Building Your Child’s Language Skills From Birth

One of the first things that people notice about my daughter is her vocabulary. At 2.5 years old, she knows hundreds of words and meets the speech milestones of a 5+ year old.

Some of her speaking ability may be genetic. Her father and I are both very talkative! But I also used tips from experts to build her language skills from birth.

The first three years of a child’s life are crucial to language development. I’ve spent a lot of time since she was born developing her speech through the following methods.

Talking to her and narrating our day

I cannot stress how much I talk to my daughter. For the first three months of her life, I wore her in a sling for most of the day. I took her for walks in the park, did chores with her attached to me, and generally went about my life with her against my chest. Whenever she was awake, I spent a lot of time talking to her.

I would walk around the house and tell her the name of everything. I’d say “here’s our couch, here’s the lights, this is a remote control.” I would describe what I was doing “Mommy is making dinner. We’re having chicken with salsa and rice.”

I don’t think what I was saying mattered as much as how frequently I was talking. I exposed her to thousands of words before she was six months old because I was constantly talking to her.

If I waited for her to hear language when her father and I were home, she wouldn’t have heard much. We are often discussing the same things each night – what needs to get done, what’s on the schedule for tomorrow, and how our days were.

Since I work from home, I rarely see anyone throughout the day. Occasionally, I make phone calls, but those are often me saying “Yes, I can do that. Sure, no problem. OK, thanks, bye.” She wouldn’t get much from those calls either.

Making an effort to talk to her throughout the day exposed her to much more conversation than she would have heard otherwise.

Why this works: The more words a child hears, the bigger their vocabulary will become.

Singing to her and making up rhymes

If I wasn’t talking to her, I was singing to her. I sang kid’s songs, top 40 music, made-up songs, and whatever earworm popped into my head. She would always smile and coo while I was signing so it made me want to keep doing it for her. If she started crying, I would sing and she would usually get quiet and stare at me.

I would make up little tunes for the activities we were doing. I actually did this before I had any children too, it’s one of my annoying or lovable (depends on who you ask!) traits.

I often played music in the house and car for Norah to listen to. Sometimes this was children’s music, but most of the time it was the music that I like.

It’s no surprise that Norah’s quite a little singer today. She also makes up her own songs. One of my favorites goes “It rains on your head, it rains on your shoulders”. She goes through all of the body parts she knows as she sings this song.

Why this works: Singing and listening to music helps children learn the sounds of words and how to pronounce them.

Reading to her every day

From a few months old, I took Norah to library every week to borrow children’s books. We would then spend 30 minutes to 1 hour each day reading. This did not include her bedtime routine with daddy where they read 3-5 books.

By 15 months, she was turning pages in books and spending at least 20 minutes a day looking at them. At 2.5, she “reads” her stories to herself for at least an hour per day.

I’ve always spent extra time with each book asking her questions about the story. For example, if a book has a character who loves cake, I’ll ask her if she likes cake, when we usually eat cake, who makes cake, etc.

She also loves the library and looks forward to our weekly trip. She is great at memorizing the lines in stories and knows the authors of her favorite series (Marc Brown, Norman Bridwell, Mo Willems, and Beatrix Potter).

Why this works: Reading and asking questions about the story teaches children speaking skills.

Engage her in conversation

Both Michael and I make it a point to involve Norah in our conversations especially during meals. We talk with each other, but we ask her questions about her day and let her interrupt with questions about what we’re talking about.

Every day during lunch I talk to Norah about what’s coming up later in the week. I tell her if we have any appointments or playdates. I let her know about relatives visiting or things we’re going to do on the weekend.

As she gets older, she is better and better at picking up context from our conversations. She will often know who or what we are talking about after a few minutes of talking. She likes asking “Are you talking about me?”

It may feel silly to try to have a conversation with a small child, but children are little people. They need social interaction and engagement just like adults do. They want to have their thoughts and opinions heard.

Why it works: Engaging children in conversation helps them develop social skills and learn new words.

There are many ways you can help build your child’s language skills, but the biggest one is being a present parent. If you are interacting with your child throughout the day, you will help their brain build connections. Investing your time and energy into your child’s language development will set them up for success in the future.

How We Spent Winter 2016

Winter is my least favorite time of year even though it includes my birthday. Cold weather and gray skies get me feeling down and I find it harder to get motivated to leave the house. I do my best to enjoy the season, but once the holidays are over, I’m simply waiting for it to warm up. I enjoy being outside, but winters in northern Illinois make it difficult to enjoy nature.

The absolute best thing about the end of this year was getting pregnant with baby #2 and finding out we are having a boy!

Erin

Mom’s Groups

I joined another mom’s group this past fall and started going to more events this winter. I already belonged to one mom’s group, but the times that they met were not always convenient with my schedule. I like to work in the morning and take Norah to playdates around 11 am or after her nap at 2 – 3 pm. The new mom’s group has more options for later morning meetups and after school playdates. I plan on continuing to take Norah to events until she starts preschool in September. At that point, I’ll be bringing my son to the baby playgroups.

Reading

Since there’s not much else to do, I love spending time reading (especially by the fireplace) in the winter. This year I set my reading challenge to 53 books. I spent this winter reading the following books:

Nonfiction

  • Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration by Ed Catmull, Amy Wallace – 4 stars
  • Where am I Now? by Mara Wilson – 2 stars
  • How to Murder Your Life by Cat Marnell – 4 stars

Fiction

  • The Survivor’s Guide to Family Happiness by Maddie Dawson – 4 stars
  • The Opposite of Maybe by Maddie Dawson – 3 stars
  • The Ocean at the End of the Lane – Neil Gaiman – 4 stars
  • Because I’m Watching by Christina Dodd – 3 stars
  • The Girl Before by Rena Olsen – 4 stars
  • The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena – 3 stars

Handlettering

Mike gave me a book on handlettering, some fancy pens, and paper for Christmas. I’m working on teaching myself. It’s harder than it looks, but surprisingly relaxing. I do too many activities that involve active thinking and this is something that is more physical. I would label myself as more crafty than artistic, but I’m pretty good at eyeballing something and copying the design of it. When Mike and I were dating, I baked a cake and carved it into a Batman symbol!

I hope to create some collaborative artwork with Norah and possible Mike. He’s very talented and majored in art during his first two years of college. Unfortunately, he almost never uses his drawing skills. On the other hand, Norah loves using watercolors and I’d love to add an inspirational quote or word over her artwork and frame it! Perhaps it could be something I could sell.

Norah

Playing in the snow

Although it’s been bitter cold, we haven’t had too much snow this year. Norah was able to enjoy one day of playing outside and sledding in early December. I look forward to her getting bigger and being able to enjoy the giant sledding hill in our backyard. I have a feeling my house will be a sledding destination for her friends.

Holiday celebrations and traditions

Norah is still the only grandchild (for now!) for both sets of grandparents so she gets spoiled during the holidays.

This year she was able to understand the concept of Santa and was talking about him for weeks. She also had her first Toys R Us catalog experience. She carried that thing around for several months, pointing out toys that she wanted. Mike’s work had a breakfast with Santa where she revealed that she wanted a “Shopkins house.” We had a last minute scramble to find one. The holidays only get more enjoyable as Norah gets older. It is so wonderful to experience things through her eyes.

Mike’s been doing Elf on the Shelf since I was pregnant with Norah, mostly to amuse me. Norah loved the book, but did not care for the actual elf. If he was near any of her things, she would throw him across the room even though I kept telling her she wasn’t supposed to touch him. We ended up having him stay in neutral places like the top of the fridge or mantelpiece.

She also loved the Christmas lights and would say they are “boo-ti-ful”.

Going to the library

Norah participated in the summer and winter reading club at the library this year. They have clubs for both readers and pre-readers. The pre-readers activities involved parents reading to the kids and showing them different stations around the library.

Norah loves the library, just like her mama. I have so many wonderful memories of being in the library as a kid. We go to the library at least once a week. We also try to make it to programs every few weeks.

Norah knows several librarian’s names and has a favorite librarian that she frequently asks about. This winter, one librarian was especially kind to Norah and let her come behind the desk and check in some books and then reshelve them. I’m happy to have instilled a love of the library in my daughter.

We’re looking forward to Spring and Summer when we are able to get out of the house more often. We’ll be spending extra special time with Norah before her world is rocked by her brother arriving in July!

How we spent winter 2016

We’re Reading 1000 Books Before Kindergarten

We love reading! Every week we go to our library and pick out a new batch of books to add to Norah’s list of 1000 books before kindergarten.

The 1000 Books before Kindergarten program

The 1000 books before kindergarten program encourages parents to read 1000 books to their children before they start school. The program promotes pre-literacy and literacy initiatives as well as family bonding.

Though the goal of 1000 books may seem huge, it’s very doable!

Why you should participate in 1000 Books before Kindergarten

Reading to your child strengthens their language skills and builds their vocabulary. Did you know that by three years old, a child from a low-income family will have heard 30 million fewer words than a child from a professional family? In addition, one in three American children start kindergarten without the skills needed to learn to read. Two-thirds of children can’t read proficiently by the end of third grade.

Reading to your child is a great way to prepare them for future success. If your family doesn’t have the means to purchase books, that’s no problem. Search for your local library and become a member, it’s free!

Reading aloud to children promotes brain development and helps build important language, literacy and social skills. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends reading to your child daily from infancy.

In addition to the educational benefits, reading to your child helps build a nurturing relationship and develops their self-esteem.

How you can participate in 1000 Books before Kindergarten

To participate, you only need to make time to read to your child each day. The sooner you start, the better!

If you start at one year old, reading 4 books per week = 1,060 books by kindergarten

If you start at two years old, reading 1 book per day = 1,095 books by kindergarten

If you start at three years old, reading 2 books per day = 1,460 books by kindergarten

If you start at four years old, reading 3 books per day = 1,095 books by kindergarten

 

How to read 1000 books before kindergarten

 

Most children’s books take less than 10 minutes to read. Even if you start when your child is older, you’ll only need to spend about 30 minutes per day reading. That’s the length of one TV show! If you replace one episode of your child’s favorite show with three books, you’ll be supporting their development and your relationship.

Reading doesn’t have to be a solo activity. Taking your child to story hour at the library counts too!

Find out more about 1000 books before kindergarten

Each library decides whether to participate in the program. Find a participating library in your area. If your library is not currently participating, you can suggest the program to a librarian or the library director.

My local library supports this awesome program. They recognize children who complete 1000 books before kindergarten by adding their name to a poster on the wall and giving them a prize. They also provide a notebook to record books read.

If your library doesn’t participate, you can do this initiative on your own by recording the books read on paper or in a Google document. If your child reaches 1000 books, you could take them out for dinner or buy them something special to celebrate the achievement. Whatever you choose to do, make sure to read to your child on a daily basis to set them up for success.
1000 books before kindergarten

What We’re Into: Summer 2016

Summer 2016

The summer of 2016 was a mixed bag. In the spring I suffered a miscarriage and assumed I’d be pregnant again by summer’s end, but I’m not. My childhood friend, and maid of honor in my wedding, was killed in a boating accident in June. I struggled with my grief compounded by the fact that I hadn’t spoken with her in years. Her death opened my eyes to our time not being guaranteed. Since then, I’ve tried to be more present in my life, make amends with people from my past, and be more appreciative of what I have.

While there were some supremely negative events this summer, we also had a lot of joy. Norah turned two! We spent the summer taking her to swim lessons and play dates. This was our first summer in our new house and we thoroughly enjoyed our big backyard. We had lots of ice cream (Norah had her first cone!) and s’mores. We took a day trip to Madison, Wisconsin that included a visit to Henry Villas Zoo. We attended a few picnics, farmer’s markets, fairs and outdoor events in Rockford including a kid’s concert.

Family at Henry Villas Zoo
Our family at Henry Villas Zoo in Madison, WI. Taken with a selfie stick!

The summer is typically a slower time for business and I enjoy that, but I look forward to things ramping back up and working with new clients! If you know anyone who needs copywriting, content, or social media work done – let me know.

Here are some things we loved this summer:

Erin (32 years old)

Stranger Things

This show hit all the right notes for me. I love horror and coming of age stories and I have the biggest soft spot for nostalgia. Stranger Things perfectly encapsulated the 80s, had a great storyline, and was sweet and scary at the same time. I absolutely loved this series and cannot wait for season two. You can catch this series on Netflix.

The Fireman by Joe Hill

This was my favorite book of the summer. I love Joe Hill almost as much as I love his father, Stephen King. This was an epic pandemic story about a virus that causes people to burst into flames. If you want to see what else I read this summer, follow me on Goodreads.

Meditation

After all of the negative things that happened this summer, I wanted to refocus and get some inner peace. I read several self-help books including Mastering Your Mean Girl and The Charge that helped me get my head in the right place. Every self-help book I’ve ever read talks about the importance of a meditation routine. I finally started using Stop, Breathe, & Think app for near-daily meditation. I have noticed a calmer mind and less anxiety. It also helped with my grieving process.

Daily Journaling

I’ve taken to writing in a journal daily about how I’m feeling and what I’m grateful for. It’s been helping me process my feelings and start the day with a clear mind.

Norah (2 years old)

Bombpops

Easily one of Norah’s most requested items. After almost every dinner she asks for a bomb pop. The traditional red, white, and blue popsicles were a staple in my house growing up, but with four kids the box didn’t last for more than a few days. We don’t let her have one everyday, but she gets them for dessert fairly often. The struggle is convincing her to wait until after dinner instead of giving her one when she first requests it which is usually five minutes after waking up in the morning.

Playing outside

Norah loves to push her ride-on car up and down the driveway and run down the large hill we have in our backyard. She received two bikes for her birthday and has been practicing using the pedals. She doesn’t quite have it, but probably will by next year.

Gardening

This summer we did some bucket gardening and Norah loved it. Every day she helped water the plants and pick the ripe vegetables. In the process, she ate about 100 cherry tomatoes. We had good luck with romaine lettuce, green peppers, and cherry tomatoes. Our strawberries produced about 10 berries and then stopped growing and our cucumbers never became ripe and rotted on the vine. We’ll try bucket gardening again next year and think about dedicating a plot in the yard in the future.

Bucket garden
Norah in front of her bucket garden

Fall is my favorite time of year and I can’t wait for all of the good things coming our way including trips to Edward’s Apple Orchard, having our first bonfire in our firepit, and taking our daughter Trick or Treating for the second time. Until next season!