

Watching television however can be a double edged sword. It is not advised that your child watch too much television. The reason for this is "excessive television viewing takes away from social interactions between children and their parents and peers" (171). They also caution against watching shows that are not developmentally appropriate. Children may also not be able to tell the difference between reality and imaginary situations and people. They may believe the images they see on television are real; "this may occur because, as toddlers view stories containing examples of violence or conflict, it is likely these individual events are remembered and acted out, rather than the larger story" (172). The ability to notice violence also "extends to real-life depictions, such as nightly news programs". Interestingly enough, "preschoolers who watch nightly news programs may be at risk for experiencing nightmares than children who do not watch these shows". Above all remain present and aware of what your child is watching and experiencing on television.

Computers and Your Child

This is often a topic of conversation in our house. My son loves and is fascinated by the computer. This may be because we occasionally play a Sesame Street or Baby Einstein video on it for him. We have been discussing if/when and how to incorporate the computer into his life. The information supplied in this book was very valuable to me and helped me understand what type of programs are appropriate for him. The author's of this book suggest parents avoid computer programs which "follow a drill-and-practice format" (175). Why should we avoid these types of programs? Many only give the child praise when they get the right answer. This does not encourage the child to continue discovering and exploring the possibilities. Programs which require the child to "actively participate...stimulate your child's physical, emotional, social, and cognitive growth through flexibility and variety in the ways they allow your child to respond". Some suggestions to look for in computer programs are programs that allow the child to make choices regarding situations that may be familiar to them or similar to everyday events. They suggest talking books or programs that have animation as well as story text. They also suggest "multimedia presentations, or on-screen activity that involves sights, sounds, words" (176). This gives the the child an opportunity to "link visual aspects of words with the spoken form simultaneously". Lastly, the book does caution that a computer program which teaches literacy skills should not replace one-on-one time reading and learning between parent and child. Computer programs should only be used as supplement. Computer time should also be given in moderation so that children continue to develop interpersonal skills.

Additional Resources:

Sesame Street: the Sesame Street empire is a big one. You can find clips of your favorite characters on YouTube or you can go their website. They have Games, Videos, Playlists,  and Muppets. you can register at the site on My Street and save your favorites from this site.  Below is a song that my son and I sing on rough days...

Mr. Roger's Neighborhood: PBS Kids has a Mr. Roger's page. On the PBS page for Mr. Roger's they also have gamesvideos, songs, and coloring pages. There is also story corner which has talking books and resources for parents and teachers.The current spin off of the Mr. Roger's show is Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood which is an animated cartoon; this page also has web page with similar links and activities. My son really likes the Fish Tank game. Below is a Mr. Roger's episode called Brave & Strong:

Rubbadubbers: I will admit that I had no idea what the book was talking about when they talked about this television show. I did go and look for it though...I am not sure I am impressed. It seems they are a part of the Nickelodeon network Nick Jr. the show seems to be based on a bath time thyme and is a stop animation show that originated in Britain. Their main site seemed to be linked to Nick Jr. Here is a YouTube video from the show:

ABC Mouse: Is a computer learning program for preschoolers. They have some good reviews and offer a monthly subscription. I am not sure that my son is ready for ABC Mouse just yet but it is one of the programs we are looking into. They offer a one month free trial subscription when you are ready to give it a try. 

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