In this blog post, I am going to share with you some of the wisdom I gleaned from Dr. Dana Suskind's book, Thirty Million Words, Building a Child's Brain, Tune In, Talk More, Take Turns, published by Dutton Publishing in 2015. This is a must-read for all of us concerned with the future of our children and grandchildren.
I have been trying to master the use of a variety of electronic devices and programs over the last few months and as I've learned about them, I've found out about the amazing benefits they provide. I've also learned that it takes an enormous amount of time to learn and become an active participant. I began to wonder about how this is affecting our relationships with our families, friends, and children. I watch people as I travel and as I make my way around where I live, and it seems to me that people are talking face-to-face a lot less than they used to. It is also not unusual for me to see people texting while walking down the street, or even to see drivers texting while driving, at highway speeds of 70 mph and more! What I think we all should think about is this: When is the last time that you sat down to dinner, a cup of coffee, or just a conversation, that you did not check your phone for messages during that time? Once? Twice? Never?
I heard on the radio a few months ago about the owner of a small neighborhood restaurant, who was interviewed because of his view on this topic. Historically, his family-owned restaurant has been known as a great place for intimate conversation with companions, while at the same time savoring wonderful food! He said people don't even talk to one another anymore, let alone take the time to enjoy their food because they are so sidetracked by incoming messages. As a result, he began a voluntary system whereby guests check in their devices at the front desk, so they can have uninterrupted time to enjoy conversation with their spouse, date, children or friends and to enjoy their meals as they used to. I think it is a great idea, to at least once a day, check-in our phones and other devices. Then we can have a conversation and be total in the moment or "present" with the person we are with. Imagine how great it would feel for your children to have your undivided attention on what they have to say or do?
We know that warm and meaningful interactions between a parent and child are crucial to emotional development, language learning, and academic development. This was studied and proven to be true by the Hart and Risley research team out of Kansas back in the 1970s and 1980s. Hart and Risley found the variable that made the most significant difference in vocabulary and language development was the amount of time that the adults in the environment were talking to the children. This was corroborated by the research team at the Lena Foundation Institute in Colorado, and others. Hart and Risley would go so far as to say that when looking for a childcare or other program for young children or infants, once the safety and health requirements are met, it is important to look at the amount and type of talking that is going on between adults and children.
Bring this finding back to our current society, where face-to-face spoken language seems to be lost in the shuffle with everything else that is going on. I'm worried that it decreases the warm, interactive relationships between adults and children, and thereby leaves this generation of children with decreased levels of language and vocabulary, and the ability to communicate with something other than truncated words and emoji's. It seems there are a lot of things said and posted that most of them would normally never say about another person, but it's much easier to type something on a smart phone and hit "send," than to face a person when some of these things are said and actually see the hurt on their faces.
So what about this idea of checking in devices during mealtime and other times of the day? I challenge all of you to monitor the amount of time you are talking, texting, or browsing on Facebook, and other popular sites. Also, carefully monitor the amount of time children are doing the same thing. How much time is this taking away from interactions with children, friends and spouse or just getting outside for a jog, or going to the playground with the kids,, or just breathing fresh air? I think heightening our awareness of the amount of time we spend is probably enough to get us started down the right road to change--or at least to think about it and become more aware.
©2-22-2018 Karen K Rossi, EdD., LSLS Cert. AVEd.
"Hey, Mommy. Look over here! I need you! The grass is very itchy and I don't like it!"
I am on a plane as I write this blog. I was in the security line at 5:15 this morning and I desperately needed caffeine to wake up. By the time I was through security, there was no time to buy a soda before boarding, because there were at least ten people ahead of me in the line. I convinced myself that I could wait for the free beverage cart as soon as the plane was in the air. However, when the flight attendants came by with beverages, apparently I was invisible to them when they stopped by our row. I waved my hand in the air several times but they would not look my way. What really bothered me was that the passengers in the row across the isle saw me waving my hand. They could have told the attendant, as she gave them their beverages, that a passenger in the row across from them needed something. I was frustrated but rather than press the call button, I gave up. I know this is a trivial example, but I describe it because of the frustration I felt being ignored. I could only imagine how I would feel if I were a child. That's what prompted me to write this blog.
I am sure we have all watched small children in similar situations. First I hear "Mama," about fifteen times, increasing in volume with each one--with no reaction. What is a child to do? Well he can slip into oblivion as I did on the airplane, or he can do something else to get attention. Usually it is to throw a full blown fit, or haul off and hit his mother. And it is only when the fussing escalates to the point that it interrupts whatever the parent is doing, that the child gets attention. However, the attention he gets now is not what he wanted! Now he is in trouble!
All of the screaming, and eventually the screaming back in response, is unnecessary if we have the presence to respond. It could be as simple as, "I hear you, but you will have to wait a minute. Come and sit by me until I'm finished. There. Now, can I help you?"
As an adult, it feels terrible when you have something important you would like to say, and you are dismissed like an overlooked child tugging and tugging on his mother's pant leg. Let us be more watchful and willing to look for, and recognize attempts to communicate by both children and adults. Turn off all electronic devices and watch your children. How many times do you see them look to you to make sure you are watching? How many times do you see them searching around for help? How many times do you hear them calling your name? How many times do you see a situation that could soon mean trouble?
What do you do in these situations? What is the secret? What do you do when your children look to you to make sure you are watching? Say, "Mommy sees you. You are playing nicely with the farm animals." What do you do when you see them searching for help? Say, "Do you need help? Come over here. I will help you. You could say, 'Tie my shoes, please.'" What do you do when you hear them call your name? Say, "I hear you. I will be there in a minute." What do you do when you see trouble brewing? Say, "It looks like you guys are having a problem. Can you tell me what is going on?"
The secret is simple. Be mindful, and give your attention to the children and people around you. You may be missing many opportunities to respond to your children, family, and friends. Be a thoughtful and responsive communicator!
©Karen K Rossi, 2018. Learn To Talk Around The Clock®
1. Create a calm listening environment for your baby. Your baby has suddenly landed in this great big, noisy world. For many babies, this can be over-stimulating and confusing. Eliminate as much unnecessary noise in your home as you can, and you may have a happier baby. This also allows your baby to hear the most important sound--the sound of Mom or Dad's voice. He can hear you reading a book or singing a song. It allows you to hear your baby's little noises that will become different cries you will soon recognize. When your baby cries one way, you'll soon know he's hungry. When he cries another way, you'll know he needs a diaper change. And when he cries yet a different way, you'll know he needs your hugs and kisses.
2. Position your baby face-to-face. Try doing this as much as you can throughout the day, so you can watch and learn about her, and she can watch and learn about you. It gives your baby an important feeling of security, knowing and seeing that you are near. From her bouncer, she watches you pick up the toys. From her highchair, she watches you fix dinner. And from her floor mat, she sees you fold clothes and she plays peek-a-boo with the washcloth you gave her. Always talk to her about what you are doing.
3. Listen to your baby and respond. Do you know how good you feel when someone listens to you and acknowledges that he or she heard you and responds? It's very validating, isn't it? That's what we want you to do for your baby. If your baby coos or goos, go to your baby when you can, and respond by cooing and gooing back. Let your baby know you hear him, "I hear you, buddy. Are you talking to Daddy? I like to hear you talk." Or "I hear you crying. It sounds like you're hungry. Daddy will feed you in just a minute." This kind of response is very important to build your baby's confidence and security. He learns you will help him out when he need you.
4. Talk to your baby about his things and actions. The best time to talk to your baby about his bottle is while you are warming it, shaking it, and feeding him. "Oh, I know you're hungry. Mommy will get your bottle. Mommy takes your bottle out of the fridge. Ooh! Your bottle is too cold. Mommy will make your bottle nice and warm." The best time to talk about water is while you are giving him a bath and gently splashing or pouring water on his little toes. "Mommy is pouring water on your little toes. Whee!"
5. Read, read, read to your baby. Make reading a part of your baby's daily routine now, and as your baby grows. Read at least 4-5 books a day to your baby. Look for clear illustrations, and don't worry about the story line for now. Name things in your baby's book as you point to the pictures. You can also talk about the pictures or make up your own story. Be sure to use expressive melody and tone in your voice. Make reading a routine at certain times of the day, like before naps and before bed, so your baby learns to anticipate this time.
6. Talk to your baby about what you and she are doing. This is like narrating your baby's day. You talk to your baby about what you are doing, whether it is cleaning, folding laundry, or changing her diaper. You also talk to your baby about what she is doing, whether it is kicking her legs, stretching her arms, kicking at a toy, or wrinkling up her little nose. This puts words to your actions, and your baby's actions. This should continue as your baby grows.
©Karen K Rossi, 2018. Learn To Talk Around The Clock®
A first kiss on the head, a warm hug, and loving words welcome a newborn baby. At that moment parents have the power to jumpstart their baby's brain development and set the course of their baby's life. These hugs and words are just as important the second day, the 50th day, and the 675th day of a child's life, so parents should continue these loving back and forth interactions every day during their routines and activities. These powerful interactions not only bring joy and security, but they take advantage of the plasticity of the newborn's brain and move the baby toward reaching his or her full potential. I wonder how many parents realize the power they have, or how to use this power to help their baby develop. Do they understand how much their newborn baby can learn?
Many think that you don't have to do much with little babies. Just keep them warm, safe, fed, diapered, and happy in their cradles, or swings, and they will be fine. That is not exactly true. Yes, of course they must be safe and warm, fed, diapered and entertained, but also, the very best time to begin learning is from birth to three years old. Babies' brains are wired to accept a lot of meaningful information while they are cared for throughout the day. If babies are not held, cuddled, and talked to, some neurons will be lost forever due to the lack of stimulation that makes connections in the baby's brain. That is not to say that brain development cannot take place after the age of three, but the most effective and lasting time of brain development is in infancy. Listening, vocabulary development, and understanding what they see and hear, will not be learned as easily or successfully after the birth to three years. Extensive research supporting these facts is documented by many, including Betty Hart and Todd Risley (1995); Dr. Dana Suskind (2015) and Michael Gramling (2015), to name a few.
Babies born into poverty often lack active involvement in a variety of these daily routines accompanied by meaningful adult-child "conversations." These babies must experience these routines and hear accompanying talk to help them develop vocabulary and language that prepares them for success in school and life. This doesn't cost a dime. But to be fair, many parents have no idea how important the role this early language learning, affection, and conversation can play in changing their babies' lives.
We need to find a way to reach more parents so they know the power they have, beginning when they first hold their newborn babies. It is no longer just a "good idea," or "isn't that interesting?" It is a necessity if we want to save our children and save our schools!
Gramling, Michael (2015). The great disconnect in early childhood
education, what we know vs. what we do. St. Paul, MN: Redleaf Press.
Hart, Betty and Risley, Todd R. (1995). Meaningful differences in the
everyday experience of young American children. Baltimore,
Maryland: Paul H Brookes Publishing.
Suskind, Dana (2015). Thirty million words, building a child's brain. Tune
in, talk more, take turns. New York, NY: Dutton--Penguin Random
©2018 Karen K Rossi, Ed.D., Learn To Talk Around The Clock®