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Cognitive Development
Assessing your child’s skills in the stages of emergent literacy

When entering kindergarten, a child should have an understanding of these four concepts:

  • Concepts About Print:
    Does the child handle books correctly? (Identifies the front cover, back cover, etc.) Does the child recognize that reading in English works from left to right? (Does he/she track words across a page?)
  • Phonemic Awareness:
    Does the child recognize specific letters? Can the child play word games that focus on rhyme? Can the child identify beginning and ending sounds in words? Can the child identify the different letter sounds heard within a word?
  • Reading Comprehension:
    Is the child able to retell a story accurately? Can the child identify characters in the story? Can the child predict what might happen next in a fictional story?
  • Attitudes Toward Reading (and Writing):
    Can the child identify favorite books and authors? Does the child identify reading and writing as a favorite activity?

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At home we speak one language and my child is learning another at school. Will this delay my child's language?

  • Very young children have a wonderful capacity to learn two or even three languages with little effort as their brains are developing. This should be encouraged. It is much more difficult for older children and for adults to learn foreign languages.
  • Children can be expected to go through some periods of mixing the two languages. A separation of the two languages will occur gradually.
  • Children may not be able to use both languages equally well. The presence of up to a one-year delay in the second language is not unusual during the early years. Then, if the second language is used more frequently, there may be a delay in the primary or home language as the child gets older.
  • If a child has a true speech or language delay, it will be experienced in both languages, not just one language.
  • It is common for children to be able to understand a language better than being able to use it.

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Building early learning skills by book-making

Creating meaningful experiences through bookmaking (by Mercy Nyman):

Parents can create books that are interactive and meaningful for children. Children learn that words have meaning by connecting verbal and printed words -- the beginning steps of literacy. Making the child a part of the book provides the most meaningful learning opportunity.

  • Gather pictures that show children engaged in different activities such as playing, sleeping and eating.
  • You will need paper, scissors, crayons, markers and glue for this activity.
  • When children are old enough, talk with them to elicit action words and responses to pictures.
  • Write your interpretation or the child’s response on each page with each picture.
  • Laminate pages, cover with clear contact paper or place individual pages inside a plastic zipper baggie for easy and safe manipulation.
  • Bind the protected pages with ribbons, string or laces so they will read like a book.

Below are examples of age-appropriate books and ideas. Don’t be limited by what is suggested here; create many pages for your books. The result are books to be cherished for a lifetime.

For example, an infant’s book may read like this:

  • Lamar sleeps. (Add a picture of the child sleeping.)
  • Rachel eats. (Add a picture of the child eating.)
  • Christopher crawls. (Add a picture of the child crawling.)

For example, a toddler’s book may read like this:

  • Jimmy runs with Erik. (Add a picture of the action described.)
  • Lorena cares for her baby. (Add a picture of the Lorena playing with a doll.)
  • Jose hugs his mommy. (Add a picture of the child loving his mommy.)

Because a pre-school child already may be exhibiting early writing skills – for instance, circles, lines and shapes -- allow the child to take ownership of the pages created. Have the child write or dictate to you. During this time it is important not to correct your child when using invented spelling or misspelled words. Encouraging and respecting your child’s first attempts will promote a love for reading through writing.

For example, a pre-schooler’s book may read like this:

  • I am throwing the ball. (Add a picture of the child throwing a ball.)
  • I am Jennifer’s big sister. (Add a picture of the child with her sister.)
  • I am a part of a wonderful family/.

Below are some pages to give you an idea of what this book might look like:

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Building early learning skills by drawing and writing

Children, as young as a year, should be engaged in writing opportunities everyday. That teaches important literacy skills such as concepts of print, functions of print, phonological awareness and conventional forms of writing.

Families should provide a special place where children can read and write through play activities. Some materials that support a language-rich environment are chalkboards, paper, blank books, magazines, alphabet and number blocks, tiles and puzzles, a sand board, and age-appropriate writing tools, e.g., colored pencils, ink pens, markers, crayons, chalk, charcoal pencils and painting tools. You may want to add tape, glue, note pads and envelopes.

Stages of Children’s Writing:

  • Scribbling: Children move from random scribbles to left-to-right scribbling.
  • Drawing: Children draw and read their drawings as a form of communication.
  • Random letters: Children write letters in long, random strings.
  • Invented spelling: Children represent words by the sounds they hear.
  • Common spelling: Children begin to spell words correctly.
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Building early learning skills by reading

Reading with your child helps your child become reading-ready. Even before children can say their first words, reading says to them that books are important. “Reading with” means more than reading the printed words; it means talking about the pictures, the author, the title, and expanding on the story.

Select a book to catch your child’s interest. The story should reflect appropriate grammar and model proper language use. Once you have selected a story, find an inviting area to read. Place the book where it can be seen so you can point to words and pictures as you read. Share the cover, title and author with your child; talk about what the story may be about. Take a “picture walk” through the whole story; discuss with your child what might happen as you look at each picture. Then read the story with your child. Follow these pointers:

  • Read as naturally as possible but with expression.
  • Have your child follow along as you point to words while reading.
  • Ask questions about the story to see if your child understands fully.
  • Read the story several times. Children will become comfortable with the story and may be able to join in, or recognize the rhyme or repetition within the text.

Although very young children can’t read, reading with them is essential in teaching a genuine love for reading. To encourage creative thinking and problem-solving, focus on the enjoyment of reading rather than the teaching of reading in isolated skills.

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Building early learning skills by talking and listening

You are your child’s first teacher and it’s an important job. You can prepare your child for school by offering meaningful hands-on experiences at home.

Talking with and listening with your child are crucial to a child’s literacy development. Through talking and listening, a child is exposed to words, grammar, syllables and sounds. When we speak of talking and listening, the expectation is “talking with” and “listening with” a child rather than “talking at” and “listening to” a child. This distinction is an important one. When you engage “with” a child, you are open to learning from one another, to back-and-forth dialogue and to give genuine attention to the child. The essence of conversation is turn-taking; first you talk, and I listen; then I talk, and you listen. Turn-taking is possible only when the adult waits silently for the child to respond.

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Building early learning skills with math concepts

Math for young children is much more than counting or adding. The concepts of mathematics can be found everywhere in a child’s daily routine if you take time to look for them. Hence, for example, math can be found in cooking, building with blocks, music, setting the table and playing store.

Ways to build pre-math skills for young children:

  • Incorporate counting into all learning areas by offering objects of interest.
  • Offer matching activities.
  • Offer buckets, bags, boxes for carrying, dumping and sorting.
  • Talk about shapes in everyday environments and during everyday activities.
  • Encourage critical thinking skills by asking open-ended questions to extend a child’s play and thinking.
  • Incorporate and label opposites in play and during conversation, e.g., big and little.
  • Encourage participation with varied music styles.

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Building early learning skills with music

Music catches a child’s interest and imagination through movement and enjoyment. Very early in life, children can memorize nursery rhymes, chants, poems and songs. This is an important link between spoken and written language. The concepts of rhyme, rhythm, repeated vocabulary and repeated story structure support this link. Using music and song as a way to engage young children in activities that develop early reading skills fits a child’s natural interest. By combining the learning areas of music and language, experiences become meaningful in a child’s learning and understanding the surrounding world.

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Building learning skills by imagining, pretending and imitating

Dramatic play or “pretending” is a natural way for young children to learn. Play provides children opportunities to learn words while providing ways that children can combine spoken language with imagination. Some favorite play experiences include cooking in a pretend kitchen, playing with dolls, dressing in costumes and acting out real life experiences.

Here are examples of items that can help your child experience the adventure and creativity of dramatic play:

  • Blocks.
  • Cars, trucks.
  • Pretend food.
  • Dishes.
  • Dress-up clothing, including shoes and hats.
  • Empty food containers.
  • Used purses, handbags, briefcases or lunch pails.
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Common questions regarding raising bilingual children

Can learning two languages cause delays for my child?

Occasionally, the language milestones of bilingual children can appear to be delayed during the early years when language skills are still emerging. However, bilingual children have the potential to reach the same language milestones as their peers who speak only one language. Whether or not a family is bilingual, parents and caregivers can support language development by such fun and enriching activities with the child such as singing and reading together.

Can learning two languages overwhelm my child?

Children around the world are routinely exposed to a variety of languages without feeling overwhelmed or confused. When parents and caregivers communicate with children in the language with which they are most comfortable and familiar, they are more likely to engage in such meaningful interactions as singing, playing and reading. These interactions form the foundation for language development in the crucial early years.

When my child switches between two languages, is he or she confused?

Switching between two languages requires a great understanding of both languages. This is not necessarily a sign of confusion, but rather can indicate that your child feels comfortable in exploring and speaking both languages.

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Guidelines for raising a bilingual child

1) Do what is comfortable for you and your family. Some parents and caregivers are comfortable speaking in more than one language; others are not. Every family has unique goals, strengths and resources.

2) Frequently expose your child to the languages you are encouraging. Children learn through play. Find plenty of opportunities to sing, play and read together in the language(s) you are encouraging.

3) Encourage language development without pressure. Do not punish your child for using one language over another. When you encourage a child’s efforts and support development in loving, playful ways, that child gradually comes to understand and appreciate more than one language.

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How can I know what my child should be saying or understanding at what age?

  • Language has two aspects: Understanding, which is called receptive language, and talking or expressive language. For a child to develop language normally, both aspects must be developing together and at the right age level.
  • Language sets humans apart from other animals. It is closely related to learning and literacy. Language includes hearing, being able to understand what is being said, being able to respond to what was said, expressing ones' wants, needs and ideas appropriately in a social setting. Speech refers to the child's ability to talk or to use speech sounds to express himself/herself. By the time a child is 3 years old, he/she is usually intelligible to unfamiliar listeners.
  • Typical language (understanding and talking) develops in the same way for all children. There are certain milestones to which you can compare your child's language development.

Birth to 3 months
Hearing and Understanding.
  • Listens to speech.
  • Awakens at loud sound.
  • Turns to you when you speak.
  • Smiles when spoken to.
  • Stops activity to pay attention to an unfamiliar voice.
  • Repeats the same sound a lot (cooing, gooing).
  • Cries differently for different needs.
  • Smiles when he/she sees you.

3 to 6 months
Hearing and Understanding.
  • Responds to "No" and changes in tone of voice.
  • Looks around for the source of new sounds, e.g., vacuum, doorbell, dog.
  • Notices toys that make sounds.
  • Pays attention to music.
  • Stops activity to pay attention to an unfamiliar voice.
  • Makes babbling sounds that are speech-like, including "p", "b" and "m."
  • Makes gurgling sounds when left alone and when playing with you.
  • Tells you by sound or gesture when he/she wants you to do something.

6 to 9 months
Hearing and Understanding.
  • Enjoys games like peek-o-boo and pat-a-cake.
  • Listens when spoken to.
  • Turns and looks up when you call his/her name.
  • Babbling has both long and short groups of sounds such as "tata upup bibibibi."
  • Uses speech or non-crying sounds to get attention.

9 to 12 months
Hearing and Understanding.
  • Recognizes words for common items like "cup," "shoe," "juice."
  • Begins to respond to requests ("Come here," "Want more?").
  • Imitates different speech sounds.
  • Has one or two words ("Bye-bye," "Dada,", "Mama," "No").

12 to 18 months
Hearing and Understanding.
  • Points to pictures in a book when named.
  • Points to a few body parts when asked.
  • Follows simple commands ("Sit down," "Let go").
  • Says more words every month.
  • Uses some one- or two-word questions ("Where kitty?" "Go bye-bye?").

18 to 24 months
Hearing and Understanding.
  • Follows simple commands ("Roll the ball," "Kiss the baby").
  • Understands simple questions ("Where is your shoe?").
  • Listens more carefully to simple stories and songs and rhymes.
  • Puts two words together ("More cookie," "No juice").
  • Uses many different consonant sounds at the beginning of words.
  • Asks for items by name (doll, ball, cookie).

24 to 36 months (2 to 3 years)
Hearing and Understanding.
  • Understands differences in meaning ("go-stop," "in-on," "big-little").
  • Notices sounds (telephone ringing, television sounds, knocking at the door).
  • Follows two requests ("Get the book and put it on the table.").
  • Has a word for almost everything.
  • Uses two-three-word "sentences" to talk about and ask for things.
  • Speech is understood by familiar listeners most of the time.

36 to 48 months (3 to 4 years)
Hearing and Understanding.
  • Hears you when you call from another room.
  • Hears television or radio at the same loudness level as other family members.
  • Understands simple, "who," "what," "where" questions.
  • Talks about activities at school or at friends' homes.
  • Usually talks easily without repeating syllables or words.
  • People outside family usually understand child's speech.
  • Uses many sentences with four or more words.

48 to 60 months
Hearing and Understanding.
  • Pays attention to a short story and answers simple questions about it.
  • Everyone who knows child thinks he/she hears well.
  • Hears and understand most of what is said at home and in school.
  • Voice sounds clear like other children's.
  • Uses sentences that give lots of details (e.g., "I like to read my books").
  • Tells stories that stick to a topic.
  • Communicates easily with other children and adults.
  • Says most sounds correctly except a few like l, s, r, v, z, ch, sh, th.
  • Uses adult-like grammar.

Information for this question taken directly from http://www.asha.org/about/continuing-ed/ASHA-courses/JSS/JSS4200.htm

And Florida Department of Education, (1999). "Welcome to the world: An overview of your growing child." Tallahassee, Fla.

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How do I know if my baby is learning and what can I do to help?

Your young infant is developing every day. Babies differ in their rate of development and in their character. The best way to determine how your baby is doing is to observe him/her when your baby is content and in a good mood. There are some things to look for through the day. Don't be concerned if all of them are not present. Do not hesitate to ask your pediatrician or early care and education teacher if you are concerned about any aspect of your baby's development. Enjoy watching your child grow and seeing how your baby and changes over time. Babies learn skills very quickly.

Birth - 3 months

Here are some things to look for:

  • Following things with his/her eyes -- may get excited to see favorite toy, but will not notice small objects for some time.
  • Follows sounds -- turns head in response to sounds.
  • Face recognition -- happy to see you when you appear.
  • Beginning sounds -- starts to coo around 3 months, if he/she is not, tell your pediatrician.
  • Shows excitement before feeding and other familiar routines.

3 - 6 months

As your baby develops; he/she will become more sociable. Baby's coordination is improving daily. Each day you are able to notice your baby developing and growing. This is a very enjoyable time with your baby. Spend time with your baby cuddling, cooing, tickling, smiling and talking.

Some things to look for:

  • Focusing -- begins to study things closely.
  • Differences -- beings to show likes and dislikes by reaching or turning away.
  • Two hands -- begins to use both hand to grasp larger objects like bottle.
  • Turns over -- able to roll from front to back during play or while having diaper changed.
  • Exploration -- puts objects in to mouth.
  • Recognition -- turns to you when you speak and shows pleasure.


Brazelton, Dr. T. Berry. "Touchpoints: Your Child's Emotional and Behavioral Development." Reading, Mass.: Perseus Books, 1992

Cooper, Dr. Carol. "The Baby and Child Question and Answer Book." London, England: Dorling Kindersley Book, 2000

Reisser, Dr. Paul C. "Baby and Child Care." Wheaton, Ill.: Tyndale House Publishers, 1997

6-9 months

What begins to emerge at this age is your baby's personality. Development is evident everywhere. Each day your baby's evidence of learning is more and more obvious. He/she is figuring out how to sit up and remain steady. Babies at this age begin to tell the difference between people they know and do not know. They are sometimes afraid of strangers. This new behavior means that your baby prefers special people such as parents and grandparents. One of the pleasant developments that emerges is your baby making all sorts of new sounds. Have fun with your baby by copying the sounds your baby makes. Wait for your baby to respond back.

Some things to look for:

  • Reaches for and grasps objects.
  • Tries to talk to image in mirror.
  • Puts objects from one hand to another.
  • Responds to his/her name.
  • May go after a ball if it rolls out of sight.
  • Vocalizes to self when alone.
  • Able to uncover a toy that is hidden by a cloth.

9-12 months

On the move is what describes this age. Your baby will be crawling, cruising or sometimes even walking. Babies are babbling and "talking" with gestures. Babies are beginning to understand causality -- that is, how do things work? Another learning milestone is understanding object and person permanence. That means that babies now realize that objects and people who "go away" will return or reappear again. Peek-a-boo and games that involve hiding an object or a person explore this concept. One of the most powerful tools for learning is through imitation. Play simple imitation games with your child such as putting your finger on your nose and sticking out your tongue.

Some things to look for:

  • Understands the purpose of objects (e.g., spoons are for eating, rattles make sounds when they are shaken).
  • Beings to explore objects more with hands than mouth.
  • Responds to simple questions.
  • Repeats actions that cause a response.
  • Looks for things not in sight.
  • Responds to simple directions.
  • Likes to look at picture books.
  • Likes nursery rhymes and songs.

12 - 18 months

One of the most evident behaviors at this age is attachment. Your toddler will leave you, but he/she will not let you leave. This is a milestone in development for your toddler. This can be a difficult time because of your child's distress at your leaving. When you do leave, reassure your child, each time, that you will return. Do this even if you are going for only 15 minutes. Each time you return, she/he will grow in trust for you. Your toddler will gradually learn to master his/her feelings. Hug and cuddle your child. Enjoy looking at and reading books together.

Some things to look for:

  • Likes to take things apart.
  • Looks at person talking to him.
  • May know several of his/her body parts.
  • Asks for something by pointing or using words.
  • Able to identify objects in a book.
  • Understands and able to follow simple directions.
  • Imitates animals.
  • Uses up to 16-20 words.
  • Had a short attention span.
  • Is very curious.
  • Very interested in cause and effect.

18 - 24 months

Children at this age are non-stop, and there is a sudden burst in development. They are beginning to do many things on their own -- walk, run, and climb with greater skill. It is also the true age of imitation. Pretend play is one of their favorite activities. They also begin to want to be with other children their age -- one or two is plenty. This is a time when they begin to learn about themselves and their relationship with others. Your toddler will play mostly side by side with other toddlers, not directly with them. This is typical. Play becomes a powerful tool for learning. Children also become less cooperative, and their sense of independence grows. Have fun with your child. Play games with your child and his/her toys.

Some things to look for:

  • Shows preferences for toys.
  • Imitates another child's play.
  • Begins to ask questions and asks for things by name.
  • Has vocabulary of several hundred works, including names of toys.
  • Uses two-three word sentences.
  • Able to follow simple commands.
  • Hums or tries to sing.
  • Enjoys singing familiar songs.
  • Listens to short rhymes or fingerplays.
  • Talks to self and " jabbers" expressively.
  • Enjoys exploring and getting into everything.
  • Enjoys simple pretend play.

24 to 36 months (2 to 3 years)

Independence is the key description for this age! Two year olds want to do things by themselves one minute, and the next they will want you to do those things for them. They are very active -- usually non-stop from the time they open their eyes until they fall asleep. Play with and enjoy your child. Explore new places and objects together.

Some things to look for:

  • Able to take part in simple conversations.
  • Able to name a variety of objects.
  • Intrigued by cause and effect actions.
  • Beginning to see that things have a purpose.
  • Starts to make groups of things like animals, cars and food in his/her mind.
  • Asks many questions.
  • Follows two-step directions.
  • Begins to make choices.
  • Says names of toys.
  • Interested in learning how to use common things.

36 to 48 months (3 to 4 years)

Children at this age are emerging from the negativism of a 2 year old to a more cooperative young child as a 3 year old. Imagination begins to take over. Your child will begin to watch everyone around in new ways. Your child will begin symbolic play where toys and objects are used to act out events and interactions. Learning is best done through play. Children will try different techniques and ideas and determine what works best for them. They also are learning about themselves as social people. They are interested in mastering motor skills and they enjoy the repetition of riding a tricycle or climbing up and down stairs. They also like to repeat activities or may do and undo actions like putting a puzzle together. This is important to their later understanding of how things change or remain the same. Have fun playing out of doors with your child and enjoy physical activities with him/her.

Some things to look for:

  • Enjoys making simple choices.
  • Talks in complete sentences.
  • Enjoys familiar stories told without changing words or sequence of story.
  • Able to listen to short stories and books.
  • Able to tell simple stories from books with pictures.
  • Alert and curious.
  • Constantly asks "why" questions.
  • Enjoys guessing games and riddles.
  • Able to carry out two or more directions.
  • Understands the sequence of events.
  • Beginning to understand the concept of time.
  • Able to match simple colors and shapes.
  • Begins to sort by size, shape and color.
  • Sings and learns fingerplays.
  • Able to distinguish between night and day.
  • Likes to listen to short stories.
  • Interested in similarities and differences.
  • Can count two-three objects.
  • Can put together a six-piece puzzle.

48 to 60 months (4- 5 years)

Children this age feel good about the things that they can do. Their language development is in full force as they love to talk, They delight in wild stories and often their imagination becomes greater than life. Lot of energy and willingness to try new adventures is characteristic of this age group. Children are bold and need to be watched closely as they are child and share in their joy of discovery and understanding.

Some things to consider:

  • Understands routines and can tell what activity comes first and second in a sequence.
  • Asks questions constantly to gain information.
  • Speaks in complex sentences.
  • Interested in life-death concepts.
  • Interested in how things work.
  • Full of ideas.
  • Can stay with an activity for 10-15 minutes.
  • Beginning to have basic concepts related to number, size, weight, colors, textures and distance.
  • Asks and answers who, what, when, why and where questions.
  • Understands the immediate passage of time.
  • Can follow two unrelated directions.
  • Still confuses reality with fantasy.
  • Able to remember stories and repeat them.
  • Like to argue and reason.
  • Enjoys riddles and jokes.
  • Enjoys creating and telling storie.
  • Knows basic colors.
  • Can understand and use comparative terms like big, bigger, biggest.

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How much language does my new infant understand?

  • Your new infant won't understand your words at first, but will understand your tone of voice, smile and hugs.
  • To make certain that your infant is able to hear you, watch for your baby to startle at surprise sounds, awaken at loud sounds and turn toward sounds. It is very important that the baby looks at you when you talk.
  • As your baby grows, your baby will gradually come to understand what words mean as you use them over and over. It is important to talk with your baby about the "here and now" and the activities the two of you are doing.
  • As your baby grows older, read to your child every day and talk with him/her about what you are doing, where you are going and what will happen next.

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How much should my child be saying by what age?

A simple rule of thumb is to know that:

  • At 1 year of age, your baby will use one-word utterances.
  • At 2 years of age, your baby will use two-word utterances.
  • At 3 years of age, your toddler will use three-word utterances.
  • At 4 years of age, your child will use sentences of four-five words.
  • At 5 years of age, your child will use complete sentences of five-six words.

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How to choose a children's book

How to choose a children’s book

Look for these kinds of books for infants:

  • Concept books or books with simple stories.
  • Books with vinyl pages or board books.
  • Not too much on a page.
  • Contrasting pictures.
  • Few words on a page.
  • Real pictures.
Look for these kinds of books for toddlers:
  • Board books.
  • Simple sentences.
  • Rhymes and songs.
  • Real pictures.
  • Rhyming, rhythmic reading.

Look for these kinds of books for pre-schoolers:

  • Stories with more complex themes and messages.
  • More words.
  • Books divided with chapters to be read at bedtime.
  • Themes that relate to child’s interests.
  • Resource books, e. g., a dinosaur dictionary.
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My child doesn't follow directions or do what I say. Is that typical?

  • Children typically go through periods of "testing' adults and not following through with what adults are asking. Also, children younger than 2 or 3 often do not understand what is being said because they are too young to know what adults' words mean.
  • If, however, your infant or young child does not respond to sounds, he/she may have an ear infection that temporarily is blocking your child's hearing. Or, your child may have a hearing loss. Either of these will cause a delay in your child's ability to learn language. Talk with your child's doctor about this .
  • If you are sure that your child knows the words you are using, is not "testing" you and does not have a hearing problem, but still does not follow directions, he/she may have a problem with understanding language. If this is the case, your child's talking will probably be somewhat delayed also. You may want to refer your child for further evaluation. Click on "I have questions about my child"

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My child sometimes gets stuck on words. Does that mean he/she is stuttering?

  • It is normal for a child to "get stuck" on words as he/she is learning language. If this dysfluency goes away in a short while, don't worry. Dysfunction may include simple repetitions of syllables or words, "li - li, li - like this", or hesitations or fillers such as "um," "er," or "uh".
  • If, however, your child routinely "gets stuck" and also is displaying physical characteristics in face or body, such as grimacing, you may need to refer you child for screening or evaluation. Click on "I have questions about my child"

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Myths about early literacy

Myth No. 1: Oral language must develop before written language can begin. In fact, although oral language development is essential to good written language development, it is not a prerequisite in the way once believed. Oral and written language skills develop simultaneously. Each supports the other.

Myth No. 2: Children learn oral language naturally, but acquire literacy knowledge through direct instruction. In fact, we tend to overestimate the extent to which oral language learning simply unfolds through maturation, regardless of social circumstances. We underestimate the extent to which written language learning can occur in day-to-day functional contexts starting long before children receive formal instruction in the classroom.

Myth No. 3: Children must be at a certain level of physical and mental readiness before written language learning can occur. In fact, variations in rates of literacy development are due primarily to individual differences in children's learning rates rather than to differences in children's early literacy experiences. Visit www.idra.org or www.naeyc.org for more information.

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People tell me that they cannot understand my 3 year old, but I do. Should I be worried?

  • By the time a child is 3, people should be able to understand a child's speech most of the time. However, children of this age are still developing speech sounds and so they will not have mastered all of the consonant sounds especially "r", "l", "th" and "s." Therefore, their speech will not be perfect. They should be talking in sentences of three more words.
  • Sometimes mothers or other primary caregivers can understand what a child is trying to communicate by watching their facial expressions, movements such as pointing and by listening to their sounds. However, it is important at this age for you and for others to be able to understand most of what your 3 year old child says.
  • If you have concerns about your child's language development, click on "I have questions about my child"

Websites for reference:

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Talking and listening with infants
  • Speaking the languages they are learning.
  • Describing what they are doing. (“You are looking at me.”)
  • Describing what is happening around them. (“I hear a car driving by; I wonder who it is.”)
  • Describing how you feel about them. (“I love you very much.”)
  • Repeating sounds they make.
  • Watching for signals to continue or stop the interaction. (“You are looking away, so you must be ready to stop for now.”)

Infants may respond by smiling, laughing, cooing, gazing, kicking their feet or turning their head and breaking eye contact.

Infants are learning to make sounds (the foundations of speech) and need time, support and opportunities to practice these sounds. The adults who encourage turn-taking are helping children with language development.

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Talking and listening with pre-schoolers

Effective conversations with pre-schoolers are based on:

  • Listening and responding with open-ended questions. (“Where will the space ship you are flying travel to?”)
  • Expanding stories and ideas by asking probing questions. (“Have you ever felt the way Big Bird feels on the TV show?”)
  • Sharing new vocabulary in the context of conversation. (“Those are pigeons, and these are seagulls.”)
  • Describing feelings beyond happy and sad. (“You are angry after working so hard on that tower and having your friend knock it over.”)

Open conversations encourage a close relationship between adult and child as well as positive social skills among children.

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Talking and listening with toddlers

Effective conversations with toddlers (1 to 3 years) are based on:

  • Listening and responding verbally to their wants and needs.
  • Describing what they are doing (“You are putting the blocks in a row.”)
  • Describing what is happening around them. (“It’s raining hard; listen to it pounding on the roof.”)
  • Describing how you feel about them. (“I love you very much.”)
  • Describing how they are expressing their feelings. (“I can see you are happy to see Grandma. You smiled and ran to her.”)
  • Extending their language. (“More? Do you want more juice?”)
  • Listening, watching for and accepting signals to continue or stop the interaction. (“I can tell you want to go play with the truck and not finish reading the story.”)

Toddlers who have conversations with adults and older children are learning the structure of their language, vocabulary and critical thinking. The turn-taking of conversation with infants and toddlers builds intimacy and relationships. Talking and listening provide positive examples of caring and effective communication.

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We talk, is my child learning?

  • Your child learns language by hearing others speak. You will want to provide a good model for your child by using simple, but appropriate words.
  • Of course, all families have pet words for things and use endearments and references to objects that may sound like "baby-talk." These have special meaning and certainly won't interfere with a child's learning of language.

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What is emergent literacy?

Emergent literacy sees literacy is as a continuous developmental process that begins at birth. Emergent literacy focuses on reading, listening, speaking and writing. Emergent literacy suggests that children surrounded by a literacy-rich environment and engaged in constructive activities with parents and caregivers more likely will develop strong literacy skills. Emergent literacy recognizes that a connection exists between the oral and written language children are exposed to from birth to the time when they are begin to read.

For decades, educators have debated over a skills-based approach (phonics) and a holistic approach (whole-language) in teaching children to read. Phonics, the association of speech sounds with printed text, teaches children to read using a series of rules to sound out new words. The whole-language method uses connected print to teach children reading. Children are encouraged to recognize words as whole units and participate in many hands-on activities, such as writing in journals and analyzing words in context.

In the 1950s, traditional phonics instruction was abandoned and a "look-say model" was being used to help children learn to read. Educators came to believe that the reason some children were reading and writing so poorly was because they were not being taught to sound out every letter. Hence, phonics again gained momentum.

The debate continues today. Many experts have come to believe that elements of both approaches should be used.

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When will my baby start to talk?

  • Babies communicate from birth. They cry to tell you that they need or want something. They also communicate through smiles, frowns, gurgling, movements and gestures.
  • By 4 months your baby will be able to produce all of the vowel sounds, such as "b" and "m" and babble to call attention.
  • By 8 months your baby will frequently use syllables such as "papa, "mama", "tata" or "nana." In addition, he/she will try to imitate your sounds.
  • By 10 months your baby can be expected to repeat syllables such as "pa-pa-pa," and may say his/ her first meaningful word between 10 - 12 months.
  • By 12 months your baby may say two or three words including "mama" and "papa", mixing true words with jargon. In addition, he/she will begin to imitate familiar words, use words that express wants and needs, or to call attention.
  • By 18 - 24 months your baby will start to use some short incomplete sentences, combining two - three words, such as "Where kitty?" or "Go bye-bye?"

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Brought to you by The Early Childhood Initiative Foundation and United Way Center for Excellence in Early Education

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