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Archive for the ‘Development’ Category

The Super-Easy Secret to Making Any Playdate a Success

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Playdates are, in a way, like any other kind of date. When they go well, you (as the parent) want to sing a little song and do that move where you jump sideways and kick your heels together in mid-air. (There will be no eating lunch alone in the library for your kid!) When they go badly—like when one child hurls insults at, hits or openly despises the other in front of the woman who gave him life, it kinda feels like you’ll be scarred for the rest of yours.

But we have a genius antidote to all the social awkwardness (courtesy of our son’s seasoned former nursery school teacher): Cap the playdate at 45 minutes. Max. “End on a high” were her exact words.

Even if the kids are midway through constructing an elaborate Lego skyscraper and begging to stay for just one more minute, yank the one that belongs to you the eff outta there and get gone. Count your blessings, know when to fold ’em and cash out. Leave before things go bad, because—your kid is not an outlier—they almost always, inevitably do. “Keeping playdates short will help avoid meltdowns, squabbles and other misbehaviors,” say the parenting experts at Understood.org. “Giving fair warning by announcing that the playdate is nearly over and initiating cleanup time increases the likelihood that the playdate will end on a high note.” See, almost everyone can keep their game face on for the first 45 minutes. As the experts at Parents advise: “When in doubt, leave ’em wanting more.”

 

This article was from PureWow and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.

Choosing A Pediatrician: What New Moms Need To Know

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Whether you’re a first time mom or recently relocated for work, choosing a pediatrician is one of the most important decisions you’ll make during your child’s early life. They’ll help guide you through those worrisome early days when it feels like you’re doing everything wrong, reassure you, and patch your child up when things get a little bumpy.

But how do you choose a pediatrician if you don’t have a team of fellow moms to help you out? These 4 simple guidelines can help you determine if you’ve found the right fit.

Observe The Office

As with most places, you can tell a lot about a doctor by looking at their office. That means if you walk into a practice and things are dirty or look old, that’s an immediate warning sign. Similarly, you should avoid offices that are still clinging to paper records rather than transitioning to electronic medical records.

Offices that use electronic records make fewer mistakes because doctors don’t have to interpret illegible handwriting and all records are immediately on-hand and searchable. It also makes it easier for your pediatrician to collaborate with other specialists.

Of course, it’s not just the technology you should be evaluating; décor matters too. Beware of waiting room couches and other hard to clean furniture. Out of date, repeatedly photocopied paperwork is also a warning sign, as are old toys and poor office signage. If you can’t find the practice because it lacks a legible sign, has signage featuring former doctors’ names, or has a sign that’s old and peeling, keep moving. Doctors who are invested in their practice care about little details like having quality signage and a clean, welcoming office space. Simply put, a great pediatrician can see the big picture.

Talk Philosophy

First time parents often think pediatricians are primarily there to offer medical advice, but their role is greater than that. That’s why it’s important to talk about parenting philosophy with potential pediatricians before settling on one. For example, some pediatricians feel very strongly about working mothers, while others are very encouraging and know a lot about local childcare programs. Similarly, some are emphatically pro-breast feeding and will put a lot of pressure on mothers to breastfeed, while others are more nutrition-focused.

If specific issues like returning to work or nursing are concerns for you, raise them with potential pediatricians from the start. A great pediatrician will support your choices while emphasizing safety and healthy child development. Leaving your kids with their grandparents while you work? Many pediatricians support family-based care, but know that older relatives might be out of the loop on proper childcare practices. The right physician will help you address these concerns productively and even offer to meet with grandparents, while one whose values don’t match yours may warn you away from your choice without discussing it.

Support From Specialists

While most children will thrive regardless of their pediatrician, children with specialized health needs may need equally special support. Finding a pediatrician in your area who has the appropriate training, then, is absolutely vital. In fact, it could become a lifelong relationship, as has been Jeff Vetor’s experience.

Vetor has a condition known as pulmonary stenosis, but like many people with childhood diseases, as well as those with developmental and intellectual disabilities, he continues to see his pediatrician, as few doctors are trained to handle what was formerly a life-limiting condition. As more people survive these conditions into later adulthood, though, we may see a greater capacity among general practitioners to handle congenital health issues previously restricted to specialized pediatricians.

Rejection Criteria

Finally, but importantly, you’ll want to discuss patient rejection criteria with any potential pediatrician. Some pediatricians have a few basic rules, such as not seeing unvaccinated patients, while others have less structured rules like rejecting patients whose parents are especially difficult. Just remember that when you’re interviewing pediatricians, they’re also interviewing you.

You may not have a mommy network to guide you through the pediatrician selection process, but that doesn’t mean you’re totally alone. With the amount of information on the internet today and a few smart questions, you can find the right doctor for your family. But start early – it can take a while to go through the interview process. You’re making a big decision.

 

This article was written by Natalie Bracco from Working Mother and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.

How to Get Kids (of Any Age) to Sleep

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Getting your baby to sleep through the night is a major win—but it can be just the beginning of an ongoing battle for bedtime. From toddlers fighting lights-out to overscheduled teens racing against the clock, there’s always something stealing kids’—and parents’—rest. Here’s how everyone can get the heck to sleep.

Toddlers (Ages 2 to 4)

The Battle: They’re stalling.

Preschoolers are infamous for delaying bedtime by begging for one more kiss or one more story. It’s one of the many ways they test their parents’ limits. “They know exactly which buttons to push and how much to push them to get their parents’ attention,” says Iqbal Rashid, MD, assistant professor of sleep medicine at UCLA. But stalling reduces lights-out time, meaning less total sleep (which can make your toddler even crankier in the morning) and less time for your child’s brain to convert what he learned that day into a long-term memory. “Your 3-year-old is going to function better at preschool the next day if he’s able to make those neural connections at night,” says Brooke Nalle, a pediatric sleep consultant at the Seleni Institute in New York City.

The Fix: Make a bedtime chart—and stick with it.

A standard routine can reduce the chaos of bedtime: “Repeating the same three or four activities in order every single night will help keep kids on track,” says Jodi Mindell, PhD, professor of psychology at Saint Joseph’s University and associate director of sleep medicine at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Establish the routine with a chart on which you check off tasks like taking a bath, brushing teeth, and reading a story, so when your child asks for a last-minute Lego session, you can kindly point out that—oh, well!—it’s not on the chart. Maggie Strong, a mom of three in Charlottesville, Virginia, has another trick to keep her 3-year-old from stalling endlessly: bedtime passes (index cards decorated with stickers). “One pass is for the bathroom before bed, and one is for a hug,” says Strong. “Once she uses the passes, she can’t leave her bed again.” Bedtime passes can also provide extra motivation for kids to stay put: If they don’t use the passes at night, they can redeem them in the morning for a small treat. That stash of toys from the dollar store will be so worth it.

The Battle: They go to bed but refuse to stay there.

There’s nothing like waking at 2 a.m. to see your toddler peering at you in the dark. Many little escape artists leave their rooms because, suddenly, they can. Blame the independence that comes from moving from a crib to a “big kid” bed. “It takes a high level of development to understand the imaginary boundaries of a bed,” says Mindell. Other kids wake up and can’t fall back asleep without Mom’s help. “Parents tell me, “I have to hold my child’s hand so he can fall asleep, and then he’s up every other hour at night looking for my hand,”” says Nalle.

The Fix: Make them comfy sleeping on their own.

It’s tempting to let your kid crawl into bed with you. “But if you give in, you reinforce that behavior,” says Rashid. Quietly walk your child back to her room. It might take a few painful nights, but it’s important to be consistent, says Rashid. (If she really won’t stay put, you can install a safety gate in her bedroom door to discourage wandering.) Try finishing the night with “sweet talk”—recapping your favorite parts of the day or talking about what you’re looking forward to—“so you end on a positive note,” says Harvey Karp, MD, author of the Happiest Baby on the Block books.

Big Kids (Ages 5 to 10)

The Battle: Your sleep schedules are completely out of sync.

Says Rashid, “Some of us are morning larks, and others are night owls, and sometimes there’s a mismatch in the family.” You might have a third grader who wants to party past 9 p.m. and sleep through breakfast, messing with your “Early to bed, early to rise” motto. Or you might be a night owl, but your kids are cock-a-doodle-doing at 5 a.m., stealing your precious prework shut-eye.

The Fix: Shift the schedule—then keep it consistent.

“You can try to shape their schedule so it’s more in line with yours,” says Nalle. Gradually push back (or bring forward) meals, baths, and bedtime, first by 15 minutes, then 30, then 45, then 60. This can be a month-long process, but it could help oversleepers perk up earlier or buy you an extra hour of z’s in the morning. Some families invest in blackout curtains to shield their kids’ rooms from early-a.m. sun. For kids who might be tempted to bounce on your bed as soon as their eyes open, Mindell suggests putting a night-light on a timer and saying, “When the light switches on, that’s when you can wake us up.” Until then, they can quietly play in their room or watch TV. Once you develop a schedule that works for everyone’s sleep needs, it’s crucial to stick with it, even on weekends, says Nalle. “If kids really want to sleep late, let them do so on Saturday, but by Sunday, return to your regular wake and sleep times.” Exposure to sunlight resets your body clock, so taking a brisk walk on Sunday morning or having breakfast in the sunniest spot in the kitchen should keep everyone on schedule.

The Battle: Their nightmares wake everyone up.

As children get older, “fears can become a big thing,” says Karp. “They start listening to your conversations and hearing the news. They realize there’s an entire world out there.” If they were scared by something they saw on TV, says Rashid, kids can reconstruct it during sleep in the form of nightmares, which usually happen in the late-night-to-early-morning hours. Nightmares are not to be confused with night terrors, which typically happen an hour or so after kids zonk out—though they are frightening to watch, kids usually don’t remember them in the morning.

The Fix: Use night “magic”.

Sleep deprivation and poor-quality sleep are common causes of both nightmares and terrors, so first make sure your child is getting enough rest. Then use creativity to fight the demons. For younger kids, Karp suggests putting “magic” water in a bottle and spraying it at night to keep monsters away. Rashid recommends that older children write down nightmares in a notebook, in as much detail as they can remember, but with alternative, happy endings. For example, if your child dreamed she was drowning, she could write an ending in which she becomes a mermaid. If nightmares are constantly getting in the way of daily functioning, consult your pediatrician to see if something else—like bullying—is going on.

Tweens and Teens

The Battle: They’re over-scheduled and skimping on sleep.

With soccer, debate team, band practice, and dance—not to mention endless homework—it’s no wonder tweens and teens are constantly sleep-deprived. Plus, raging hormones and social stresses, like fitting in with friends and dating, can keep teens up at night. “Anxiety trickles into bedtime,” says Nalle. “Whatever they were carrying around all day suddenly floods their minds.”

The Fix: Hack the routine.

Puberty shifts the internal clock toward a later sleep time, says Rashid. So instead of trying to enforce a too-early bedtime, adjust schedules however you can. One mom drives her daughter to school in the morning rather than waking her for the earlier bus, which gives her daughter an extra 45 minutes of sleep. Others find that if their kids do homework during lunch or even before school, it means they get to bed by 11 p.m. rather than 1 a.m. To de-stress after busy days, teens can try showering 30 to 45 minutes before bed, flipping through a magazine, or doing 10 minutes of meditation (the free Headspace app can help) to clear their minds for better sleep.

The Battle: They’re staying up late, staring at their screens like zombies.

The phenomenon of teens staying up all night watching YouTube and Snapping with their friends has been called “vamping,” as in acting like a nocturnal vampire. The screens themselves add to the problem: The blue light beaming from phones and tablets “is strong enough to block a good chunk of melatonin, the hormone that makes us sleepy,” says Jess P. Shatkin, MD, author of Born to Be Wild: Why Teens Take Risks, and How We Can Help Keep Them Safe. Sleep deprivation is particularly dangerous to teens because it blurs their ability to concentrate, which can lead to risky behaviors like drowsy driving or drug and alcohol use, says Mindell. And a 2017 study in the journal Development Psychology found that children with TVs or video-game consoles in their rooms did worse in school and weighed more.

The Fix: Remove the temptation.

Make it a family rule that everyone’s phones and tablets be put to bed—that is, plugged into a communal charging station—on the kitchen counter at least 30 minutes before lights-out, suggests Mindell. To make sure stealthy teens don’t hide their laptops under the covers, some parents switch off the household Wi-Fi, making it harder to get online. Alyceson Weinfeld- Reyman, a mom of two in New York City, literally takes matters into her own hands: She takes her 16-year-old son’s phone away at 10:30 on weeknights and keeps it in her room so he can’t grab it back.

You can also help wean teens off that sleep-stealing screen glare by enabling the “grayscale” function on Androids and Night Shift mode on iPhones (both found under Settings) and adding the f.lux download to computers. All three reduce blue light, so melatonin is allowed to flow, says Shatkin. To help transition from the digital world to the dream world, encourage bedtime rituals (drinking decaf tea, reading) to prep for sleep. “Bedtime routines aren’t just for toddlers,” says Nalle.

 

This article was written by Michelle Ruiz Andrews from Real Simple and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.

The Easy Way Busy Parents Can Boost Their Kid’s Language Skills

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It’s not just talking to them a lot.

When teaching kids language skills, it makes sense to expose them to as many words as possible through lots and lots of talking. However, a new study found a strategy that may be even more effective.

Research published in the journal Psychological Science suggests that back-and-forth conversations make more of an impact in developing Broca’s area, the region of the brain most closely associated with speech, than teaching kids many words, Scientific American reports.

The study, led by John Gabrieli, Ph.D., a neuroscientist at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, involved 36 children, ages 4 to 6, from a range of socioeconomic backgrounds. Researchers first used standardized tests to evaluate the children’s verbal ability, then evaluated kids’ brains using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) while the child listened to 15-second stories. Finally, they examined the communication at home between adults and kids for two days, measuring adult and child speech, and back-and-forth verbal exchanges separated by no more than five seconds, called “conversational turns.”

During the experiments, researchers found that a child’s verbal ability score increased by one point with every additional 11 conversational turns per hour.

For Kathryn Hirsh-Pasek, Psy.D., the director of the Infant Language Laboratory at Temple University, who was not involved in the study, the new findings provide a much-needed missing link in our understanding of language and learning. Dr. Hirsh-Pasek tells Scientific American, “We have known for quite a while that conversational turns—or what in my work we call conversational duets—are very important for building a foundation for language and maybe for learning generally. What hadn’t been done is to link it where we knew it had to be linked—to changes in the brain.”

The research confirms that parents should do do more than just babble at kids; it’s also about connecting with them and encouraging them to engage. “If we learn better how to follow the eyes of our child and comment on what they are looking at, we will have strong language learners,” Hirsh-Pasek says. “And language is the single-best predictor of school readiness—in math, social skills and reading skills. It is the foundation for learning.”

According to Scientific American, the findings confirm the conclusion of several studies suggesting that socioeconomic status is related to the number of words a child learns in their developing years, namely that there is a 30-million-word gap between the poorest and the richest children. The study is also noteworthy because it indicates that conversational turns have a stronger correlation to the development of Broca’s area than a child’s socioeconomic status.

It may be good news for busy working parents. Instead of drilling your kids with tedious flashcards to improve their vocabulary, have a fun and meaningful conversation instead.

 

This article was written by Maria Zaldivar from Working Mother and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.

How to Make Chores Fun

When you’re a busy parent coming home from the workday and continuing your second job of being a parent, simple household chores can take up valuable time and can become aggravating.

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Lessen your stress by teaching responsibility to your little ones. Encouraging your children to contribute to small tasks around the house will not only help them develop gross motor skills and responsibility, but it will also provide extra time for you as a parent to bond with your children by playing a game or reading a book.

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  1. Call their help something other than chores. Emphasize that your child will be helping with daily tasks. Children may feel happier about completing their task if they are helping.
  2. Create a Mommy’s and Daddy’s Helper chart. Children will be anxious to check off their task of the day; it will entice them to complete it
  3. Add a sticker each time your child completes an assigned task. Offer your child a special prize for obtaining a certain number of stickers. Prizes can be one of the following:
    • Having an extra 30 minutes of screen time;
    • Choosing the family dinner for a night;
    • Picking the game for family game night.

Six Ways to Help Children Cope With Stress

Childhood can be a stressful time. Dr. Kyle Pruett, clinical professor of child psychiatry at Yale School of Medicine and member of The Goddard School Educational Advisory Board, offers six tips on how to help children cope with stress.

  1. The most effective help comes from adults working to get a better grip on their own stress management. Better-rested and fed adults who try to get regular exercise, communicate and relax regularly with their children are the best models and teachers of stress Stressed Kidmanagement.
  2. Support one or two (not three or four) activities your child does that makes her feel good about herself. Positive self-regard can be great insulation against negative stress effects.
  3. Lose the junk comfort foods and have only healthy ones available.
  4. Monitor screen usage, and limit high-tension, high-speed games and puzzles. Such cheap thrills may result in expensive stress on the immature central nervous system.
  5. We all prefer being useful to stressing out, so use a calm tone when asking a stressed child to engage in, or help you with, a manageable chore.
  6. Help your child clean up one of his spaces in the home. This can show him that he too can control some of the mess that is stressing him out.

Five Ways to Foster Creativity

The ability to be creative and think outside the box is important for problem solving and innovation, which are highly valued abilities. Here are five ways to encourage creativity at home.

  1. Read to your child. Before you begin, ask your child to close his eyes and imagine the story as you read it. Afterward, ask your child to describe what he saw while you read.Art
  2. Put on a play. Create a story with your child and then act it out. Encourage her to dress up like the character she is playing by using old clothes, hats and accessories. You could even record her performance and turn her play into a movie.
  3. Establish a play space. Set aside part of the basement, a spare bedroom or a corner of the living room where your child can explore and discover whatever interests him. If it gets a bit messy, try to be lenient with him since this space is meant for free play.
  4. Encourage free play. Free play is exactly what it sounds like – unstructured play time, a time when your child can play however she likes in the dedicated play space you’ve set up for her.
  5. Inspire your child’s inner Picasso. Keep plenty of art supplies such as paper, paints, paintbrushes, markers, crayons and modeling clay available in case your budding artist decides to create a masterpiece.

Five Ways to Help Your Child Cope with Disappointment

Disappointments happen to everyone, and there is no way to avoid all of them. Here are five ways to help your child cope with disappointment.

  1. Be there, but give him space. Children react to disappointment differently. Depending on Girlwhether your child is extroverted or introverted, he might want a hug and a pat on the back, or he might want to be left alone for a little while. Wait until he comes to you to comfort him.
  2. Turn a negative into a positive. Reframing a setback in a positive light can help to alleviate your child’s disappointment. Thomas Edison once said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work” (Elkhorne, 1967, p. 52). Looking at a mistake or disappointment as a learning experience can benefit your child’s development.
  3. Try to take your child’s mind off it. Suggest an activity that your child enjoys to help cheer her up. You could also suggest going on an outing. If these don’t appeal to her, let her know that the offers are on the table if she changes her mind.
  4. Set a good example. If your child sees you handle disappointment with dignity, he might, too. Taking responsibility when you make mistakes shows your child that you’re okay and that disappointment happens to everybody.
  5. Watch what you say. Try not to downplay your child’s disappointment or say something like, “That’s life.” Instead, ask your child questions about how she’s feeling or about what happened. Offer to talk through it if she wants.

References

Elkhorne, J. L. (1967, March). Edison: The Fabulous Drone. 73, 46(3), 52.

Hungry Minds: How Curiosity Drives Young Learners

Susan Magsamen is the Senior Vice President of Early Learning at global learning company Houghton Mifflin Harcourt She is a member of the Educational Advisory Board for the Goddard School and senior advisor to The Science of Learning Institute and Brain Science Institute at Johns Hopkins University.  This piece was originally published on HMH’s blog.

“Curiouser and Curiouser” cried Alice after she ate the cake, and then suddenly shot up in height “like the largest telescope, ever! Good-bye feet” she exclaimed!

For some children, that iconic scene, shortly after Alice lands in Wonderland, is their introduction to the term “curiosity.”  But for us — well, take a moment and see what comes to mind when you consider curiosity…

I recently did a random “man on the street” survey, asking for single-word responses, and found that people associate curiosity with many things. I heard the words necessary, intelligent, spark, engaged, open-minded, open-ended, creative detective, and seeker.

Personally, I’ve been consumed with curiosity for decades, believing that it is the secret sauce to learning and to a fulfilling life.  So what is curiosity?

Einstein’s comment, “I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious,” provokes even more questions:  Is curiosity a skill or a talent? Is it innate or learned? Can it be taught or cultivated? How does it shape how we learn, especially early learners? What is the primary role of curiosity?

Regardless of how curious we are about curiosity, it is difficult to study. However, contemporary neuroscience has revealed some insights.  In a study published in the October issue of the journal Neuron, psychologist and researcher Charan Ranganath at the University of California, Davis explains that the dopamine circuit in the hippocampus registers curiosity.

“There’s this basic circuit in the brain that energizes people to go out and get things that are intrinsically rewarding,” Ranganath explains. “This circuit lights up when we get money, or candy. It also lights up when we’re curious.” When the circuit is activated, our brains release dopamine, which gives us a high. “The dopamine also seems to play a role in enhancing the connections between the cells that are involved in learning.”

Ranganath’s research, covered in this fascinating piece in Mindshift, gives us a working definition of curiosity, as an intrinsic motivation to learn. It also presents us with an exciting challenge – how can we create learning environments and experiences that will engage young children and ignite their innate curiosity?

The early years are a window of opportunity for parents, caregivers and communities to encourage curiosity. And it really matters. Curiosity increases knowledge and knowledge makes learning easier.

Nurturing curiosity in ourselves and in young children is easy to do. Here are my top ten ideas for the home and the classroom:

  • Slow down: In an age of immediacy, slow things down and encourage discovery. “I am curious about,” or “just out of curiosity” are great conversation starters.
  • Don’t have all the answers: Declaring you don’t know something, but that you want to find out together is an invitation for curiosity.
  • Put kids in the driver’s seat: In classroom activities or at home, let kids make decisions – this leads to uncertainty quickly and will encourage exploration.
  • Get real: Curiosity can’t be nurtured in the abstract – it’s messy.  Get kids investigating a topic or solving a mystery.
  • Delve deep: Hold your own Boring Conference in class – it’s a fantastic one-day celebration of the obvious and the overlooked, subjects that become absolutely  fascinating when examined more closely.
  • Encouragement matters: Acknowledge a question by saying “That is a wonderful or interesting question.”
  • Talk shop: What, why, how? Let kids explore how things are made. “How Things Work” is a great example.
  • Identify role models: Curiosity is also highly contagious.  If you set the example for being curious you will be amazed at how the world changes. Also, seek out others doing interesting things.  Chances are they are using their curious natures to guide them.
  • Practice: Make a list of things you want to know more about and carve out a little time to explore.

As for curiosity being the secret for lifelong learning in the 21st century, the “New York Times” magazine recently profiled productive people from various fields, including politics, art and science, who were 80+ years old. When asked by the “New York Times” what kept him intuitive, architect Frank Gehry, still going strong at 85, said “…. stay curious about everything.”

Language and Literacy Series: Talking with our Hands – A Hidden Key to Learning!

Susan Magsamen is the Senior Vice President of Early Learning at global learning company Houghton Mifflin Harcourt She is a member of the Educational Advisory Board for the Goddard School and senior advisor to The Science of Learning Institute and Brain Science Institute at Johns Hopkins University.  This piece was originally published on HMH’s blog.

It just amazes me the way newborn babies come into the world as natural communicators. After their first wail, they exhibit an increasing variety of gestures and sounds; quickly becoming full-bodied, kinesthetic communicators, successfully letting us know their needs and desires through a barrage of gestures and gesticulations.

Throughout his/her early growth spurts, a young child’s gesture vocabulary expands in complex and Handsfascinating ways.  Children begin with what is called deictic gestures (pointing at actual objects), and metaphoric gestures (movements in space to represent an abstract idea, such as gesturing upward to indicate “high”).  Then, as their use of language and vocabulary become more fluid, they begin to slowly connect words to objects and abstract thoughts.  Little ones form a fully integrated relationship between gestures and words as they grow from toddlers to preschoolers. This relationship with language will continue to be refined throughout life.

Recent research in language acquisition has revealed just how important gestures are in supporting word acquisition, as well as in other learning areas, including math.  The Goldin-Meadow Laboratory at the University of Chicago, headed by Susan Goldin-Meadow, is an important research hub for the exploration of the role and value of gestures. The lab focuses on topics related to cognition, development, education and linguistics, including the study of non-verbal communication, like gestures.

In a 2011 TexXUChicago TED Talk, Goldin-Meadow makes the case that gestures not only reveal what is on a child’s mind, but can also help change a child’s mind in order to support instruction and learning. This exciting discovery reinforces and supports our innate impulse to use gesture as a way to convey meaning.

Families can play an active role in word recognition and vocabulary skills simply by incorporating gestures, creative movement and meaningful play experiences into a child’s world, whether at home or on the go! Here are five easy activities that use gesture to generate vocabulary practice and boost literacy skills over time.

  1. Trust your instincts: Use your own hands to gesture with your children.  It’s not clowning around, it’s communicating! And nothing works better than modeling.
  2. Words and actions go together: When reading, encourage your child to point to images and identify them not only with words and sounds, but also by making shapes with their hands/bodies.
  3. Sing along: When in the car, play simple songs that encourage children to use gesture and movement. There are a ton of great silly songs – remember “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes”?
  4. Play: Encourage make-believe play where kids are given the opportunity to pretend and act out ideas.
  5. Practice: Try ‘Simon Says’ using gestures.  Practice is fun and it reinforces word and object recognition.

Whether you start with simple hand gestures or animated body language, by incorporating these elements into play and daily routine, you’ll be supporting your child’s literacy growth right in your own home!