Editor’s note: April 13-17 is Week of the Young Child, an annual celebration hosted by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) and AzAEYC celebrating early learning, young children, their teachers, and families. Raising Arizona Kids is proud to be collaborating with the AzAEYC all week to share insights and tips from Arizona’s professional community of early childhood educators. Yesterday’s post was “Tasty Tuesday.”
Talking with your child — during pregnancy, infancy, toddlerhood and beyond — is one of the most important things you can do as your child’s first and most impactful teacher.
Children’s brains are wired for interactions. Consistent, responsive, stable relationships with caring adults are the foundation for strong neural connections. Research shows these interactions help support your child’s path to language and literacy development.
Consider it an active, back-and-forth experience, like playing tennis. The Harvard Center on the Developing Child calls it “serve and return.” When your little one babbles, coos, cries, or makes a gesture, and you respond with eye contact, words, or a smile and embrace, neural connections are built and strengthened in your baby’s brain. Stimulated by language-rich interactions, these neural connections help your child develop communication and social-emotional skills.
Each child is unique and develops skills at their own pace. Here are some tips you might consider:
Respond to your child’s communication.
Your baby’s coos, babbles, facial expressions, and cries are their form of communicating their needs and interests with you. When your baby coos or smiles, respond and coo and smile back.
As children grow into toddlers, they typically begin to say more words and eventually phrases and sentences. To respond to your toddler, you might extend what they say with additional words. For example, if your child stacks blocks and says, “I build,” you might respond by saying, “You are an architect designing an interesting structure with blocks! What do you plan to build?”
Narrate and describe what you are doing.
During everyday routines with your child, you can self-talk, or narrate your actions as if you are a cooking-show host. For instance, when you’re washing hands together, you might explain, “I am going to lather with soap until I make bubbles. I am scrubbing my hands and in between my fingers.”
You can also introduce new vocabulary by describing objects in the environment. For example, point out trees and plants on a nature walk at the park or on a hiking trail and provide interesting names for colors you see. Instead of green, you might describe the bark as “palo verde green.”
Ask questions and prompt thinking.
By asking your child a variety of questions, you can stimulate their thinking and communication. Some questions that many early childhood educators use are: What do you notice about…? Tell me more… What do you think? Why do you think that? What might happen next? Very young children may respond with coos or gestures. Toddlers may answer with words and phrases. Keep the serve-and-return conversation going by asking follow-up questions and responding to your child’s communication.
Read books and tell stories together.
Whether it’s favorite classics or new board books, create a daily routine of reading with your child.
Telling stories is an important way families pass on culture and history. Tell stories from your family, your experiences, your interests, and your expertise. If you’re a skilled chef or baker, talk about what you are cooking and how you learned to cook as your baby plays with spoons and pots nearby or as your toddler helps mix ingredients with you.
One helpful, local Arizona initiative is Smart Talk, a free resource for families in both English and Spanish, that supports quality serve-and-return conversations with your child. Smart Talk, a project of Read on Arizona, is for parents and caregivers of children birth to age 3 to gain a deeper understanding about the importance of emergent language and literacy in everyday moments like mealtimes, diapering, and playtime. Smart Talk is designed to help strengthen parents’ skills and confidence as they support their child’s learning.
A family-level membership in the Arizona Association for the Education of Young Children offers access to the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) extensive suite of resources for families. You’ll learn about the cutting-edge research, strategies and tips, and policies impacting your child’s earliest learning experiences.
Arizona’s Infant and Toddler Developmental Guidelines are part of a continuum of early learning guidelines which describe expectations about what infants and toddlers should know (understand) and do (competencies and skills) across multiple domains of development during specific age ranges, as well as what adults can do to support children’s optimal learning and development.
First Things First provides information and resources for supporting your child’s healthy development and learning. In many local regions, First Things First funds initiatives that promote early language and literacy including parent workshops, community resource centers, and the statewide Birth to Five Helpline for tips and advice from early childhood experts.
You are not alone in your parenting journey! To expand on your strengths and knowledge as a parent, resources like Smart Talk, the First Things First parent kit, and Arizona Association for the Education of Young Children parent-level membership can provide you with tips and strategies to enhance your own skills and build the brain of your lifelong learner.
Dr. Eric Bucher is the Executive Director of the Arizona Association for the Education of Young Children.
Work Together Wednesday:
With a Desert Twist!
By Sabrina Ball
Good read: “Emily’s Day in the Desert,” by Giselle Shardlow
Sabrina Ball has been involved in early childhood education for the past 30 years and is the director of Pinnacle Presbyterian Preschool, a Reggio inspired, NAEYC accredited preschool located in Scottsdale. She is also adjunct faculty at Paradise Valley Community College, a NAEYC Accredited Higher Education Program in Phoenix.