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20120410-201424.jpgBenji’s coos are getting louder and louder, and his repertoire continues to increase. Between now and the next couple months he should start babbling. Meaning, he should start adding some consonants to his sound system (e.g., saying “bah-bah” and not just “ah”). These days, his crazy mom has been babbling lots to him using all the consonants in the English sound system. At times, I have also been babbling using Mandarin consonant sounds. When I do that, I notice Benji’s eyes attentively looking at my mouth, watching how it purses and releases, or how my tongue lifts and drops. It’s fascinating watching him watch me or his dad when we speak.

Reading has also become very much a routine in our household. No matter what we do, we try to read at least one book a day to him. Some days, I don’t even read the words in the book but just take a book and look at the pictures and describe them. At this age, it’s not so much the content; it’s more the act of reading. In fact, I also highly recommend picture books to parents because that gives parents the freedom to label the picture and even come up with an imaginative story themselves. (It’s also a great way to facilitate narrative skills in toddlers or pre-schoolers who cannot yet read.)

Language – speaking and listening – is the foundation for reading. A lot of parents don’t realize that, but a lot of kids who eventually go on to be good readers (except the ones who are diagnosed with dyslexia) have a good background in language. They know how to speak and understand and know how to manipulate sounds (e.g., do rhyme). That’s why when you look at speech development checklists from health nurses or pediatricians, they often ask if your child is babbling or using a variety of different sounds. This is a good speech and language development checklist I found for parents with infants or toddlers if you don’t already have one.

The first time I read a book to Benji, I’ll read the words. I use my finger to track the words I’m reading so he pays attention to the print. After that, I read the same book over with him for the next week or so (I usually have about 2 – 3 books in rotation during the week) and try other ways to explore and read to him from the same book. Here are some:

Labeling things in the book. When we read the same book again – and we do, many times over – I look for other things to talk about in the book. There are lots of other things to talk about: the color of the boy’s shirt, or the type of dog, etc. Repetition is a great way to help a child learn new words.

Playing silly word rhymes, e.g., when I see a page that says “7 pups pounce…” I go “and 7 pups bounce!” (even if they’re not part of the page) and “7 pups hounce,,,” Yes, “hounce” is not part of the English lexicon but it rhymes with pounce and bounce, and that is what I want to expose him to. Word games can be so fun and educational at the same time. Little kids especially from their toddler years LOVE them. Most little kids innately find silly rhymes funny (that’s why Dr Seuss books are such a hit!).

Using lots of action words when talking about the pictures in the books. E.g., “The puppies are pouncing!” “The puppies are rolling the colorful ball!” Nouns and action words are the first types of words that kids pick up, and it’s best to use the -ing version of the action word instead of just saying “He sits” say “He is sitting.” Developmentally, we want children to be able to use the “is + -ing” structure by around 2.5 years old (a lot of kids will developmentally say “He sitting” first and then progress to add the “is” in between). We also use slightly longer structures to extend the kid’s sentence structure, but not too long.

And as always, being animated and constantly moving because we know the little ones can’t sit still for too long.

Here are some other good websites to find suggestions on promoting literacy with your little one. Remember, language AND reading go complement each other. Read AND talk about the books with your little ones to get the best literary experience.

Make Reading First. Lots of suggestions on ways to read to your child.

Caring for kids. It also has a literacy milestone chart you can use for your child.

Zero to Three. An excellent article about the roots of literacy: language!

In infants??! They don’t even talk what communication are we trying to facilitate here?

Language development starts from the minute the child is born. As a Speechie mom, I understand the importance of parent-child communication and that believe it or not, there is a variety of language facilitation strategies available for infants! I’m also constantly thinking about ways to encourage communication in my child. It’s fascinating that we are all born with an innate desire to communicate and through interactions we realize how powerful communication abilities can be. Yup, even the kids with autism who are often misunderstood as introverted or hermits (they want to communicate and interact with others; they just don’t know HOW).

When Benji was born, he interacted with us mostly with eye gazes and cries. Then he started grinning, although not in response to anything but slowly learned that a grin or laugh would get him a lot of attention and therefore gave us more and more of these magical moments. We also learned that Benji had different cries tagged to various needs: hunger vs discomfort vs weariness. In the last few weeks he also started cooing and gurgling, doing it mostly when he is happy and in a playful mood.

How should parents react to these communicative intents to encourage more vocalizations? I strongly believe at least for the first years, that the more the child is able to vocalize, the better. He is exploring his vocal cords and different ways to interact and the more he experiences it hopefully the quicker he will pick up speech sounds, and eventually, the nuances of social interactions…all of these should hopefully have a domino effect on acquiring language, which is the foundation to reading and writing.

Here are some of my recommendations and what I’ve been doing a lot with Benji so far:

Imitate your infant’s vocalizations: everytime Benji coos, I try to respond with either human speech, like “Oh I like the way you’re cooing/talking.” “Hello, good morning!” or an imitated coo. I also gurgle back when he does it. Lately, I’ve been doing more turn taking with him — I only coo back after he’s done cooing. It’s like we’re having a conversation, infant style. This can be an excellent game to “teach” or reinforce conversational turn-taking. A lot of infants/kids learn this naturally by osmosis, but it doesn’t hurt to reinforce this skill!

Do lots of self-talk: When I’m busy doing household chores while Benji is in his play gym or on his bouncer, looking/observing my moments, I take that opportunity to talk to him and explain to him what I’m doing, as this will expose him to different words in context. E.g., when I’m cooking, I’ll tell him what I’m doing: “Oh, look, I’m chopping up the veggies, I have green broccoli, spinach, …” This takes a lot of effort to do initially as you have to multitask but just imagine talking to a friend while you’re cooking – similar set of skills. And God has blessed us women with the ability to multitask!

Provide good eye contact and respond to your infant’s facial cues like smiles/cries: When I talk to Benji, I give him my fullest attention to reinforce listening and speaking skills.

Try to be more animated in your speech but not use too much motherese talk or baby talk (like shortening words, e.g., saying “nana” for “banana”): this is so hard to NOT do because we’re too used to “cute-ning” our voices when speaking to a baby and, thinking that they cannot understand or hear words that are more than two syllables, keep shortening those nouns. It’s not good for language development! I try my best to speak to Benji in a slower rate, and with a more exaggerated prosody, but very rarely do I shorten words. Also, lisps and saying “wabbit” for “rabbit” are incredibly cute but DO NOT use them with your kids. The key here is modeling good speech for them. We always talk about modeling good behavior; speech is no different. Even if your child says a word incorrectly, do not imitate them. Rather, simply say the correct version of the word and try to have them say the correct form back to you.

READ to your infant: it’s never too young to start reading. We have been reading to Benji since about week 7. Initially, his attention span was way too short to get through one or two pages; he also had not developed the ability to see different colors, so books were not as engaging as they could be. However, once he could see colors and got the hang of books, it looked like he was actually quite interested in them. He would track my finger as I point to different things on the page, and he would sit quite still as if paying close attention to my reading of the book. Tis very encouraging! Reading to your child also exposes him/her to a different tone of voice as we tend to speak slightly differently when reading vs conversing. Again, he/she also gets to hear different types of words that you may or may not use in your daily conversations.

Bry reading to an attentive Benji

Sing to your infant: Most kids (and adults) songs contain rhyme and therefore are excellent for exposing them at an early age to basic phonological awareness skills (which are the precursors to reading and writing abilities). Songs also help develop a sense of rhythm in children and a different way to verbalize language as compared to reading and conversing. Songs also contain repetition, which infants and young children LOVE because it’s predictable and allow them to follow along the song. I try to sing to Benji at least once a day and try to sing the same few songs for a few days before introducing another one to the repertoire.

That’s all I have for now. In a couple months or so I will write more about language facilitation strategies and play based learning in infants. How else do you communicate or facilitate learning in your infant?? What are your thoughts on what I’ve been doing so far?

I LOVE this book written by Betty Smith. An American classic, it is a story about a family in poverty in early 1900s America. There were so many great themes that were honestly yet tastefully portrayed there, notably: education, poverty vs wealthy, family life, male vs female roles, substance abuse, sex, truth, and to some extent, religion.

The writing was quite typically American: simple, easy to follow, with so many beautiful quotes. I nearly cried toward the end of the book…I guess one of the reasons why this book felt so dear to me was how strong the characters were, it was truly a book about overcoming adversity, not letting what is doled out to you be it; it was a book about fighting for what you don’t have.

Here are some of my favorite lines:

“This could be a whole life,” she thought. “You work eight hours a day covering wires to earn money to buy food and to pay for a place to sleep so that you can keep living to come back to cover more wires. Some people are born and kept living just to come to this…” 

“In teaching your child, do not forget that suffering is good too. It makes a person rich in character.” 

“Forgiveness is a gift of high value. Yet its cost is nothing.” 

“People always think that happiness is a faraway thing,” thought Francie, “something complicated and hard to get. Yet, what little things can make it up; a place of shelter when it rains – a cup of strong hot coffee when you’re blue; for a man, a cigarette for contentment; a book to read when you’re alone – just to be with someone you love. Those things make happiness.” 

“Let me be something every minute of every hour of my life…And when I sleep, let me dream all the time so that not one little piece of living is ever lost.” 

“If there was only one tree like that in the whole world, you would think it was beautiful,” said Katie. “But because there are so many, you just can’t see how beautiful it really is.”

I could read this book again and again, and again…

We returned from our annual US vacation about two Fridays ago, and because the kiddos are still on school hols here, I am on a reduced work schedule. This has allowed me to spend quality time with Bry, make minor cosmetic changes to our home, catch up on news and reading, and exercise.

I love being a lady of leisure. When I have a job. Somewhat of a paradox, yes, but really, isn’t is sweeter to be able to enjoy being on a break from work on your employer’s expense? 🙂

I mentioned that one of my new year’s resolutions is to resume reading books, and I have and rediscovered the joy of picking up a book (or experienced the satisfaction of thumbing e-book pages on an iPad) to read.

I got to finish a couple of great books over our trip that I HIGHLY recommend:

  • Man’s search for meaning by Viktor Frankl
  • Tattoos on the heart by Father Gregory Boyle

Both are non-fiction.  The former is an autobiographical account of Holocaust survivor and Psychiatrist Viktor Frankl, using his experiences and analyzing feelings and thoughts about them thereafter to find meaning behind the suffering and break free from the horrific episode that left many of his friends and family, including his first wife, dead. The second part of his book is devoted to discussing how this concept could be helpful in therapy (logotherapy).

The second book, Tattoos on the heart is chock full of anecdotal stories about a Priest’s work with gang members in East Los Angeles. His indomitable spirit and selflessness emanated time and time again in the recounts. Reading about his love, faith, and hope for and in these people literally brought tears at times. I love how he weaves in quotes, scripture, meta-thoughts, spiritual concepts in the book. Some parts are lighthearted and some parts shows his frustration, which I felt makes him human and relate-able.

Am currently (re) reading:

  • The curious incident of a dog in the nighttime by Mark Haddon

and reading:

  • Notes from a small island by Bill Bryson
  • The facebook effect by David Kirkpatrick (NOT the book on which the award winning film “The social network” was based; that is “The accidental billionaire” by Ben Mezrich).

Some books on my current “wish list”:

  • Little house on the prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder (been meaning to re-read one of my favorite childhood books in soooo long!)
  • Never let me go by Kazuo Ishiguro
  • Battle hymn of the tiger mother by Amy Chua
  • Cinderella ate my daughter by Peggy Orenstein
  • The blind side by John Lee Hancock
  • Intelligence and how to get it by Richard Nisbett
  • The everlasting man by G.K.Chesterton
  • The screwtape letters by C.S. Lewis

I know this is completely dorky, but I am so excited to go through this list! I feel lucky to get time to do this…tho, I have only about 4 more days of relaxed days ahead of me; school is back in session next week. Enjoy it while it lasts!

Apparently, according to The Big Read, the average adult has only read 6 of the top 100 books on their list.

1) Look at the list and bold those you have read.
2) Italicise those you intend to read.
3) Underline the books you LOVE.
4) Reprint this list in your own LJ/Wordpress/Blogspot… so we can try and track down these people who’ve read 6 and force books upon them

1. Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen
2. The Lord of the Rings – JRR Tolkien
3. Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte
4. Harry Potter series – JK Rowling
5. To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee
6. The Bible (haven’t read every single chapter or book, tho…)
7. Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronte
8. Nineteen Eighty Four – George Orwell

9. His Dark Materials – Philip Pullman
10. Great Expectations – Charles Dickens
11. Little Women – Louisa M Alcott

12. Tess of the D’Urbervilles – Thomas Hardy
13. Catch 22 – Joseph Heller
14. Complete Works of Shakespeare
15. Rebecca – Daphne Du Maurier
16. The Hobbit – JRR Tolkien
17. Birdsong – Sebastian Faulks
18. Catcher in the Rye – JD Salinger
19. The Time Traveller’s Wife – Audrey Niffenegger
20. Middlemarch – George Eliot
21. Gone With The Wind – Margaret Mitchell
22. The Great Gatsby – F Scott Fitzgerald
23. Bleak House – Charles Dickens
24. War and Peace – Leo Tolstoy
25. The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams
26. Brideshead Revisited – Evelyn Waugh
27. Crime and Punishment – Fyodor Dostoyevsky
28. Grapes of Wrath – John Steinbeck
29. Alice in Wonderland – Lewis Carroll

30. The Wind in the Willows – Kenneth Grahame
31. Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy
32. David Copperfield – Charles Dickens
33. Chronicles of Narnia – CS Lewis
34. Emma – Jane Austen
35. Persuasion – Jane Austen
36. The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe – CS Lewis
37. The Kite Runner – Khaled Hosseini
38. Captain Corelli’s Mandolin – Louis De Bernieres
39. Memoirs of a Geisha – Arthur Golden
40. Winnie the Pooh – AA Milne
41. Animal Farm – George Orwell
42. The Da Vinci Code – Dan Brown
43. One Hundred Years of Solitude – Gabriel Garcia Marquez
44. A Prayer for Owen Meaney – John Irving
45. The Woman in White – Wilkie Collins
46. Anne of Green Gables – LM Montgomery
47. Far From The Madding Crowd – Thomas Hardy
48. The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood
49. Lord of the Flies – William Golding
50. Atonement – Ian McEwan
51. Life of Pi – Yann Martel

52. Dune – Frank Herbert
53. Cold Comfort Farm – Stella Gibbons
54. Sense and Sensibility – Jane Austen
55. A Suitable Boy – Vikram Seth
56. The Shadow of the Wind – Carlos Ruiz Zafon
57. A Tale Of Two Cities – Charles Dickens
58. Brave New World – Aldous Huxley
59. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time – Mark Haddon
60. Love In The Time Of Cholera – Gabriel Garcia Marquez
61. Of Mice and Men – John Steinbeck
62. Lolita – Vladimir Nabokov

63. The Secret History – Donna Tartt
64. The Lovely Bones – Alice Sebold
65. Count of Monte Cristo – Alexandre Dumas
66. On The Road – Jack Kerouac
67. Jude the Obscure – Thomas Hardy
68. Bridget Jones’ Diary – Helen Fielding
69. Midnight’s Children – Salman Rushdie
70. Moby Dick – Herman Melville
71. Oliver Twist – Charles Dickens
72. Dracula – Bram Stoker
73. The Secret Garden – Frances Hodgson Burnett
74. Notes From A Small Island – Bill Bryson
75. Ulysses – James Joyce
76. The Bell Jar – Sylvia Plath (currently reading)
77. Swallows and Amazons – Arthur Ransome
78. Germinal – Emile Zola
79. Vanity Fair – William Makepeace Thackeray
80. Possession – AS Byatt
81. A Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens
82. Cloud Atlas – David Mitchell
83. The Color Purple – Alice Walker
84. The Remains of the Day – Kazuo Ishiguro
85. Madame Bovary – Gustave Flaubert
86. A Fine Balance – Rohinton Mistry
87. Charlotte’s Web – EB White
88. The Five People You Meet In Heaven – Mitch Albom

89. Adventures of Sherlock Holmes – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
90. The Faraway Tree Collection – Enid Blyton
91. Heart of Darkness – Joseph Conrad
92. The Little Prince – Antoine De Saint-Exupery
93. The Wasp Factory – Iain Banks
94. Watership Down – Richard Adams
95. A Confederacy of Dunces – John Kennedy Toole
96. A Town Like Alice – Nevil Shute
97. The Three Musketeers – Alexandre Dumas
98. Hamlet – William Shakespeare
99. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – Roald Dahl
100. Les Miserables – Victor Hugo