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Bring On Baby Talk!

Inspire Your Budding Artist

Parenting Articles
Ages and Stages 0 to 2
Bring On Baby Talk
(published in ParentMap)
By Heather Larson


It starts earlier than you might think. Babies first begin learning language by listening to their mother's voice while still in the womb.

"That's why when a baby is born, she prefers to hear her mother's language and her mother's voice," says Rick McKinnon, Ph.D., an early learning specialist in Olympia, Washington.

Reading, singing, telling stories and talking to your unborn baby gives her a head start on talking, says McKinnon. By continuing to do so after birth, you're not only encouraging her speech development, you're also developing a social connection and putting that child in a good position for acquiring literacy. Learning to read is directly related to a child's verbal and auditory abilities, McKinnon says. "If a child has developed basic language skills by Kindergarten, then when that child learns to read, the process will go smoothly," says McKinnon. Not only that, but when a child is able to talk, it can cut down on the frustration both babies and parents experience. If a tot can't communicate with you, they will act out.

Encouraging babies to talk
Your baby's first word may come around the age of 12 months, according to Angela Kitzmiller, a speech language pathologist at Mary Bridge Children's Hospital in Tacoma. "This may only be a word approximation, but nevertheless it's the baby's attempt at talking," she says.

Kitzmiller says you can encourage early speech in several ways, some of which will have the added benefit of strengthening the bond between you and your baby. A mother's response to a baby's cries sets the tone for later development and helps develop a means of communication. During the first few months, crying is the major component of a baby's communication system. When you respond, and your baby realizes that she is being heard, she'll also feel that the world is a safe place and one where her needs will be met, according to Kitzmiller.

Although conversing with a very young baby who doesn't understand you may seem awkward, it's important that you tell the child you're noticing what she is doing. If you're in a restaurant with an overhead fan, and your baby is looking at it, you can say "That's a fan" and "it's turning." The baby realizes you've noticed her interest in the fan and she'll want to continue interacting with you, suggests McKinnon.

Asking questions of the child may block the interaction. McKinnon recommends that you observe the child to see what she's interested in. If it's a toy, use words and actions to show her how the toy works. "Push", "pull", "turn" or "open" are examples. But asking the child complex questions and interrogating her doesn't encourage early speech.

A great way to promote early speech is to enroll your tot in a play group in which she has to communicate with other children. With parents, a child can be lazy about talking, but when it comes to other children, she'll have to come up with words. A community-based program that meets once a week works well, says Kitzmiller.

Reading is crucial
How you read to small children is more important than what you read, but pictures are essential. What's really important is that the child is interested in the story. You can help her connect by talking about the pictures. Emphasize recognizable parts of the book that your child can identify with. Focus on smaller elements.

You can make books for your baby, using photos of familiar objects and people. Mount them on cardboard or poster board pages and put them together with string, ribbon or loose leaf rings. Laminating them or using clear plastic sleeves protects these books from drool and spit up.

"Reading a book is good language stimulation; the baby sees and hears the words in combination," says McKinnon.

Both Kitzmiller and McKinnon agree that using baby sign language (www.signingbaby.com) has definite benefits -- as long as the adult pairs the signs with words. For the tot, it's easier to make the gross motor movements of signing than the finer movements of speech. "Babies can reliably sign at the age of six months," says McKinnon. "Signing cuts down on frustration and we aren't in any danger of short circuiting our baby's language because we use signs."

Most people's only exposure to signing has been with the deaf community. Using signs with infants is fundamentally different and not an alternative to speech. Signing is a form of communication that helps infants and toddlers express their needs as soon as they are able, thus building a strong foundation for using speech, explains McKinnon.

Babies are programmed to learn and talk and barring any developmental issues, they all do. If you have any concerns about your child, have their speech and hearing checked early rather than later. Hearing and speech go hand in hand.

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Parenting Articles
Ages and Stages 0 to 2
Inspire Your Budding Artist
(published in ParentMap)
By Heather Larson


Paint splattered walls, clay in the carpet—the price you may pay for your mini-Monet! But once you get past the mess, experts say, you're giving your toddler a priceless gift when you encourage her to explore art at home. Here are some tips for taming the mess while coaxing out your child's inner artist.

Two-year old Ginger Schreiber keeps all her artistic works-in-progress, her special crayons, stickers and scissors in her own personal box. "This cuts down on the mess a bit and gives her the freedom to return to her project whenever she wants," says her mom, Tera Schreiber of Seattle. Both of Schreiber's daughters (Daisy is four) ask her if they can do a craft almost everyday. "They love art," says Schreiber. To encourage their creativity, she keeps a table and chairs set up in the living room, with the art supplies they use the most close by at kid level.

That easy access is key to free expression, says Kimberly McKenney, content manager at the Children's Museum of Tacoma. "Parents can create an environment that nurtures their child's creativity by providing a special time and place for art making," McKenney says. Having an easel set up all the time or a wall covered with chalkboard paint allows free-access to art making. Keep child-safe art supplies close at hand. Beyond that, covering the kitchen floor with a vinyl tablecloth, getting out a variety of art supplies and sitting on the floor with your toddler sends him the message that art is something fun and special to do together.

"Creating art is a skill that takes exposure and practice in order to build a knowledge base, much like sports, reading or math," says McKenney. "The more children experiment with artistic media and techniques, the more comfortable and confident they become in their ability to create and express themselves."

The benefits of early art
Little artists, even those younger than two, develop problem-solving skills and open up avenues for self-expression as they experiment. Art also builds eye-hand coordination and helps them gain fine muscle control that will help them later with handwriting.

"At this age, children are primarily focused on the process of art, exploring the characteristics of different materials and discovering what their bodies can do with the materials," says McKenney. This means, you'll probably have to remind them to keep paint out of their mouths more than once, so make sure it's non-toxic.

"In a simple way, art is exploring their world," says Una McAlinden, executive director of ArtsEd Washington, a Seattle non-profit. "Have them feel different textures like a brick wall or velvet fabric or collect some leaves to put on construction paper, but keep the art activity simple." She recommends toddlers use just one color when they finger paint. "Don't offer him a dozen colors," says McAlinden. "He will just be overwhelmed and frustrated."

McKenney says parents should be prepared to go through a lot of materials. "The hallmark of toddler art is the use of lots of supplies," she says. But the type of materials you offer ultimately depends on your willingness to monitor the mess and keep your little artist safe. If the art supply your child is working with can pass freely through a toilet paper tube, it is a choking hazard, and the toddler needs to be supervised when using it.

A well-stocked "studio"
Having a variety of interesting art supplies on hand will spark your child's interest in art. Non-toxic crayons, markers, lots of paper, glue, stickers, paints, toilet paper tubes, felt, egg cartons and many recyclables can be used for an assortment of art projects. You can even let your toddler finger paint in the bathtub with chocolate pudding on those days when you want to keep clean up to a minimum. Marci Knutsen, owner of Museo Art and Design in Issaquah, recommends clay for little ones, because it's fun and easy to use and encourages fine-motor development.

Schreiber keeps materials like glitter, ink pads, foam, cotton balls, dried beans and paints in a limited access area, out of reach. She suggests parents try to relax about the mess, but be sure to supervise so the kids stay safe and you stay sane.

Words of encouragement
Some children will experiment more than others, McAlinden says, but parents should think twice before stepping in. "Only make suggestions on what to do if the toddler is hesitant," she says. "If he doesn't appear to know what to do with clay or Play-Doh, you might ask him, 'What do you think will happen if we squeeze this?' Then you can both try squeezing the material."

When your toddler declares his art creation is finished, the last thing you should say is, "What is it?" says McAlinden. "He knows what it is and he thinks it's obvious," she says. She suggests parents instead say, "Tell me about your picture;" ask about what's happening in the picture and why it is happening. Use this opportunity to have a two-way dialogue, McAlinden suggest.

"Encourage and value art exploration for the sake of the experience. Remember, it's the process, not the product that's most important," says McKenney.


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