Did you know that success with literacy in school is initially founded on positive and stimulating experiences that happen well before your child enters the classroom? That makes you a critical guide and mentor for your baby as he or she develops the necessary basics for academic literacy success in later years.
For many of us, the word “literacy” conjures up images of books and notebooks. We tend to think of reading and writing as making up the core literacy skills. If you have a school-aged child, reading and writing are probably the areas for which you typically “see” evidence of school learning. But isn’t there more to literacy than just reading and writing?
Absolutely! The educator and philosopher, Paolo Friere, invited educators to understand literacy to include “reading the word and the world”. As a professional teacher myself, I have seen numerous children enter school many steps ahead of their peers in terms of “readiness” to read and write at a given grade level. I know that many of these children have parents who limit screen time, appear to have a healthy emotional bond with their child and not only read to their children, but are often reading real books for their own personal enjoyment in front of their children.
There are many languages and ways of communicating in our world and, as a parent, you are you baby’s first and most influential guide to how to communicate positively and effectively in life – especially in the areas of listening and speaking.
Babies at home
Are there any simple ways to help babies optimally develop their language skills while also meeting their critical needs for emotional bonding and attachment? Yes, absolutely. In fact, educators are counting on you do all the prerequisite work necessary prior to your child’s entry into the school system.
If you have an infant in the home, there are many ways that you can positively bond with your baby while supporting his or her language development. Here are my top three tips for meeting your baby’s need to emotionally bond with you while also supporting their optimal language development:
TIP #1 – Daily, Verbal and Nonverbal 1:1 Time between Baby and You
During the first year of life, the infant brain is developing at an incredibly rapid rate. It’s a wonderful time to “train the brain” in a way that may have a positive impact on your child’s literacy development. According to the ZeroToThree.org website:
Much of the connecting of neurons and strengthening of those connections take place after birth. The way brain cells connect and develop will be influenced by the newborn’s experiences with adults and their environment.
One way you can really zoom in on bonding well with your baby while promoting language development is to focus on using positive verbal and non-verbal communication behaviours. Specifically, use positive facial expressions with eye contact on a regular basis with your infant and ensure that the physical distance between you and your baby doesn’t disrupt his or her sense of security in the precious first year of life. Trust is the first pillar of bonding between you and your infant. This is key to the development of positive emotional bonds between parent and child.
Singing to your baby and/or reciting little rhymes on a regular basis is a fabulous way to tune your baby into the way you like to use language for joy. When you feel good using playful language, chances are your baby will also feel good and benefit from it emotionally and cognitively. The more consistent you are in joyfully communicating with your infant in verbal and nonverbal ways on a daily basis, the more likely it will be that your baby will mirror your joy and come to expect it when relating with you. How cool is that?
Baby and Stories
You probably already know how important it is to read to your baby from an early age. Some parents read to their infant while in the womb and others may begin a practice of reading to their baby immediately after birth. Every family is different but what is important to note, is that supporting your baby’s literacy development is not restricted to reading books. There are two kinds of “stories” you can share with your infant that are powerful ways to stimulate their brain development and learning while also bonding you emotionally with your child.
TIP#2 – Make it a Habit to Talk about the Present and the Imaginary Every Single Day
Talk about the Present: An easy technique to connect with your baby in a meaningful way is to talk about the present while it’s happening. If you simply center yourself in a positive emotion, smile at your baby and look into his or her eyes as you pack the diaper bag, you can also tell your baby what you’re doing step-by-step while you’re doing it.
Showing your infant the key items and emphasizing the words as you place them in the bag will help your baby to visually understand daily routines and get them accustomed to hearing the particular manner of speaking you use when describing or teaching them something in a calm and positive way. No planning is required. Simply tell and show your baby what is happening moment-to-moment, a few times each day.
Talk about the Imaginary: If you were raised in a culture that has a tradition of oral storytelling, then this may come naturally to you. If not, then here’s a wonderful way for you to creatively connect with your infant. You can create simple oral stories from your imagination and tell them to your baby. If this is hard for you, looking at a family photo that stimulates a positive memory for you might do the trick. You can then use simple language to tell your baby the story of what you remember seeing, doing, hearing and feeling on the day depicted in the photo. Animal noises and funny sounds are always fun to elaborate storytelling with infants and toddlers.
You may notice that your body language and eye contact during imaginary storytelling (or recounting events from a photo) will differ significantly from when you “talk about the present” to your baby. This is good! Your infant will pick up the subtle differences in the way you speak and relate to him or her because the quality and tone of your voice is likely to change along with characters in a story. You will also probably have more eye contact with your baby when storytelling or recounting events. The content of the stories is important. Creating stories with a pleasant tone and happy themes will support your emotional bonding efforts with your baby and increase the level of trust between you.
Baby and Community
Despite our deepest longings to emotionally connect with our baby and keep them close to us, it’s a reality that our infants will grow up and begin to notice a bigger community that spirals out to connect with other communities and ultimately to our wider world. More parents are aware that bilingualism and multilingualism can be a conscious goal which begins in infancy as outlined in this short article in the Economist online.
TIP #3 – Let Baby Hear You Use Language Joyfully within (and beyond) Your Community
One powerful language gift you can give to your infant in terms of language development is having your baby with you when you positively communicate with and among other parents in your community. When you choose your parenting companions well, and in alignment with your own family’s language and literacy goals, you’ll have another easy way to help your baby “read the world” around them, as Paolo Friere put it. Simply spending time talking and interacting in person with other like-minded mothers in your infant’s presence provides a wonderful model of spoken language in an emotionally positive environment for your developing baby’s brain.
Your baby may not yet speak, however his or her brain is learning so much from simply accompanying you to gatherings of others in the community. I know of children who have absorbed a passive understanding of languages that their parents use with friends and family members, but not with their children. That’s how powerful a child’s listening can be when it comes to learning. Researchers at The University of Ottawa recently conducted a study that discussed the influence that the primary caregiver’s language background has on foreign language learning development. For parents wanting their infant’s literacy development to include other languages, rest assured…it’s absolutely possible and often desirable in today’s global world.
What’s worked for you when encouraging your to baby babble with joy and show a sense of security during the first year of life? I love hearing your stories and tips, so please do share in the comments below!