The first 3 years of a child's life are downright miraculous. Think about it, they can go from totally helpless and incompetent to being able to walk, run, climb, talk, sing, draw, play, act, exaggerate, converse, request, querry, and follow simple commands. Among other things. It's amazing how the newborn child is programmed to learn learn learn so very much in such a short time! Alot of parents just do the minumum and let their child teach themself in these precious and crucial first 3 years. Dare I say it? I think that the first 3 years are of key importance in teaching a child to love learning, teaching them HOW to learn, and teaching them things that will become more difficult for them to learn at an older age. And especially, teaching them behavioural skills! I only have 2 littles so far but I've been teaching PRE-pre-school for 3 years now as a mommy to my kids -here are some things I've learned and some ways to teach your child from birth.
Narrate everything to your baby as you are doing it.
"I am opening the refrigerator! See Baby? Opened! Closed! Opened! Closed!"
"Let's get the mail! Open the door, look in the mailbox! See the mail in the mailbox? Can you grab it? Here, you can hold it while we go back inside. Good job! You helped get the mail!"
"Left foot in your left pant leg! Right foot in your right pant leg! Yay! Now lets puuuullll up your britches! Yay! All pulled up! You are now dressed!"
This will teach them rights and lefts long before it becomes a chore to remember! I was 6 or older before I knew right from left. It was so hard for me to remember! But I've been narrating right and left every time we get my daughter dressed from the day of her birth and she knew right from left by 2 1/2 or sooner.
Narrate when you are kissing or tickling baby too. Say "Kissy kisses!" and then lean in to kiss those delicious cheeks. Wiggle your fingers in front of baby and get progressively closer, saying "tickle... tickle tickle... tickle tickle..." until your fingers touch baby and as you are frantically tickling also frantically say, "Tickle tickle!" repeatedly. Baby will associate the word "tickle" with being tickled and the word "Kiss" with being kissed.
Don't talk alot of babytalk. You know you wanna just pinch those cheeks and say coochie goo, but instead of training your baby that getting pinched cheeks means coochie goo (whatever that is!), try saying "Oh sweet cheekies!" instead. At least then baby is learning that those chubby soft sides of his face are called something like "sweet cheekies."
Folding laundry? Play peek a boo with the clothes before you fold each one! And don't forget to narrate! "Where is Mommy? Boo! There is Mommy! Mommy was hiding behind the sock!" Your child will learn that foot-shaped thing is called a sock, that Mommy will always come back, and that just because you can't see something doesn't mean it is not there!
Letters and numbers- point them out wherever you go! You are in McDonald's? "Look baby! An 'M'! Do you know what M says? M says mmmmm!" Just like you would do with farm animals, "Look baby, it's a cow! What does a cow say? Cow says MOOO!"
Speak clearly! Sing all the time. Kids learn so much from songs! This is a great way to start teaching BEFORE the child is even born! Sing to your unborn baby. She will learn the sound of your voice and learn to listen for it, to hang on your every word.
Watch what you say! If you don't want your kids to say certain words, set the example and don't use those words! Even as young as in the womb this is important! The child in your womb is connected to you because you are literally her entire world, and she can feel the negative emotions that are associated with saying words that you are ashamed to say, or that evoke anger or despair in you. And once the child is born they are learning, learning everything. Learning how you react to things. If you react with a curse to spilled milk, they are learning that is acceptable behavior. They can see, hear, smell you so be careful what you fill their little senses with. Watching violent or profane movies in the vicinity of your baby is not beneficial and could possibly have long term effects we don't know about yet. I have memories from before I could talk, and I was talking in sentences by 18 months old according to my Nana, so you never know what your little baby will remember. Plant good seeds. Speak clearly, speak often, speak encouragingly.
If you want your child to say please and thank you, don't start yelling at them or threatening to spank them if they don't mind their Ps and Qs! YOU set the example. I guarantee you that if the stay home parent says please and thank you to the child EVERY time, then the child will learn to do that as well! Of course the hope is that both parents will example this trait. Now I'm not saying that for an older child who used to say please that if he stops he should get away with it, no. I'm talking about the under 3 crowd who has not mastered the concept of saying "please" instead of "want it" just yet. If they do not use good manners consistently, then you cannot punish them when they are consistently inconsistent; You must be sure that they know what they know before you punish them for not acting upon it. Deliberate direct disobedience should be dealt with directly. Inconsistency or confusion however should be a message to you that the child needs more encouragement and more of your living example to get this concept to sink in. Again, I'm talking a little baby here, not an older child whom you know knows better! Willful disobedience should always be dealt with swiftly and concisely without anger on your part as the parent. But that's for another post.. ;)
These things encourage verbal skills. Word association is the first step to talking. Once baby knows that an item or action has a name, he will listen for that name when he sees/feels/hears/tastes/smells the object or action! And then he will try to speak it. It's amazing how much babies actually say that most people miss because they are not listening! I know a baby that stopped talking at 1 because nobody could understand him and did not begin talking again for over a year. Everyone wants to be understood, to really be heard, so trying to hear and understand your baby's babble as the wanna-be words they are will encourage him to speak more!
Baby's on the changing table making sounds. Do you ignore and hurriedly change the diaper? Or do you listen to the baby and then realize he's grabbing at his foot saying "ut?" Encourage him! Reply, "Yes! Foot! Foot!" then wait for him to say it again. He will get clearer each try. Alternate, you say it and then wait for him to mimic you. You are teaching him how to correctly pronounce foot. Make sure he can see your mouth when you speak so he can see how your lips form the word. He will smile proudly into your loving eyes, knowing he's saying something that you understand and that you are proud of him for it!
On a final note, keep in mind that every child learns differently, at a different pace, and this does not mean there is something "wrong" with your child, merely that you as a parent have a special challenge to find the child's key- that way or teaching them that will open up their little mind to learning. Children with learning 'disabilities' are just as SMART as other children, they just LEARN DIFFERENTLY or at a different pace! And this can pose a very difficult thing for the teaching parent to find the child's key because their key is different than the parent's key and the siblings' keys so it might take a lot of tries and thinking outside the box to find it. Just remember to do your best not to get frustrated in front of your child. If you are frustrated that you can't help them, they will take it to mean you are frustrated at them and they in turn will be discouraged and frustrated. Frustrated children are harder to teach.
Dear mothers, so many of whom have been mothers longer than I and must have so much wisdom to share, PLEASE I encourage you to add a comment here about how YOU encourage verbal skills in little babies! Please do enrich this post with your wisdom! :)
I know all of us, regardless of how long we've been a parent or how new to it, can learn something from one another. Let us lift one another up in raising Godly children, starting from birth! Be kind, be teachable, be willing to teach, and be respectful. God bless you!
This is part 1 of a series on ways to teach your tiny ones before school ever starts. I hope to write a part 2, etc. to go along with this post someday!
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