Two Can Learn Better than One!

Tags: language

Watch Your Language

Permalink by Tikal, Categories: Health , Tags: illiterate, language, literacy, riots, school, speech, toddlers

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It has been reported in a recent study that language checks should become a routine for all toddlers and that speech and language checks should be as regular as those for checking a child's weight and growth.

It is said that without the necessary help, children with undiagnosed speech problems could suffer a life of failure if they go unchecked and unaided.  By two years old, children are already destined to failure or success at school.

The review stated that children with problems just slip through the net and that without help they could literally find themselves with greater problems in later school life. Waiting until school age is just too late.  By the age of five the problem is just too ingrained and children are likely to never catch up with their fellow school mates. They are more likely to be unemployed in later life and even end up in prison!

Although the screening and helping of children will cost money, it is estimated that for every £1 spent on children with impairments, the return on the investment is actually over £6.  It could be costly while the child grows up, but it will effectively negate the cost of dealing with problems in later life.

It was even suggested that better literacy and speech education may have prevented last year's riots, and it was estimated that 90% of the rioters were illiterate.

Sobering thoughts...

Counting on Cardinal Principle

Permalink by Tikal, Categories: Toddlers, Learning Play , Tags: cardinal principle, counting, language, maths, numbers, research

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As grown-ups, it's easy to take for granted how easy counting is, but for a young toddler, learning to count is more than just learning a sequence of words as they might a nursery rhyme.  Counting involves being able to make a connection between numbers as words and a quantity of items.

This is called 'Cardinal Principle' and an elementary rule states that when you count a number of objects, the number of items in total is the last word spoken as you count them.  For example, if there are five apples on a table: 'One' - 'Two' - 'Three' - 'Four' - 'Five'.  'Five' was the last number encountered, therefore there are five apples.  This principle seems perfectly obvious to the developed mind, but this is one of the fundamental connections to make when learning to count for the first time.

Toddlers don't need to count items if there are three or fewer - they can look at them and establish how many there are.  No counting is required.

New research undertaken at the University of Chicago has discovered that children who are exposed more to the numbers between 3 and 10 as words make the connection between numbers and counting, and understand quantities sooner than children who hear those numbers less in everyday language.

Whilst this might seem an obvious conclusion, it reiterates the importance simply of counting objects over and over with children from an early age, and also of talking about quantities in everyday language.

Exposure to numerical language also helps improve mathematical capabilities later on in life which is much less obvious.  So by undertaking counting exercises regularly, not only are you teaching your children to count, but you are also improving their chances of doing well at maths later, which in turn might have a direct influence on their career path way ahead in the future!


Clearly Speaking

Permalink by Tikal, Categories: Child Development , Tags: language, phonetics, pronunciation, speaking, spelling, talking

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Children learn language by continually hearing language being used in context all around them - hearing language spoken clearly and properly will help them talk correctly themselves and will also help them learn spelling when they are older. Phonetics is all about spelling out the sounds that you hear, but if children aren't speaking words correctly, then they will find it more difficult to spell them.

For example, children dropping 'g' in words ending in 'ing' will not hear the 'g' when they spell phonetically and will omit the final letter in words like walking/walkin', talking/talkin' and so on.  Children muddling 'th' and 'f' will be disadvantaged when learning to spell three/free, thanks/fanks.

If you hear your children mispronouncing words or sounds, then try to correct them early on so that they don't get entrenched with the wrong pronunciation which in turn could stifle their spelling and reading later on.  Speak clearly and properly with your children and as they grow up, they will find it easier to talk clearly themselves, and in turn to learn spelling when the time comes to it.

French children to learn English at age 3!

Permalink by Tikal, Categories: Child Development, Preschool Children , Tags: english, france, french, language, learning languages, school

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President Sarkozy of France has said that all French children should learn English at the age of three. He said he wants French children to learn 'the language of Shakespeare'.

In comparison, General Charles de Gaulle, never spoke anything but French in public. Opposition to the idea claims it will dilute the French language. Some say its just a trend, others say that children of three can barely talk their own language let alone cope with a second language.  The French have always been highly protective of their language, introducing bans on the import of foreign words (such as 'computer' and 'internet') into their own language, instead mandating the use of French terms.

France's Education Minister states that not learning English can be a real hindrance to French people. In England we learn a second language at age 11 although some schools introduce languages earlier.

English As A Second Language

Permalink by Tikal, Categories: Learning Play, Child Development, Family, Childminders and Childminding , Tags: billingual, communicating, english, language, speaking

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There are so many children and toddlers for whom English is not their first language; when it comes to observing these children in a childcare setting, whether it be a nursery or childminders, it is very easy for the carer to suggest that when it comes to communication, that the child has"no language".  In fact, they do have a language, its just they are not using it or English in the setting, so carers need to be careful in these circumstances.  Children need to be encouraged in both languages when they are little to avoid problems of alienation and isolation.

Why should parents, carers and teachers encourage bilingual children?

  • It means the child usually knows about 2 cultures, 2 sets of traditions and 2 sets of rules for speaking
  • It means they may be confused about different words or phrases which are used in different situations
  • They can be scared to take chances when it comes to speaking or answering questions
  • Making friends may be harder or even impossible if the other children can communicate more easily
  • It may make the children more inclined to listen carefully and think about things or answers to questions even if they do not actually speak or contribute; they may still know the answer

How to help:

  • Be calm and patient.  Don't expect them to speak with the same confidence as children where English is the first language
  • Allow them to listen and observe  before addressing them with a question
  • Speak to them just the same as you would other children; look into their eyes and address them with warmth and clarity; move your mouth to create the words and don't speak until you make eye contact
  • Point and gesticulate too and use sign language to help communicate
  • Sing lots of songs and rhymes together
  • Keep any setting quiet and calm so everyone can hear well and communicate without shouting

Children learning more than one language at a time do generally start speaking a little later, but in the long term, but this does not mean that they will never learn to talk.  In the medium term they will rapidly grasp both languages and they will have a beneficial skill that will put them in a strong position throughout their lives!

Size Doesn't Matter

Permalink by Tikal, Categories: Learning Play, Toys and Games , Tags: dolls, language, motor skills, picnics, pretend play, scale, size, tea, teddies

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When it comes to pretend play, children are perfectly happy to mix toys made to different scales - size just isn't important to them!  Your toddler might hold a tea party for a few dolls and teddies.  The participants may vary in size from very small to really large, but your toddler will be oblivious to the variation.  They might have a small, dinky china tea set, complimented by plastic or wooden cookies and slices of cake that dwarf the tea pot - but size doesn't matter.  They may sit around a blanket on the floor offering enough room for the whole family to enjoy a picnic round, but scale is really of no consequence!

During pretend play, children will happily play with lots of different toys, all made to different scales, but they are as contented as can be!  Indeed, they'll even happily mix toys from different paradigms, such as dinosaurs on a farm, a shop that sells anything under the sun, or serve pizza for afternoon tea!

The important point is that children partake in pretend play.  As they play with objects and act out little scenarios either on their own, with siblings or friends or with you, they are practicing all sorts of different actions which help them develop their motor skills, they will practice language as they talk through each scene, and learn how objects made from different materials act and how they can be handled.

How Ironic!

Permalink by Tikal, Categories: Child Development , Tags: irony, language, metaphor, non-literal language, rhetoric, sarcasm, words

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It has been proven, by a study carried out in Canada, that children can understand the concept of irony by the age of four - even if they don't know the word and probably struggle to say it! Previously it had been suggested that the children needed to be aged ten before they could understand the idea of sarcasm and irony but this new study published in the British Journal of Developmental Psychology contradicts this.

The study looked at different types of language that is described as "non-literal".  Here are a few examples:

  • Metaphor: "It's raining cats and dogs!"
  • Irony: "It's raining, oh brilliant, my washing is still out!"
  • Sarcasm: "It's raining.  We are getting wet.  Could you walk any slower?"
  • Rhetoric: "Why is it still raining?"

The researchers at Montreal University studied 39 children in a home environment and found that irony was understood by children aged 4 and that by the age of 6 the children had a complete grasp of non-literal language.  Previous studies had focused primarily on sarcasm, and had been carried out in a test environment rather than a home environment so this partly explains why the findings were different to other tests.

Morning Sickness means a Cleverer Baby?

Permalink by Tikal, Categories: Health , Tags: babies, iq, language, morning sickness, nausea, numeracy, pregnancy

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Suffering from morning sickness could indicate that your baby is going to have a high IQ, so research in Canada has discovered.  Scientists looked at a sample of 120 mothers who had phoned a special helpline for women who felt particularly ill or nauseous during pregnancy.  It was entitled the NVP (Nausea and Vomiting of Pregnancy) helpline.

Specialists in the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto concluded that babies born to women with symptoms of nausea tended to have babies with a higher IQ than those who did not experience nausea.

Tests were carried out on children aged between 3 and 7 that included numeracy and verbal fluency.  The findings suggest that those whose mothers had experienced morning sickness during pregnancy did better in the tests!

The achievements of those babies whose mothers had not had nausea were found to achieve lower results.

The research leader, Dr Gideon Koen reiterated it did not suggest mental retardation by any means, it just suggested a slightly higher IQ.

For many women, morning sickness can be dreadfully debilitating and indeed embarrassing.  It is supposed to be only a symptom during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy - this is often not the case and it continues throughout the pregnancy.  And, it is known as morning sickness, but for so many it is not confined to the mornings at all!

So, for all those women who endure the horrors of morning (or evening or daytime) sickness, these findings are a small consolation!

Language is Key to your Child's Development

Permalink by Tikal, Categories: Babies, Parenting, Child Development , Tags: chatting, communication, language, learning to speak, talking, vocabulary

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How do babies and toddlers learn to speak and acquire the knowledge to form sentences and become fluent communicators?  Is it a natural skill they acquire or do they need help?  Certainly children begin to learn to speak from the very day they are born.  However, it is up to parents, to make sure they provide the children with the very best opportunity to learn to speak and communicate well.

How do they learn?

  • Talk To Them - A mother who chats to her baby from the very first day, while feeding or walking or changing the nappy, is doing a great job to encourage good spoken language.  Babies learn by hearing the spoken word and repeating and learning it for themselves.
  • Show Them - Parents that discuss things in front of their children demonstrate the use of language and show the children how to discuss and communicate as adults.
  • Play with Them - Have toy telephones to play with and set up pretend conversations.  Chat about all sorts of easy things and encourage chatter.
  • Share with Them - Families that have discussions over a meal share in the joy of eating and talking.  Simply asking what happened at school or nursery today can be the simple question that leads to a great family chat!

Types of Language

By nine months, babies can understand simple words and commands ('stop', 'come here', etc.) even if they can't speak the words themselves. This is because there are 2 types of language knowledge: Receptive and Expressive language.  When we listen we use our receptive vocabulary, when we speak or write we use our expressive vocabulary.

A child's passive vocabulary is improved through continuous repetition of words and phrases.  Once repeated enough it becomes part of their passive vocabulary.  So, the active vocabulary can only be improved through use of the passive. A child has to hear a word 500 times before it becomes part of their active vocabulary, so a parent needs to speak as much as they can to their children and in front of their children.

Raising Multilingual Children

Permalink by Tikal, Categories: Toddlers, Babies, Parenting, Child Development, Preschool Children, Family, Kids Activities , Tags: bilingual, foreign language, language, minority language, multilingual

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Babies growing up in a multilingual environment are able to learn more than one language at a time giving them an amazing skill that they can undoubtedly benefit from throughout life.  If you wish to encourage your children to learn more than one language, then make sure you lay the ground rules.  Where parents are fluent in more than one language, there are various approaches to a second (or further) language, most commonly 'one language one person' where each parent sticks to a single language, and 'minority language at home' where parents use the minority language in the home setting, but the common language outside.  You can even introduce a new language through a nanny or au pair - learning languages is best done from a native speaker although this is not absolutely necessary.

Research suggests that for children to learn a language, they must be exposed to it for 30% of the time that they are awake.  This is supported by the fact that the success rate for teaching more than four languages simultaneously falls significantly.

Immerse your children in your chosen languages from birth; don't just speak the languages but buy toys, books, games and puzzles that support the different languages that you are introducing.  This will increase exposure and reinforce learning.

Raising your child in a multilingual environment may lead to frustration at times and you may worry that your children's peers are learning language at a faster rate.  Don't despair - even monolingual families suffer frustration in language learning, and your children will come out the other side with enviable skills.


Developmental Milestones: the First Year

Permalink by Tikal, Categories: Babies, ToucanLearn, Health, Child Development , Tags: development, fine motor skills, gross motor skills, language, milestones, social

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Growing up is full of minor achievements but none make a parent more proud than those early defining moments when baby first rolls over, learns to crawl, walk, talk and one day, to write!  The first few years of life are filled with milestones when your child achieves something that you've not seen them do before.

There are four main developmental areas, learning control of the body with fine and gross motor skills; personal and social development and language.  Here are a few milestones to look out for in your baby's first year:-

0 - 3 Months

  • Spontaneous smiling
  • Turns towards source of sound
  • Tracks an object waved in front of face
  • Learns to roll over

3 - 6 Months

  • Starts chewing
  • Learns to squeal and gurgle
  • Looks at own hands

6 - 9 Months

  • Feeds themselves with their fingers
  • Pulls up to a standing position
  • Passes an object from hand to hand
  • Starts uttering 'dada' and 'mama'

9 - 12 Months

  • Drinks from a cup
  • Starts 'cruising' - uses furniture as a support and moves around room
  • Begins to use recognisable words

Of course, babies develop at different rates and reaching milestones late may not have any bearing on wider development.  They may even skip milestones, for example starting to crawl without managing to roll over, or taking first steps unaided without cruising.

Every child registered in ToucanLearn has a private blog space.  Log milestones for each of your children and in time you'll have an invaluable record of their early lives that not only will you look back on fondly, but one day your children might thank you for too!

Babies Learn Mother's Accent In The Womb

Permalink by Tikal, Categories: Babies, Health, Child Development , Tags: accents, crying, language, mother, unborn babies

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New research has discovered that as soon as babies are born they cry with the same "accent" as their mothers!  This suggests that they begin to learn language in the womb.  Previously, it was though that babies recognise sounds from the outside world while they are still in the womb, and that they are settled by the sound of their mother's voice.  But, this research goes a bit further and suggests that the mother's voice influences the baby's speech.

The research was carried out in Germany and published in the journal, "Current Biology".  The scientists analysed the cries of 60 healthy babies between the age of three and five days old.  Half of them were born to French-speaking mothers and the other half were German.  The results showed that the French babies cried with a different "accent" compared to the German ones.

The French babies cried with a "raising melody"; the German babies cried with a "falling melody".  The pattern, according to the researchers, are consistent with the characteristic differences between the two languages."

Previous research has shown that babies can imitate vowel sounds by 12 weeks.  They would physically be unable to do so any earlier.  Crying can be done from birth without the need for well developed vocal chords.  Babies are motivated to copy the sounds of their mother in order to attract her attention and encourage bonding.

World Exploration

Permalink by Tikal, Categories: Learning Play, Toys and Games, Kids Activities , Tags: accents, geography, language, learning about the world, space, world foods

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Just as your kids are beginning to place where their house is when they return from journeys out, suddenly they begin to discover that the world is made up of lots of different countries with different people speak different languages.  Not exactly an easy idea to grasp!  Having an understanding of the world and the diversity of people and language is an important aspect of early education.

Just as kids learn their immediate surroundings through their senses, so you can teach about the world by appealing to their senses too.

Introduce the concept of language through sound - talking and hearing.  If you're lucky, you might be fluent in more than one language, but even if you're not, you probably know some basic words such as 'Hello' and 'Thank You', and maybe some numbers, in a number of languages?  Talk about language and explain how people say these words in different countries.  Explain how even people in the English-speaking world talk in different voices and use slightly different words in certain circumstances.

You can have a lot of fun explaining about different foods from round the world as you introduce basic foods from different countries.  Rice, pasta, pizza and different breads come from different countries.  You can readily buy fruit and vegetables from countries around the world.  If your children are adventurous eaters then try them with simple Chinese, Mexican, Italian, Thai, Indian and other cultural dishes!

Teach geography and sense of distance by playing games.  Create a representation of each continent on pieces of paper and spread them around a large room, or better still, the garden.  Locate the continents in roughly the way that they are laid out across the globe - Asia, Australasia, North America, South America and Europe.  Then simply shout out 'Swim to North America' and have them perform swimming strokes as they run over to North America!

Learning about the world is so important for our little ones, and there are so many games and activities that we can play to foster a desire to learn.

The Positive Side of TV for Toddlers

Permalink by Tikal, Categories: Toddlers, Parenting, Child Development, Preschool Children, Family , Tags: language, learning, television

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It's easy to consider that watching television is an easy alternative to parenting, but television can provide a positive role in early learning and development. There are many exceptionally good shows aimed specifically at children, appealing to their young minds and introducing them to social influences that make up an important part of development. For example, programs supporting notions of social inclusion, the portrayal of minorities, eating and living healthily, introducing and practicing language and so much more. Don't use the TV as a babysitter, but use it as a starting point to talk about what you see and a way to explore new ideas and language together.


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Hi! I'm Tikal the Toucan, the mascot for ToucanLearn. Follow my blog to find out interesting things relating to babies, toddlers and preschool children!

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