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One Family's Resolution to Close the Word Gap

Through my work with Too Small to Fail, I’ve learned a lot about how small actions on the part of parents and caregivers – reading, talking, and playing with babies and young children every day – can have a substantial impact on early development and school readiness. These simple actions can help close the 30 million word gap.

This holiday break, I set out to practice these ideas with the children in my life. Dylan (four years old) and Emily (one year old) are my two young cousins who enjoy the fruits of my family’s hard work and attention. I spent most of the holidays with them, and kept all of the Too Small to Fail ideas in mind.

Start with the basics: talking and reading

Talking to your baby before she can even talk back is key to creating a vocabulary-rich environment that will develop her brain and prepare her to become a successful learner. Talking is teaching, so it’s important that parents talk to their children as much as possible.

I really enjoyed incorporating talk into everyday activities with Dylan and Emily. When we would pass by a Christmas tree, I would point out each ornament to Emily, describing its size, shape, and color. I would ask her questions, like “Which one is your favorite ornament? What do you think of this red ball? Do you like the reindeer?”

At first, my family thought it was silly how much talking I did with the children, or rather what seemed like a one-sided conversation with myself while Emily stared. But the rewarding transformation happened when Emily began to respond in her own ways, such as nodding her head or exclaiming “Ah!” I soon learned her favorite ornament: candy canes. Emily was, in fact, listening and engaging with me the entire time.

I also had the help of my favorite childhood friend, Dr. Seuss. In the evenings, Dylan and I read aloud classic Dr. Seuss stories, starting with “I Can Read With My Eyes Shut!” The rhyming made reading aloud fun and musical for all of us. Dylan and I concluded that it was much better to read with our eyes open.

Playing is also learning

We know that play facilitates learning in many ways, such as imitation and hands-on exploration. With appropriate guidance from parents and caregivers, toys can enrich a child’s learning.

Play was probably the best part of my break with the children. My present to Dylan and Emily this year was an easel. Together, Dylan and I painted houses, rainbows, trees, and his family. Painting also provided an opportunity for me to teach him about colors and color mixing. Together, we wrote and discussed numbers and letters, and formed words in beautiful, vibrant colors.

For Emily, this was her first time painting. Initially, she imitated Dylan and me but quickly went on a quest for her own masterpiece. I followed her lead and described to her what we were painting together. Even when I was not there to guide her, Emily would waddle to her easel, pick up the paintbrush, and begin painting on her own.

Small acts do make a big difference

Dylan and Emily are raised in a two-parent household where both parents work full-time and struggle to balance work and family responsibilities. Like so many other working families, constraints in time, resources, and finances constantly loom over their home. It’s hard to make time for everything.

But my family recognizes that there are ways to support Emily and Dylan in the time they do have together. And after some thought, we made these resolutions:

●      Set a consistent bedtime. A consistent bedtime has been shown to have positive benefits for a child’s early development and later academic achievement;

●      Turn off the television. Young children’s exposure to background television is associated with poor cognitive functioning;

●      Read a book a day together. The more words that children hear early on, the better. Reading is not only fun, it’s also one way to increase that exposure over time; and

●      Visit the local library. I convinced Dylan that a library card was a rite of passage to becoming a “big kid.” Visiting the local library can be a fun field trip for the young ones, but also a start on the path to instill an early appreciation for books and reading.

As for me, I’m looking forward to painting, reading and sharing more with Dylan and Emily in 2014.

What goals will your family set in 2014? Comment below or join the conversation on Facebook.

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