Friday, August 31, 2012

How a Baby Learns to Talk: Part III

This is the third part of a Science Friday series on how a baby learns to talk.  Check out the first post here and the second post here.

    We have looked at how babies begin to babble and then say specific words.  But, how do they know in what order to put the words?  While Q-ball isn't in this stage yet, she has started combining some signs with the correct word order.  For the phrases she uses, I assume she is mirroring the phrases that I use with her.
    However, research has shown (in a fancy experiment involving Sesame Street puppets...) that toddlers between 16-to-18 months recognize the importance of word order. Specifically, they can tell the difference between phrases like "Mama is feeding Q-ball" vs. "Q-ball is feeding Mama."  This assumed understanding of word order is further verified by the fact that the vast majority of toddlers' first two word phrases are in the proper order.  Think "more banana," "I want," "get down," etc.  As was mentioned in the first post of this series, Noam Chomsky's very widely accepted theory of Universal Grammar states that all humans are innately wired to know the general form that any language takes.  In the case of word order, Chomsky's theory tells us that humans innately know structure dependence, so toddlers' correct use of word order goes above and beyond mirroring the phrases of those around them and is, instead, part of the the human brain's innate capacity of language learning. 
     Following two-word phrases, toddlers go even deeper into forming and practicing grammar rules.  Much of the research and observation on the subject of language learning  actually focuses on the mistakes and pauses that young children make as part of the learning process.  For example, as toddlers form increasingly complex sentences, they typically pause between noun and verb phrases rather than pause in the middle of a phrase. ("I want...the blue pants" vs. I want pants.")  This examples shows researchers that, as part of structure dependence, humans innately seem to know various parts of speech within a language.
    Again focusing on the mistakes that young language learners make, researchers believe that humans innately know that changes change be made to the beginning or ending of a word.  In this case, toddlers typically overregularize. So, they will add "-s" to goose, deer, and foot.  Or, they will add "-ed"  to run, do, or sit.  Scientists believe that this is a child's way of creating and applying their own language rules.
    While grammar rules vary from language to language, the two rules mentioned above (specific parts of speech and adding beginning or endings to words) are part of Universal Grammar.  As such, all children, despite their native language, have been observed making these same advances in grammar development. 

Eliot, L. (1999). What's Going on in There? Bantam Books: NY, NY.
Crain, W. (2011). Theories of Development: Concepts and Applications. Prentice Hall:Boston.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Watch Her Grow...

This Week's Focus: Language and Critical Thinking

Interactions with Materials
Still finding activities to do with her rings!

  • Still loving bicycles! She's constantly asking to go on a bike ride.  She knows all of the clothes that Daddy wears when we go on a bike ride, and some mornings upon waking she walks directly to our closet and starts pulling out Daddy's bike clothes in hopes of a bike ride.
  • Shoes!  Especially those that are too big..
Interactions with Others
  • Opa and her uncle are here this week, and she was quick to open up to them.  I think she also clearly remembered her uncle although it's been about two months since he last visited. 
Critical Thinking
  • Today she used the sign "want" for the first time.  I was especially impressed because this is a sign that Daddy and I have never demonstrated.  However, she has seen it in this bookThis morning when I asked, "Do you want to read a book?" She signed back "want" "book".
  • Q-ball is continuing to work to express her ideas and memories.  When she hurts herself or gets upset, she shows or "tells" me what happened.  She'll show me where she hit her head on the wall or how the ball hit her in the mouth.  It seems to help with tantrum reduction!
  • Similar to making the connection about Daddy's bike clothes and biking, she seems to think that every time I put on my shorts (vs. the yoga pants I constantly wear at home...) that we are going to the park.  She gets so excited and starts signing "park" and making the noise and actions she makes for the slide.  Sadly, we are normally just running errands, but I guess I have a little optimist.   
Interactions with Life 
  • She is really started to express her own wants.  She is starting to (aggressively) tell me what she wants to wear, what she wants ME to wear, where she wants to nurse, where she wants to read books, etc.  She enjoys making a game of it at times, making me change seats multiple times during meals and laughing all the while.  But, because of this new phase, I know that it's time to introduce the Montessori closet, so stay tuned next week for updates and pictures!
  • She is starting to use "please", so modelling good manners does work!
  • And, a final story about our clothing, I put on a skirt the other day to go to dinner, and she thought it was so funny! She couldn't stop laughing. The next day, she opened the closet and wanted me to wear it again.  I guess I need to branch out from the yoga pants...But, our daughter certainly has a budding sense of humor!
To see the rational and purpose for the Watch Her Grow series, please check out this post!

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Less-Words Wednesday: Line Up!

Twice a week, when I vacuum and mop the floors, I always move the chairs from around the table, lining them up in the center of the room. (This may surprise Daddy as the floor under the table always seems to be covered with crumbs...)  A few weeks ago, as I started moving the chairs, Q-ball went over to her table, grabbed her chairs and also started to line them up in the middle of the room.  Since this time, she's really  enjoyed this activity.  Yesterday, she started lining up her chairs on her own, moving the one from the front of the line to the back, sitting for a bit, and then starting all over again.  Quite the worker (hence the blur...)!

Opa is visiting and got to play, too!

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Watch Her Grow...

This Week's Focus: Language and Critical Thinking
Apologies to those who only tune in for the pictures- we are having camera issues again!  Hopefully, I'll have figured something out by next week!

Interactions with Materials

    • She has continued to love stacking cups- her fine motor skills are really improving, and I can tell that she is really focused on working on them (see practical life section...)
    • She loves wheels right now.  At first, I thought it was a love of bicycles, but I think she is interested in all wheels.  When we are headed to the car, she always stops by the tire to look and often touch (getting her hands quite dirty...)  This is also making me think that she might believe the sign for "bicycle" is "wheel."
    • She also loves "fish" right now.  We took a special trip to the zoo so that we could see some fish that weren't confined to a book.
    Interactions with Others
    • Well, last week I indicated that she was creeping out of her shell, but I think I spoke a little too soon.  At a play ground last night, she started crying whenever other children even got close to the equipment.  And, occasionally shoved them out of the way.  Maybe next week.
    • But, a few days before this, she was more friendly with children that we regularly see at a park day- giving them high-fives and playing together with a ball. So, hopefully, the key is that she recognizes the individuals.
    Critical Thinking
    • A few days ago, I left the house to pick up some forgotten onions from the store. Q-ball stayed with Daddy, and was not happy about me leaving her for 10 minutes so late in the day.  So, she explained to Daddy using signs and pointing that she wanted him to drive his truck to Mama.  Pretty impressive!
      Interactions with Life 
      • She has really, really been focused on mastering eating with a fork and/or spoon.  During dinner time, she will sit for 5-10 minutes and totally concentrate on getting her food onto her fork and then into her mouth.  She's coming quite close to mastery.  Now, she also knows that she is not supposed to stab the table with the fork (Daddy has already decided we'll just have to buy a new table one day when kids are grown...), and she is really enjoying testing this limit.
      • Mama and Daddy have been modeling signing "thank you" at appropriate times, and Q-ball quickly picked it up, and has now been signing it on her own.  Next step, "please"!

      This post is linked up with Melissa from Vibrant Wanderings. Check out the links to see what other fantastic kiddos are up to!
      To see the rational and purpose for the Watch Her Grow series, please check out this post!

      Monday, August 13, 2012

      Board Books for a Montessori Household

         The majority of responses I received in response to my previous post about reading to a toddler with Dr. Montessori's ideas in mind focused on finding board books or other books aimed at younger readers that are not overtly fantastical. Board books with singing dogs, dancing zebras, and all of Dr. Seuss's creatures abound.  There is certainly nothing wrong with these books!  Q-ball loves many of these books.  However, it is true that they do not meet Dr. Montessori's recommendations.  
         I wanted to try to find books that were easily available to parents working to create a Montessori environment, so during our regular trips to the public library, I took note of books that I believe meet Dr. Montessori's intentions.  Also of important note, Q-ball gives all of these books 2 thumbs way up!  
         Here are some books to look for:
      1. Books by Helen Oxenbury, specifically I See, I Can, I Hear.  These books are incredibly simple, single word books with beautiful illustrations.  Q-ball loved practicing all of the actions in I Can.
      2. Books that demonstrate sign language.  It's actually quite amazing to watch how studiously Q-ball reads these books. She looks at the page for quite awhile, asks us to demonstrate, and then practices herself. We love Baby Signs and All Day Long.
      3. A special bedtime book.  One of my favorite findings in my first post was that reading should help foster a connection between caregiver and child.  And, what better time than bedtime?  We use I Love You Through and Through.  It is wonderful because it introduces simple vocabulary words while using repetition that toddlers love.  The illustrations are also simple and life-like.
      4. Everywhere Babies.  This might be my favorite book of all time!  It meets Dr. Montessori's goal of introducing all cultures, genders, lifestyles (grandparents raising baby, stay-at-home dads, city life, country life, etc.) and even sexual orientations. It also uses repetition and a sing-song quality to storytelling.  Q-ball loves being able recognize the activities in the pictures and check out the other babes.  And, as a parent, I love the warm-fuzzy the book provides.
      5. Does a Cow Say Boo?  Again, this books uses repetition and sing-song storytelling to introduce vocabulary that interests toddlers (animals!)  The children are from diverse backgrounds.  Most importantly, Q-ball has so much fun reading this book! I don't want to give away the book's exciting ending, but the final lines have become a favorite game in our household.
      Reading about camping, while camping.
         Another critical aspect of a Montessori environment is practicing respect for materials. Allowing young children access to high-quality books with real pages is an excellent way to do this. For the lack of a better name, I call these "special event books."  I head to the library when we are planning an upcoming trip or activity so that Q-ball will be able to make connections between the books we read and what is going on in real life.  We loaded up on butterfly books before visiting the butterfly house, camping books before going camping, and, of course, potty books before introducing potty learning.   

      As with most of my Montessori posts, I like to remind readers that I am not trained in the Montessori-method.  My findings here are based upon my personal research and experience in my home.  So, a true Montessorian might pooh-pooh some of these book suggestions, but these have worked for us!  I'd love to have your feedback!  Do you think these books meet Dr. Montessori's intent?  Do you have any other suggestions?

      Linking up with Montessori Mondays!
      Montessori Monday

      Friday, August 10, 2012

      How a Baby Learns to Talk Part II

      This is the second part of a Science Friday series on how a baby learns to talk.  Check out the first post here.

           After practicing the formation of words through babbling, babies try to actually form words.  At 16 months, Q-ball is currently at this stage.  While we still have plenty of "eh! eh! eh!" noises when she wants to get our attention, she is starting to try to repeat words that she hears Daddy and I say.  With her active use of sign language, I can see that she is very eager to get her ideas across, so it makes sense that she wants to move beyond sign language to form words. 
         As stated in the first post of the series, humans are innately wired to create language.  Beyond this, scientists also believe that humans innately understand three critical ideas about words:
      1. Words refer to a whole object, not a specific part.  (So, Q-ball knows that "book" means the whole book, not just the cover or pages.)
      2. Words describe all like items, not just an individual item. (So, Q-ball knows that "book" does not just refer to the book that we read her before bedtime, but all objects with bound pages.)
      3. A object just has one name.  
      Practicing the word "percussion"
        Admittedly, when I read these rules, I started thinking of exceptions, but I imagine that they are critical rules for language learning.  These rules also made me wonder how exactly Q-ball would define "milk", but now that she is also saying "Mama" regularly, I won't spend to much energy pondering this question.
         With these rules in mind, between 12 and 18 months, babies practice saying a few words here and there.  They may practice some words, and then not say them again for sometime. Interestingly, researchers seem to believe that "fifty is the magic number" when it comes to speaking.  Once a child can say 50 words, she starts to add words very rapidly- often adding multiple words in a single day!
         Why does this "explosion" of words happen?  Between 13 and 20 months, scientists have used electrical focal testing to discover that children's brains grow increasingly specialized to respond to words.  Early in this period, they use part of their cerebral cortex to distinguish between words and sounds that they know and those they don't.  But, by 20 months, toddlers begin to activate a more specialized area of the left parietal lobe, which is the part of the brain that stores word meanings.  It's remarkable to think of all of this happening in your precious, growing child!

           Here are a few more quick, fun facts about a baby's first words:
      • Most babies begin to understand the meaning of certain words (names, no, milk, etc) as early as 9 or 10 months.
      • At 12 months, the average child knows about 70 words.
      • At 12 months, the average child speaks 6 words.  
      • Once a child understands the meaning of a certain word, there is typically a 5-month delay until he can speak that word.
      • Between ages 2 and 6 years, it is estimated that children may learn up to 8 words in a single day. So, if you child is sleeping for 12 hours a day, that is more than one word every 2 hours!
         So, now that toddlers know all of these words, what happens next?  Check out a future Science Friday to learn about grammar learning in toddlers!
      Eliot, L. (1999). What's Going on in There? Bantam Books: NY, NY.

      Thursday, August 9, 2012

      Watch Her Grow

      This Week's Focus: Language and Critical Thinking

      Interactions with Materials

      Watch out, Vegas!
      • Because she has enjoyed throwing items in her walking wagon so much, this week I introduced a shape sorting activity.  One side of her walking wagon is actually a shape sorter, so she is still able to throw things into her wagon, but in a slightly more structured way.  So far, though, she still prefers just opening the top and adding the shapes...
      • Daddy taught her how to stack cups in a parlor party fashion, and she has loved having us set up cups, so she "stack" them.
      • She has started to love, love going down slides at the park!  I have to work to keep her from the tallest, twisty ones!
      Interactions with Others
      • She's creeping out of her shell.  She is now waving to others that we pass.  And, she has even offered to share her books with other little ones at the library and even her toys to friends visiting the house.
      • She likes to look at other, younger babies now.  She's very interested when they cry or yell- not concerned, but interested.
      Critical Thinking
      • I'm continuing to be amazed at her ability to communicate her ideas to me.  On our past few morning runs, we have been able to see the moon in the sky.  She points out the moons and makes the sign for "book", indicating that it is the same image we see in one of the books we are currently reading.  
      • I am trying to practice sequencing with her during our daily activities, especially when she asks for something (typically milk) a little out of sequence or just when I've started washing dishes, etc. At bedtime, for example, I tell her all of the steps we take before milk (diaper, putting on pajamas, reading, and then milk!)  She seems to be catching on as it typically  soothes her.
      • We have worked to include Q-ball in our dinner conversations for awhile now, but it seems that she is now able to have a more active role.  The other night at dinner, I was explaining to Daddy that we had an awesome time at the park and was describing everything we did.  Q-ball joined in and was making the sounds we make for going down the slide and being in the swing. 
      Interactions with Life 
      • She's getting in a few molars!  But, other than lots of drool, they don't seem to be causing too much pain.

      This post is linked up with Melissa from Vibrant Wanderings. Check out the links to see what other fantastic kiddos are up to!
      To see the rational and purpose for the Watch Her Grow series, please check out this post!

      Wednesday, August 8, 2012

      Less-Words Wednesday: Train Ride

      Since Q-ball's uncle brought her a train last month, she has loved trains.  So, we took a special family trip to ride a real train last week!  Q-ball loved it!  We had never actually used the phrase "choo-choo" when referring to trains, but as soon as she heard the train make the noise, she loved saying it.  She is also working on her social skills and practiced waving to most people we passed.

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