Category Archives: Family

Tips for Learning a Second Language with Your Child

Greetings in many languages, image created in Canva

Hundreds of thousands of people who’ve immigrated to the US have felt implicit and explicit pressure to switch from using their native tongue(s) to fit the wide use of English. In due process, generations of families have lost their original languages, resulting in monolingualism. While many adults struggle to learn new languages as their brains are accustomed to the sound and structure of English, it is well documented that children are quicker to absorb new languages.

 

Try learning a new language with your child! The benefits of English-speaking parents learning a new language with their child are innumerable. Language engages different parts of the brain, and is said to even out bring out different sides in people. We can learn more about ourselves and the world around us through other languages.

 

Early childhood is the best time to introduce another language, as children build essential language and vocabulary skills. It can also be a good time for adult parents and caregivers to embrace a new language. Immersion is a fundamental way to learn a second language. You and your child can make this a fun family project!

 

First, identify a language that you and your child are interested in learning together! This can come from family history: maybe your family tree boasts an array of mother languages that haven’t been spoken in generations. Honoring your ancestors and heritage while learning the language with your child is a perfect full circle.

 

Another option is to consider your neighborhood. Maybe the area where you live has a high secondary language rate. Maybe it’s French if you’re in the New Orleans area, or Spanish in the Los Angeles area. Depending on your location, English may not even be the dominant language.

 

Once you’ve chosen your language, the fun part begins! There are many ways to implement the new language into the daily lives of you and your child. Find the best activities for your family to immerse in the language.

 

The alphabet, early fundamental vocabulary, and simple sentence-building are the first steps in comprehending and speaking a new language. Luckily, most languages have free resources online, such as alphabet songs on YouTube. Listening to how each letter in the alphabet is properly pronounced will enhance your accent as well as your child’s, no matter their age.

 

For slightly older children, you can reinforce key vocabulary words by placing sticky notes on common household items with the name in English and your chosen language. For instance, if you are learning Italian, every morning you can get breakfast / colazione from your refrigerator / frigo and put it on a plate / piatto. Repetition helps retain basic vocabulary words, making practice important. You may even consider making this activity part of your daily family routine.

 

Image by Nontanun Chaiprakon from Vecteezy.com

Another easy way to add doses of a new language into your routine is to consume media in your new language. Look up famous singers, movies, TV and radio stations, daily talk shows, online magazines, etc. Switch your phone and tablet into the language too. Surrounding yourself with native words and sounds allows you to pick up nuances and pronunciations you might otherwise miss through traditional language learning practices. You also have the benefit of hearing how words are pronounced by native speakers. This part can be different, especially for adults! While children aren’t entirely used to or settled on the way English sounds, adult brains have a stronger association between a letter of the Western alphabet and its English pronunciation.

 

Pick an English movie that you and your child know very well, one you can nearly recite word-for-word. Watch the movie in your chosen language, if such an option is available. As you don’t have to decipher the plot, you and your child can soak up the vocabulary and most importantly, the pronunciations. Listen to the words; pick out words you recognize and ones you aren’t familiar with. Talk to your child about how the movie seems similar and different.

 

And finally: read together! Sit down and read a book in the language you are learning or in a bilingual format. Read aloud together and practice speaking words and sentences. This is a good comprehension exercise for you and your child.

 

Image by MotionLantern from Vecteezy.com

Language is a lengthy process to master; it can take years to even reach proficiency. That’s okay! Keep things ongoing—it means slow and steady progress. Learning with your child is beneficial for them and for you. Instead of learning alone, you have a built-in buddy to practice with. Good luck!

Supporting Childhood Development Through Gardening

From What’s In My Garden? written by Cheryl Christian, illustrated by Annie Beth Ericsson

Play isn’t just fun; it is fundamental for supporting a child’s learning, growth, and development. In particular, outdoor play helps improve sensory skills and encourages physical activity. Outdoor play doesn’t stop at the playground; it can also take place in a garden. Gardening with your child provides bonding time and helps them develop positive habits that enhance lifelong health. This activity can be accessible to children who live in urban and rural areas.

 

Gardening Supports Health

Sunlight, fresh air, and digging in the dirt benefit your child’s health in multiple ways. Gardening supports sensory development by engaging every sense—the sights and scents of flowers, tastes of veggies, and textures of leaves. Gardening has also been shown to improve mental health by helping reduce stress and depression. Exposure to healthy microbes in the dirt can strengthen your child’s microbiome—an important part of their immune system. Playing outside can even help children sleep better at night.

 

Tending a garden also supports essential motor skills. Fine motor skills are needed for tasks like using a pencil or tying shoelaces. Using gardening tools, grasping tiny seeds, and pulling weeds help your child develop these skills. Carrying a watering can and walking in soft soil can boost gross motor skills like balance and coordination. Physical exercise like this is essential for maintaining a healthy weight and preventing illness.

 

A garden can help your child enjoy a healthy diet. It can be a challenge to convince picky eaters to try new foods or get proper daily servings of vegetables. Children are more likely to try new vegetables and fruits if they help to grow them. Multiple studies found that gardening increased vegetable consumption in children far more effectively than nutrition education programs.

 

Gardening can also be part of a healthy lifestyle for children with physical disabilities. There are many simple ways to make gardens accessible. One of the easiest is to use raised containers in order for the soil level to be within reach. Window boxes, hanging baskets, or vertical gardens can accomplish this, as well as tall plants like tomatoes or pea vines on a trellis. Wide walkways of compacted soil or gravel can offer better traction for scooter or wheelchair users.

 

Gardening Builds Cognitive Skills

Tending plants can spark your child’s curiosity for science. Starting a plant from seed offers a hands-on opportunity to see the life cycle of plants. Once the seed develops, grade schoolers can learn the basic parts of a plant—flower, leaf, fruit, stem, root—and their functions. Middle and high schoolers might find interest in identifying more detailed parts of a flower—anther, filament, stigma, etc.

 

Planning for a garden can also help develop your child’s vocabulary as they learn the names of plants and vegetables and read requirements on seed packages for light, water, and soil. Grade school children can create plant labels by writing plant names on popsicle sticks or stones. If you are creating a larger vegetable garden, older children can help you make a garden map to plan when to sow seeds and how to maximize available space.

 

Your child’s critical thinking will be challenged by tending a garden, whether it is through figuring out how to move a big rock or quickly pulling weeds. You and your child can solve problems together by discussing how you will manage bad weather, plant diseases, or garden pests.

From A Garden for Groundhog by Lorna Balian

 

Get Your Garden Started

Gardening doesn’t have to be complicated, expensive, or take up a lot of space; but it does require a little planning. First, consider the needs of your family and the age of your child(ren). With toddlers, preschoolers, and early elementary-aged children, avoid plants that may be dangerous if touched or ingested. Young children may delight in the reward of quick-sprouting seeds like peas, lettuce, and beans. Children in middle and high school may enjoy seeing a flower bloom or a vegetable ripen after weeks of anticipation.

 

If you have a big yard, in-ground garden beds are a great option, but smaller spaces like patios can host beautiful container gardens. Urban families with limited outdoor space may be able to use hanging baskets, window boxes, rooftop space, or even plant an herb garden on a windowsill. Many cities offer community garden plots where anyone can volunteer. If you aren’t sure what to plant or how to care for plants, most regions in the US have an extension office with gardening experts who can give you advice.

 

Whether your garden fills an acre or a couple pots on your front steps, it will provide your child countless opportunities to grow and develop as you nurture nature together.

Creating A Cultural Learning Experience Through Vacation

The arrival of summer means planning family vacations! Although the COVID-19 pandemic has greatly reduced travel options, around 42 percent of Americans are cautiously optimistic about 2021 vacation plans. Small family vacation trips adhering to the CDC safety guidelines are definitely a possibility!

 

A family vacation can be a fascinating learning experience for children through cultural immersion. A 2019 survey by the US Travel Association revealed that 55 percent of Americans traveled in order to learn something new about a place, culture, or history, and 85 percent said they planned trips with the intention of creating an exciting experience for their children. With the US increase in cultural diversity, the need for cultural understanding through vacationing has also augmented as more families opt to teach their children about different heritages and cultures.

 

What are the benefits of a cultural immersion trip?

 

There are several different benefits of taking children on a culturally focused vacation!

From Alicia’s Happy Day, written by Meg Starr, illustrated by Cornelius Van Wright and Ying-Hwa Hu

 

1) Cultural Saturation
By the age of 3 or 4, children are aware of their own racial or ethnic backgrounds. Children who experience multicultural surroundings become more aware of different lifestyles and other cultures. This in turn helps activate vital developmental and social-emotional skills such as open-mindedness and empathy. It also helps children to understand inherent biases and stereotypes and how to overcome them. Through cultural appreciation and understanding, children learn to adapt to diverse cultures and environments.

 

2) Increased Cultural Intelligence
As infants and toddlers constantly examine their environments, every moment can become a learning experience. In an article for Parents, child psychologist Dr. Margot Sutherland stated, “An enriched environment offers new experiences that are strong in combined social, physical, cognitive, and sensory interaction.” In other words, infants and toddlers become more attuned to the world around them and can begin to recognize differences and similarities between their upbringing and that of other children.

 

3) Multilingualism
Exposure to different cultures means exposure to different languages. Experts suggest that children under the age of 10 are more adept at learning a new language. “If you want to have native-like knowledge of English grammar you should start by about 10 years old. We don’t see very much difference between people who start at birth and people who start at 10, but we start seeing a decline after that,” said assistant professor of psychology Joshua Hartshorne, who conducted a postdoctorate study on children’s critical period for learning a second language.

 

4) Interconnection
Family vacations allow you to forge memories and bonds with loved ones that last a lifetime. With a cultural focus, your child will learn to embrace other communities and develop a personal connection with them. For multicultural families, a multigenerational vacation can help foster these connections as children learn about their grandparents’ heritage.

From The Girl on the Yellow Giraffe by Ronald Himler

How should I plan a cultural immersion vacation?

 

Admittedly, planning a vacation in these times is tough. However, there are several ways of ensuring a diverse vacation while also maintaining safety. Some of them don’t require traveling too far and can take place in your own city!

 

Below are a few tips for planning a trip that focuses extensively on a cultural experience.

 

1) Celebrate International Festivals
Most families plan vacations around popular American holidays such as the Fourth of July and Thanksgiving. This year, you can also celebrate international holidays! The Diversity Calendar 2021 is a great resource that includes holidays and major events from other cultures such as the Lantern Festival, a Chinese festival, or Holi, an Indian festival. You and your child can read books on such festivals together and visit nearby areas where celebrations take place. This way, your child can simultaneously have fun and learn the significance of festivals in your community.

 

2) Visit Local Areas
Instead of visiting the same tourist spots and attractions, look for local museums and historical villages of different communities. For instance, the Museum of African American History in Boston focuses on Black culture and hosts collections of historical items accrued the last 50 years. Another great option is the National Museum of the American Indian, part of the Smithsonian Museum complex, which celebrates Indigenous tribes and houses one of the world’s most expansive collections of Native artifacts.

 

3) Try Local Cuisines
Book a hotel that offers cooking classes for cuisines from a different culture and whip up new dishes with your child! Another great way of assimilating cultures is by visiting local food markets and restaurants. This 2017 blog compiles all the best cultural markets in the US. Local cuisines offer a variety of dishes that will enhance your child’s palates. You can also extend their vocabulary knowledge by teaching them the local names of each dish. When visiting any restaurant, make sure to follow all current CDC guidelines and maintain social distancing wherever required!

From Zachary’s Dinnertime, written by Lara Levinson and illustrated by Cornelius Van Wright

4) Attend Local Events
Although difficult during the pandemic, live events are one of the best and most entertaining ways of learning about a new culture! Live music and dances are especially interactive, often inviting audiences to participate. In Los Angeles, a famous music festival called Mariachi USA is held annually. It features performances from Mexican and American mariachi musicians, along with other mesmerizing folkloric musicians.

 

As you can see, there are a myriad of possibilities in which you can help your child learn about new cultures through vacation activities. These experiences will aid children in developing cultural understanding, while also creating memories the whole family can cherish for a lifetime.

Meet The Family You Never Knew You Had: A Guide to Creating a Family Tree with Your Child

Children might be curious about the people and cultures they descend from. Genealogical research can be a fun, engaging, and visual way to help children bond with their heritage.

 

One option for helping children learn about their ancestors is by creating an organized family tree. Make it a fun family activity! You and your child can work together to visually trace their ancestry, helping them form links with people from the past.

 

It doesn’t matter how far back you can trace the family, as long as you talk with your child and other relatives about the people and places you come from.

 

But where does one start to dig up their families’ history? When beginning your family tree, you’ll have two main options:

 

  1. Create an online digital tree that will store and organize information such as records, birthdays, marriages, etc. There are many resources that allow free trials and tree creation, such as Ancestry, Familysearch, and Geni.com.

 

  1. Or use a big poster board to visually plot each member of the family. You’ll need a big poster board, lots of pens or pencils (multicolored preferred), scissors, glue, and pictures of family members (if available) for maximum visual aesthetic.

Once you and your child have decided which avenue you want to take, write down all the family members you know. An easy place to start is with you and your child(ren), your parents, your partner, their parents, your siblings and your partner’s siblings, their children, and everyone else you’d be obliged to send a holiday gift or might see at the next family reunion.

 

For those working on a physical poster board, remember to be cautious with spacing. It’s easy to run out of room when creating a family tree, with its many twisting branches and leaves. Plan for mathematics: four grandparents, eight great-grandparents, and sixteen second great-grandparents. Not to mention all the cousins, aunts, and uncles!

From 21 Cousins, written by Diane de Anda and illustrated by Isabel Muñoz

Make sure to include your child by having them help identify family members they already know: cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents. They’ll get a kick out of helping you organize and record it together! In lieu of printed photographs, your child can draw pictures of Cousin Ruby, Aunt Louisa, and other relatives the know.

 

Now that you’ve jotted down everything you know, it’s time to contact any family elders. Call up Great Aunt Dorothy and let her tell you everything she knows about the family, especially the names of her parents, grandparents, and other relatives. Talk to Grandpa José and record what he can remember about his childhood and early years. And so on. This is a great way to bridge generational gaps with your child and family elders. As your child listens to stories and legacies that shaped the people in their family tree, they will simultaneously strengthen family relationships and understand their culture and heritage.

 

While talking to family elders, interesting stories about family members may come to light. What was Nana Rose’s life like after the war? Why didn’t Great Uncle Richard like his job? Who taught Auntie Sofia that family recipe for ricotta? It’s a great idea to record these sessions with family elders (with their consent) so the conversation is never lost. You can even make copies for other family members who may be interested! If you’re working with a digital tree, most genealogical services provide areas to “attach” stories to particular people.

 

Continue to synthesize information you already know with new information from family elders, making sure to plot them digitally or on the poster board. Your child can help write down names and dates or cut out pictures and glue them down.

 

Facilitate conversation with your child throughout this process. With everything you’re learning together, questions (from both you and your child) will arise. Why did Great-Grandmama June stop speaking with her sister? How come we never knew we had family in El Paso? Mysteries come to light that fascinate and intrigue when we start to dig into our ancestral pasts. Even you will be surprised how much you never knew about the recent past!

 

Here comes the final piece! With a visual model of your hard work in front of you, talk with your child about the people you’ve learned about together and the places they’re from. Not only have you given honor to the people who you descend from, you’ve done your child a service in helping them uncover their identity, building cultural awareness, and opening their eyes to how unique they truly are.

Mindfulness Activities for Kids

From Grandma is a Slowpoke, written by Janet Halfmann and illustrated by Michele Coxon.

What is mindfulness?

 

The practice of mindfulness is one that has gained mainstream popularity over the last decade. With rising rates of stress and anxiety across the US, many have turned to meditative and mindful exercises to find balance in their lives.

 

According to Psychology Today, mindfulness is defined as a state of active, intuitive attention to the present that involves observing thoughts, feelings, and sensations in an objective manner. Rather than avoiding pain or difficult emotions, mindfulness equips us with the tools to become aware of our feelings and work toward acceptance. The goal of the practice is to cultivate inner peace that can translate to external relationships with others and the world around us.

 

The benefits of practicing mindfulness with children

 

Mindful practices present abundant benefits for people of all ages, including improvements in focus, patience, emotion regulation, and decision making. For children still developing key social-emotional skills, mindfulness techniques can teach them early on how to process their thoughts, emotions, and actions and react in positive ways.

 

Scientifically speaking, a majority of the skills that mindfulness promotes are controlled by the prefrontal cortex section of the brain. Connections are created and formed in the prefrontal cortex at the fastest rates during early childhood. While the brain continues to develop throughout our lives, childhood is an especially crucial time for these skills and connections to form.

 

The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) has outlined five core skills crucial to SEL learning:

  • Self-awareness
  • Self-management or self-regulation
  • Responsible decision-making
  • Social awareness
  • Relationship skills

While CASEL has explicitly cited the benefits of mindfulness in relation to self-awareness and self-management, additional research suggests that all five CASEL skills may benefit from practicing mindfulness in these ways:

  • Improved ability to pay attention and remember information.
  • Improved ability to transition between different tasks.
  • Improved academic performance, classroom participation, and interpersonal interactions.
  • Increased focus, curiosity, self-control, coping abilities, empathy, and compassion.
  • Decreased levels of stress, depression, anxiety, and disruptive behavior.

How incorporating mindfulness may differ across age groups

 

It’s never too early to introduce mindfulness to children! The practice may also simultaneously ease the stress of parents and caregivers. In fact, it is highly suggested that caregivers who practice mindfulness themselves may be better suited to integrating it into their child’s life.

 

Infants learn primarily through observation; an infant will sense when a caregiver is present in the moment. Try to limit use of digital devices around a baby and learn to ask yourself where attention is directed when spending time with one. Since parents and infants often feed off of each other’s emotional reactions, it’s equally important to maintain mindful habits in stressful situations, such as crying tantrums or sleepless nights. One example is gentle and loving eye contact.

 

These sentiments are important when practicing mindfulness with toddlers as well, but this age also presents more opportunity to explore the vast reaches of mindful practice. Mindfulness can be incorporated into reading, making art, or outdoor time with a toddler. Intentional expressions of mindfulness can begin to be practiced at this age as well, such as breathing exercises and learning to express gratitude often.

 

Young children will retain the mindful skills they’ve learned as infants and toddlers and may begin to explore meditation, yoga, and independent mindful activities. Across age groups, there is an array of mindful activities that children can enjoy!

 

Mindfulness practices to try with your child!

  • Walk around a room slowly while holding your infant. With each step, think about the love you hold for them and silently repeat phrases of gratitude or well wishes to yourself and your baby with each step.
  • Sit with your child and ask them to relax the tension held in their muscles. Take it slow and name each part of the body from the top of your head to the tips of your toes until each muscle has been relaxed.
    • Practicing squeezing and releasing your hand is a good way to demonstrate tension for younger children.
  • Use coloring as a mindful activity and ask your child to color their feelings. Invite them to associate colors with their thoughts and feelings.
  • Blow bubbles and associate each drifting bubble as releasing negative emotions. Offer farewells to the bubbles by saying “goodbye tears” or “goodbye sadness.”
  • During snacks or mealtimes, ask your child to describe their food to you. This can include size, color, texture, and taste. Ask them to consider ways the food nurtures their body and keeps them healthy.
  • Fill a jar with water and glitter. When your child feels distressed they can shake the jar and watch the glitter slowly settle to the bottom of the jar as a grounding and calming exercise.
  • Create a mindfulness kit! It could include essential oils, stimulating sensory objects, a journal, art supplies, or a comfort toy.
  • On a walk with your child spend time collecting different natural items. Take turns describing your findings to each other, including what they look and feel like.
  • Take five deep breaths in the morning and/or at bedtime. Encourage slow, deep breaths drawn in through the nose and pushed out through the mouth. A child may find comfort by holding a stuffed animal or closing their eyes.

Practicing mindfulness with children equips them with the tools to be self-reliant and self-aware, preparing them to overcome challenges later in life. The earlier mindfulness is introduced in a child’s life, the more empowered and resilient they will be. A mindful lifestyle can be refined as they grow older.

Developing Child Literacy Through Technology

Image from Pexels.

The Link Between Education and Technology

Recent innovations in technology have enabled education to become more personalized and efficient than ever before. This change is especially visible in digital resources for children’s literacy.

 

With technology, parents, caregivers, and educators can nurture reading skills in new, exciting ways. Digital resources like apps, online games, and ebooks help promote literacy for children with different learning styles and abilities.

 

It is important, however, to be aware of children’s screen time. These education strategies can be implemented in moderation from the time they begin to read or write. A combination of digital and offline resources offers an effective teaching strategy. Experts note that technology can complement traditional literacy teaching, but not replace it.

 

Smartphone and Tablet Apps

Applications for smartphones and tablets provide an interactive medium for young children to develop reading comprehension and writing skills. They also create an inviting and personalized digital environment that inspires regular reading habits.

 

For children ages three to six, tracing apps model the proper way to write letters and allow children to practice. The opportunity to observe and replicate promotes technique through a fun format. Some apps, such as iTrace, allow children to practice writing their names, common words, and letters.

 

Other apps, like TeeRead, are used by educators to assess a student’s reading comprehension and recommend a personalized library. TeeRead encourages children to continue reading and rewards their progress.

 

Online Games

As children become more comfortable with reading and writing, they can practice with free online word games. For instance, Word Game Time provides fun options for children from kindergarten to seventh grade. Starfall offers materials for pre-K through kindergarten and first through third grade to promote vocabulary development, grammar, and interest in reading. Parents and caregivers can play these word games with children, allowing them to shape literacy skills through a bonding opportunity.

 

Ebooks and Audiobooks

Ebooks are a readily available resource to help children practice their reading skills. Since the start of the pandemic, many libraries have expanded their ebook collections, allowing more free digital reading options. With applications like OverDrive, library ebooks can be accessed on a phone, tablet, or computer.

 

Audiobooks are also a helpful resource to develop literacy skills. Hearing intonations, pacing, and even the function of punctuation can help shape comprehension during early childhood. Listening to an audiobook alone or reading the physical copy in tandem can help children understand new stories.

 

Star Bright Books is proud to offer free digital access to four of its picture books on a weekly basis, as well as expanded read-aloud permissions. We hope that these resources will be helpful for parents and caregivers!

 

Other Benefits of Technology Integration

Integrating technology into children’s lives can also help to develop digital literacy—the ability to seek out, evaluate, and understand information online. It is crucial to develop a healthy and responsible relationship with technology at a young age, and implementing these strategies can help to do so.

 

Each child is different! Technology allows parents, caregivers, and educators to tailor learning experiences to meet individual needs. Introducing these resources in moderation will encourage kids to be curious about reading and technology. Providing these opportunities will allow children to have fun, develop their literacy skills, and instill a love of reading.

The Benefits of Parentese Speech

From Banana for Two, written by Ellen Mayer and illustrated by Ying-Hwa.

What is parentese?

Imagine you and your baby are getting ready to go outside. While you put on their coat and shoes, you speak to them and maintain eye contact. “How is my sweet baby today?” you say. “Are you getting dressed? Yes you are, yes you are! Do you see your shoes? Where are your shoes? There they are! Who looks so handsome? You do! You look sooo handsome!” Your baby giggles and waves in excitement when your tone changes. You mirror their smile and respond similarly when they babble back to you. This communicative exchange may come naturally to you and your baby, but it may be surprising to know you’re actually practicing key elements of parentese speech!

 

Parentese is a type of speech in which a parent or caregiver mixes proper, yet simple, grammar and words with exaggerated sounds and tones to communicate with their baby. This type of speech is used in virtually all languages and is often characterized by repetition, elongated vowels, high pitch, and slow tempo, which are most effective in face-to-face interactions. A strategic use of inflection also encourages back-and-forth exchanges between parent and baby in order to familiarize the child with typical patterns of conversation. Parentese can be spoken to babies as early as six months.

 

While past studies on language development have indicated the benefits of verbal exchanges between parents and their babies, new studies attempt to uncover the significance of tone and tempo.  Dr. Caroline Kistin, a researcher at Boston Medical Center and Boston University School of Medicine, notes, “Parentese also appears to engage infants differently than other types of speech, and the slow speed may afford more opportunities for back and forth conversational turns.” The strategic and intentional uses of tone and tempo that characterize parentese seem to captivate babies in a way that other ways of speaking do not.

 

What is the difference between parentese and “baby talk”?

Parentese and baby talk (also called babble) are both important factors in a baby’s early language development, although they differ in construction. Baby talk is usually defined by silly sounds and wording (like “goo goo ga ga”) that help a baby recognize different phonetic patterns and sounds. An infant may begin producing vowel sounds around two months as a result of their cooing and babbles. Baby talk is useful in developing an infant’s understanding of early patterns of communication, such as emotional tone and attention.

 

When babies are between four and seven months old they may begin to incorporate more sounds and pitches from an awareness of their babble with parents. This is where parentese can further aid in language development. With a familiarity of phonetic sounds and tone, babies absorb more language skills through parentese’s array of strategic tempos, pitches, inflections, and sentence structures.

 

An easy way to think of baby talk is simplifying, while parentese is emphasizing. For example, baby talk may sound like, “Does teddy want wa-wa?” Parentese, on the other hand, might be: “Does the teddy bear want water?”.

 

What are the benefits of using parentese?

While parentese and baby talk can both be positive for babies, recent studies uncover the added benefits of parentese speech, notably its association with improved language outcomes. A 2020 study from the University of Washington suggests that parentese is highly effective because the high pitch and slower tempo serve as a “social hook” for a baby’s brain and encourages their response.

 

Another study from the University of Washington, from 2018, found that when parents participated in a parentese coaching program, their infants babbled more and produced more words by fourteen months than babies whose parents received no direction in the technique. According to parent surveys taken when the infants reached eighteen months, the vocabulary of babies whose parents had received coaching averaged around one hundred words, whereas children in the control group averaged about sixty words.

 

An important secondary finding of the 2018 study is that language development associated with coaching was similar across socioeconomic groups. Previous research suggested that babies from low-income households or with limited access to education would develop language more slowly. While coaching itself may not be accessible to people across socioeconomic standings, there are many online resources to learn more about parentese speech.

 

Surprisingly, parentese has also been found to encourage motor planning in infants. Non-invasive brain scans on babies who had listened to their parents use parentese speech found that both the auditory centers of the brain and the areas for motor planning were activated. This suggests that babies practice the movements to produce speech long before they begin talking (as early as seven months).

 

Tips for practicing parentese speech

  • Make sure you and your baby can easily and comfortably look at each other. It’s helpful for your baby to see your mouth moving!
  • Use words that describe what you and your child are doing together.
  • Let your baby lead and take their cues when they signal they’re listening.
  • Exaggerate the sounds in words to work in baby talk. Speak softly and slowly and extend vowel sounds.
  • Transition between adult speech and baby talk as your converse with your baby. Your baby will start to differentiate when their attention is being called for.
  • Remember the goal is to involve your baby in conversation, even if they don’t understand exactly what you’re saying.
  • Do as much research as you can or become involved with parentese coaching! Studies show that the more educated parents are on properly practicing parentese speech, the more language development skills a child acquires.

 

Many parents naturally use a manner of speaking that incorporates baby talk and parentese. Conducting additional research and to enhance these manners of speaking will serve to improve your baby’s language development and vocabulary. Your engagement is a powerful tool in fostering communication skills in your baby!

Making Time for Outdoor Spring Activities

Playing outside makes children happy and healthy! (from the forthcoming Let’s Play Outside; photography by Daniel Nakamura).

Spring is fast approaching, and it’s time to think about getting kids outside! If you’re looking for new ways to encourage your child to play outside and keep their imagination active, here are some practical tips.

Why is it so important for kids to play outside?

Increased technology and higher rates of screen time have been linked to obesity, mental health disorders, insomnia, social disconnection, and lack of exercise. Now more than ever, it’s important for children to spend time outdoors. Harvard health experts cite the following medical (physically, mentally, and socially healthy) reasons for children to be active outside:

  1. Sunshine: Enriches children with vitamin D, contributes to bone development, boosts moods, and aids in healthy sleep.
  2. Executive Function: Executive function skills help children prioritize, plan, multitask, negotiate, imagine, and problem-solve. Children need to be outside to imagine, figure things out, make up games, and navigate unstructured, adult-led time.
  3. Exercise: Children should be active at least one hour each day. Sending them outdoors is the best way to give them room to move in.
  4. Appreciation of Nature: Children need to appreciate the mountains, the sky, the birds, the oceans, the worms. It’s essential to protect our planet.
  5. Taking Risks: Falling off a swing or tripping mid-run is part of understanding that failures occur and we can learn from them. It prepares us for life.
  6. Socialization: This can be tough during a pandemic, but forming a pod with other kids can help. Interacting outside of the classroom or sports team structure is crucial.

Safe, Outdoor Spring Activities for Kids

There are many creative ways to keep kids outside and off screens. Here are some of the most innovative and classic activities that can be done with household members or socially distanced with others.

  • Outdoor tea party: Have your kids dress up, make cucumber sandwiches, and have some lemonade or tea!
  • Go fishing: You can fish in almost any type of water. It teaches children patience, and their faces light up when they catch a fish.
  • Fly a kite!
  • Plant a tree: Purchase a tree seedling, dig a hole that’s twice as wide as the root ball, and pull dirt over it. Make sure to create a little dam around it so the tree can get more water!
  • Grill outside: Hamburgers, hot dogs, veggie skewers, and steaks all taste better outside!
  • Dig for worms: Kids love seeing what’s right under their feet. Dig for worms after the rain when the soil is damp.
  • Press flowers: Pick some flowers and let them dry for 7-10 days. Put them in journals or cards or use as art decorations!
  • Go green for St. Patrick’s Day: If you celebrate, make the theme of the day green. Dress in green, spend time in the green world, and eat green foods!
  • Make a fairy garden: Let your kids pick the spot, set up a little house, lights, glitter, beads, garlands, rocks, figurines, and anything else you want!
  • Dandelion crowns: Collect dandelions with long stems. Wrap one dandelion around the stem of another, and keep adding until it looks like a crown!
  • Make a rain gauge: Find a jar, mark measurements with a ruler, put the jar outside on a level place while it’s raining, and bring it back inside to measure how much it rained!
  • Blow bubbles: All you need is a wand and some bubbles (water and soap)!
  • Celebrate May Day: May 1 is right between the March equinox and the June solstice. Celebrate by making a maypole with colorful ribbons, make flower crowns, have a bonfire, go hiking, and read or write some poetry about spring.
  • Decorate a flower pot: Purchase a terracotta pot, and let your kids use paint, stickers, chalk, markers, etc. Add soil, a plant, let them keep it or gift it!
  • Start a nature collection: Collect rocks, feathers, shells, snakeskins, four-leaf clovers, turtle shells, eggshells, empty nests—anything goes!
  • Make wind chimes: Use anything: seashells, wood, glass, stones, silverware, or anything you think would look beautiful!
  • Make a magic wand: Using a stick and some colored ribbons, let your kid’s imagination run free!
  • Dance in the rain: Dress your child in rain gear, or go barefoot! Splashing in puddles is always fun.
  • Make DIY butterfly wings!
  • Go strawberry picking: Visit a local orchard. Apply plenty of sunscreen and wear boots for the muddy terrain. Fresh strawberries taste delicious!
  • Create a backyard golf course: You can use anything as makeshift holes: cereal boxes, buckets, whatever you think would look cool and might give kids a challenge!
  • Set up a hammock: Taking a nap outside or reading in a hammock is one of life’s simplest pleasures.

Nurturing Positive Development in Quarantine Babies and Toddlers

From Always by My Side, written by Susan Kerner and illustrated by Ian P. Benfold Haywood.

With the world in various degrees of isolation for the last year as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, parents and caregivers are filled with questions on how this could impact their newborns, infants, and toddlers. There is concern that the loss of socially stimulating environments (like a daycare) could stunt a young one’s early language development or their ability to recognize faces or places. This absence also leaves many wondering if an entire generation will be under-stimulated and anxiety-ridden in the future. While it’s still too early for any conclusive research, now is a prominent time to discuss this topic.

 

The Impact of Past Crises on Children’s Development

 

Some researchers have turned to studies of past crises for possible correlations, specifically children’s responses to life-changing events. For example, parts of the Netherlands experienced severe famines in the 1940s as a result of Nazi occupations. Studies show that children born during this time had higher rates of antisocial personality disorder and shorter lifespans. In another case, 30 to 50 percent of children at the epicenters of Hurricanes Hugo and Andrew developed PTSD and a third experienced recurring symptoms. However, most children reverted to the baseline within a year.

 

Many past studies reflect similar findings in which childhood development may be temporarily altered because of a crisis situation without necessarily indicating long-term effects. Such studies are examples of correlation and not causation. After the Great Depression, for example, children who survived with mild or no changes to their development or personhood were from families who financially recovered from the crisis faster than others. The financial recoveries meant parental figures were less hostile, angry, or depressed, which then had a positive impact on their children.

From Always by My Side, written by Susan Kerner and illustrated by Ian P. Benfold Haywood.

Covid-19’s Impact on Infant Development

 

In the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, researchers have already begun conducting their own studies. Philip Fisher, a neuroscientist at the University of Oregon, sent questionnaires to one thousand American families in April 2020. By the twelfth week, 79 percent of parents with children under the age of five reported their kids were more fussy and defiant than before the quarantine period, while 41 percent were more fearful or anxious. Throughout the study, which concluded in October, Fisher found that the more distressed parents reported being, the more distress they observed in their children.

 

Other studies also reveal that children’s mental health is significantly correlated to that of their parents. The youngest kids, especially, have the strongest bonds with their parents, meaning their reactions to isolation are directly influenced by their parents’ reactions.

 

From Look at You!, by Star Bright Books.

 

Nurturing Positive Development in Isolation

 

The good news is that while child development specialists conduct these studies and explore correlations, they remain hopeful for children! Dr. Brenda Volling, an expert in social-emotional development and a psychology professor at the University of Michigan, emphasizes that infants and toddlers are most in need of stability and loving parental interactions during unprecedented times. Now more than ever, it’s important to pay attention to the needs of your child and adjust support accordingly so as to avoid lingering damaging effects.

 

Here are some signs that your infant or toddler may need more support:

  • New or worsening behavioral problems (such as tantrums)
  • Regression in behavior
  • Withdrawal
  • Difficulty separating from parents or caregivers
  • Sleep irregularities or difficulties
  • Loss of appetite
  • Thumb sucking
  • General fear, nervousness, stress, irritability, or hypervigilance

 

It’s natural for young children to exhibit signs of distress in a stressful environment, even if it’s not indicative of long-term developmental effects. Because parental interaction and support is the most significant socialization for infants and toddlers, it’s completely feasible to meet your child’s needs right at home!

 

How to encourage positive development in your baby while in isolation:

  • Reinforce social skills at home—like sharing and communicative exchanges—to replicate what babies would learn through interactions with other young kids. Verbal and physical exchanges help to build language development skills and broader cognitive abilities.
  • Encourage self-directed activities to allow your child to develop a sense of independence in an environment where they’re likely only engaging with people they depend on. Such activities include building with blocks, finger painting, or playing with dough.
  • When coloring or creating art, ask your child if they want to send it to a family member. Making a habit of this will help to foster understanding of and connection with people beyond your isolation bubble!
  • Read books that encourage facial recognition to build your baby’s social and emotional skills. Star Bright Books offers books that encourage self-expression and self-discovery, such as My Face Book; Look at You!; and Babies, Babies!.
  • Without sheltering your baby, try to keep them away from heighted levels of stress. This could mean creating a separate working space at home, taking shifts with another caregiver when possible, or saving difficult conversations for while the child is sleeping.
  • Be careful when teaching caution to avoid instilling fear. When introducing stressful topics like social distancing, it’s important to avoid framing other people as threats.
  • Remember to take care of yourself! If your mental health is being pushed to the side, the stress and anxiety your child observes may impact them. Make time to relax whether it is meditation, yoga, a walk, or something else.

 

The pandemic’s impact on the inner workings and responses of infants and toddlers may not be reflected in concrete research for years to come. The most important way to support your baby is to pay attention to their needs and build your relationship with them. What your child needs most while living through this time of isolation is your love and support.

Encouraging Children to Learn About and Normalize Mental Health

Image from Pexels

Have you wondered how to approach your child about mental health? Have they asked questions about a family member or a friend or shown signs of mental health disorders?

 

Mental health stigmas have long plagued our society. It is thus important to normalize mental health at a young age. Building a conversation around this topic can help lay the foundation for more understanding, compassionate, and educated future generations.

 

Why don’t kids know more about mental health?

There are a variety of reasons why children don’t know about mental health issues, such as not knowing the appropriate time to talk about them or the age they can be clearly understood. Mental health can also be subjective for different families. Here are some of the reasons given by mental health professionals:

 

  • The majority of mental health literature is targeted at sixth grade and up, making it inaccessible to younger children.
  • Schools lack funding for adequate mental health literacy.
  • Many parents don’t know how to talk to their kids about it.
  • Some children grow up believing the stigma that disorders are rare, making them unable to recognize symptoms in themselves or someone else.

 

Mood swings, anxiety, depression, and disorders are not rare, and children of all ages should be aware of this.

 

Early signs and symptoms of mental health disorders in kids and teens

If you have noticed any of the following signs in your child’s behavior it is important to tell them without passing judgment. Open conversations are vital for ending stigmas.

 

  • No interest in socializing with friends.
  • Irritable or darkened moods (expressing an unusual amount of interest in death).
  • Lack of motivation in school and a decline in grades.

 

Being vigilant can’t hurt. These are not always signs of a mental health disorder, but they can be.

 

Advice for parents, guardians, and caregivers

Most importantly, listen to a child or teen if they want to talk about mental health. Filter out your suggestions and ask them what you can do to help. Some other ways to make children and teens comfortable are:

 

  • Remind them that mental health issues are common.
  • Don’t share what they’ve discussed.
  • Offer impartial counseling.
  • Don’t minimize what they’re going through by telling them to think differently.
  • Validate their feelings.

 

Talking to specific age groups about mental health

Preschool children can’t understand abstract ideas such as anxiety or depression. They need less information because they are focused on what they can see (conciseness is key). Saying someone isn’t feeling well, but that the person still loves them and needs rest will answer concerns and soothe children.

 

School-age children tend to want specifics and have more pointed questions. Many inquiries will surround their own safety and that of others. Try to answer truthfully and reassure them.

 

Teenagers require an open dialogue since most don’t want to be lectured. Teens tend to have misconceptions about mental health and that makes conversation vital. Keep the conversations active and check in as needed.

 

How can mental health education be more accessible to children?

The first step as a parent, guardian, or caregiver is to educate yourself. Turn to a doctor or mental health provider when kids have questions you can’t answer. Health professionals can help you jumpstart the conversation about mental health. Continue conversations with kids in the hope they talk about it positively with another classmate or teacher.

 

Another way to make the topic of mental health more accessible is to educate children on the signs and symptoms of disorders in people they love or in themselves and assure them of the treatment options. Treatment could include therapy, exercise, writing or drawing their thoughts, positive thinking, and mindfulness activities.

 

Resources on specific disorders children and young adults might face

The Child Mind Institute offers guides to parents and caregivers on gaining a better understanding of how diagnoses manifest themselves. The website also includes umbrella topics that don’t fit under specific mental health disorders. The Child Mind Institute advises on:

 

  • ADHD
  • Anxiety
  • Auditory Processing Disorder
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder
  • Behavior and Conduct Disorders
  • Bipolar Disorder
  • Depressive and Mood Disorders
  • Eating Disorders
  • Elimination Disorders
  • Gender Dysphoria
  • Learning and Development Disorders
  • Non-Verbal Learning Disorders
  • OCD
  • Personality Disorders
  • Schizophrenia/Psychosis
  • Selective Mutism
  • Sleep-Wake Disorders
  • Substance Use and Addictive Disorders
  • Tourette’s and Tic Disorders
  • Trauma Disorders

 

While you might not have to learn about all of these disorders, it’s important to educate yourself on topics that pertain to you, those you love, and those you might encounter in the future. When you know more, normalizing mental health becomes second nature.