Monthly Archives: March 2011

New babies

Newborn babies change, grow, and develop very quickly.  This is a great example of how quickly infants’ develop- a parent took a picture of his son everyday for the first year of his life and made a Video.

When they are very little it seems like they can’t do much but in fact newborns are quickly learning about the world around them through their senses- sight, sound, and touch.

There is some uncertainty about exactly how well babies can see when they are very young, but we do know that they can see, to some extent, even very early in life.  Since we can’t ask a newborn how well they can see, we base our understanding of their vision on what they pay the most attention to.  Based on attention research newborns attend to objects with sharp contrasts (e.g., black and white toys) and prefer to look at faces.  Newborns can distinguish levels of brightness, color1, and size constancy2.  Newborns can also hear.  They can startle at loud sounds and can recognize familiar sounds.  Here is a great example of a 5.5-month-olds’ ability to hear (and to be scared of the sound he hears).  Finally, here is a quick video that describes newborns sensory development.

What can you do with your newborn to help him develop?  What’s most important for a newborn is love and attention.  Holding your child provides them with comfort and support which helps them to know that you are a person they can trust and count on.  Play with your babies hands and toes and help them move their arms and legs gently so they can begin to understand movement and touch.  Talk to your baby and pause to give them time to respond (even though they don’t talk yet, by modeling this interaction you are preparing babies for a world in which people will interact with them and wait for them to respond and react).  Show your baby different things.  Hold toys up close so the child can see them.  Put them near his fingers so he can feel the different textures of toys and objects.  All of these very simple behaviors are important for your newborn baby to begin to understand the world around him.


1Adams, R. J., Mauer, D., & Davis, M. (1986).  Newborns discrimination of chromatic from achromatic stimuli.  Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 41, 169-187.

2Slater, A., Mattock, A., & Brown, E. (1990).  Size constancy at birth: Newborn infants’ responses to retinal and real size.  Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 49, 413-422.

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“Hold you too”

So I have been doing my research and have been getting help and resources from others about how to help parents help their young children develop language.

A Pediatric Speech-Language Pathologist friend of mine commented on the original “Hold you” post (you all should read that comment it’s quite informative and helpful) and she provided the link to this website.

Here is some of the take home points from the research I have been reading:

1. American kids tend to learn and produce nouns earlier and in more novel ways that verbs (Tomasello, Akhtar, Dodson, & Rekau, 1997). Parent tip : American parents don’t practice verbs with their young children.  We like to label things.  “Look a boat” “Is that your shirt?” “Where are your toes?”  It’s far less often that you hear parents say, “Look you are going” “Your sister is running” “I’m cooking”.  Don’t be afraid to teach your children verbs while you are labeling and teaching your child nouns.

2. The reason young kids say things like “hold you” might be because they have created a sort of template for language. Initially they follow these global rules to create sentences, even when their rules are incorrect.  For example, kids might frequently hear sentences structures with the word “you”  at the end of the sentence, “Can I hold you?” or “she is going to hug you” so they begin to understand that “you” comes at the end of a sentence and then they just insert the verbs they know before the “you” like “hold you.” (Akhtar, 1999).  As children grow and experience more language they are better able to form grammatically correct sentences.  Parent tip: There is no harm in children saying things like “hold you” when they want you to hold them, but when you hear your child saying something like this take it as a teaching opportunity.  Demonstrate to the child the differences in what things mean.  Pick her up and say, “I am holding you” and “you are holding me”.  Then pick up her sister and say, “I am holding sister.” Then pick up a doll an say “I am holding the baby” and then give the child the doll and say “Now, you are holding the baby”  By providing different examples of how the verb “holding” and where the word “you” can be used you will further expand your child’s templates of how that verb and different objects are used together.

3.  The power of overhearing.  While it is important that you speak to your child frequently for their language development, young children also learn words by overhearing others speaking (Akhtar, Jipson, & Callanan, 2001).  Older toddlers learned verbs and object labels equally well when overhearing the words as when they were addressed directly with the words.  Younger toddlers (2 year olds) were better able to learn object labels when overhearing them than action verbs (Akhtar et al., 2001).  Parent Tip:  It’s always important to speak to your child directly but remember than the conversations that are occurring around the child are also providing your child with learning opportunities to successfully learn new words too.

4. Parents tend to repeat the grammatically incorrect utterances of their children (Hirsh-Pasek, Treiman, Schneiderman, 1984).   This is not surprising to me because I completely understand how tempting it is to repeat the cute things that kids say (whether they are said correctly or not).  When a child says “hold you”, we don’t always correct them, instead we repeat what they say “hold you” which said by us is grammatically correct but by repeating it we are providing rewards for the way it is said.  This particular article didn’t’ look at the impact of mother’s repeating incorrect grammer said by child but just found that in fact, mother’s do repeat incorrect phrases.  Parenting tip: As with swear words and other “bad” things that children will spontaneously say, we have to be careful to not reward their behavior (despite how tempting it is to laugh or to repeat it).  While children will say things incorrectly and will learn on their own without parents correcting them, by repeating their mistakes you are generally rewarding the behavior.

Language learning is complex but the moral of the story is that talking to your children is important for their language development.  By speaking to your children frequently you are providing them with multiple examples of how speech is constructed and a variety of words that they will eventually incorporate into their vocabularies, plus talking with your children has emotional benefits as well.  Clearly the little girls on the train yesterday (see yesterday’s post) were just looking for someone to talk to.  Even when your children are older they are still learning and perfecting their language, so please keep talking and teaching your children!

Note that while I did do a lot of research for this post there is so much information about language learning that in no way did I do this topic justice in such a short blog post.  I’m sure there will still be more to come!


Akhtar, N. Jipson, J., & Callanan, M. A. (2001).  Learning words through overhearing. Child Development, 72, 416-430.

Hirsh-Pasek, K., Treiman, R., Schneiderman, M. (1984).  Brown & Hanlon revisted: Mothers’ sensitivity to ungrammatical forms.  Journal of Child Language, 11, 81-88.

Tomasello, M., Akhta, N., Dodson, K., & Rekau, L. (1997).  Differential productivity in young children’s use of nouns and verbs.  Child Language, 24, 373-387.

Tomasello, M., & Olguin, R. (1993).  Twenty-three-month-old children have a grammatical category of noun.  Cognitive Development, 8, 451-464.


Filed under Infants, Preschoolers, Toddlers

Just a fun kid day

This post is not child development or research focused.  Just a cute kid story. I hope no one is opposed.

I was on the Purple line train home from work tonight and at one stop a mom and her two daughters got on the train.  It was just after 5pm and the girls (ages 6 and 8 ) were all wound up.  The train was relatively full so the mom and the 6-year-old sat across the aisle from me (not next to each other, but with the little girl in the seat ahead of the mom) and the 8-year-old sat down next to me.

From the moment they got on the train the mother was visibly annoyed with the kids, especially the overly excited 6-year-old who kept reaching behind her to swat at her mothers hands.  As soon as the 8- year-old sat down next to me she opened up her backpack and started playing with a light up wand inside of her bag so only she and I could see it.  She looked up at me a few times, clearly excited about her new toy and wanting me to comment on it.  So I did.  And our conversation/friendship began.

We talked about her new toy , the book I was reading (she read the title out loud to show me she could read), and what she learned at school today (adding and subtracting).   Then we spent the rest of the ride doing math problems with her sister.  Switching off between her telling me what she knew how to do (e.g., 10-4=6)  and me asking her other problems (e.g., 100-5).

With someone talking and paying attention to them, they both had calmed down and were actually enjoying their ride on the train.  It was clear that they both had spent a long day at school and then at after-school and just wanted someone to talk to them and for whatever reason their mother wasn’t willing to engage them at that point. Luckily, I had just finished my book and was more than willing to chat.

When it was time for me to get off the train the 8-year-old said, “Will you be on the purple train again tomorrow at this time?”  I told her I usually am on this train.  Hopefully,  I do run into those little girls again.  They definitely made my commute home more exciting and hopefully I made their ride less boring.


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Filed under All Kids, Elementary School Age

“Hold You”

A friend of mine has a toddler; a very verbal toddler.  She can and will repeat anything you say, both when you are trying to get her to say it and when you aren’t.  In the car the other day, she spontaneously said, “shut up” (something she has overheard being said to the dog at home) and later that afternoon she worked her way through saying “Purplicious!”

This same little girl is in the stage of putting together 2 or more words.  She says things like “more please”, “sit down”, and “hold you”.  She uses “more please” and “sit down” correctly but she says, “hold you” when she wants YOU to hold HER, she should say, “hold me”. Hearing her say, “hold you” sparked these two questions: how do little kids go from simply repeating words and phrases to making sentences and accurately using language? How can parents help with this transition?

This is a question that I truly didn’t know how to answer so I had to go digging through the literature on language production and development.  The results of my search further solidified the need for this type of blog.  First off, there is nearly nothing that can be found about language development online that has been created for parents of typically developing children (this is psychological political correctness for “normal” kids).  Most of what you find online is how to determine and what to do if your child seems to be delayed with his or her language development.  There are charts about milestones and the numbers of words that children are supposed to say by certain ages, but there is hardly anything about how parents can help their children learn language… I could go on forever about what is not out there, but the point is I dug into the literature (the millions of research-based journal articles that have been published in journals that most of the public doesn’t have access to without paying a hefty fee) and found some very wordy, complex, research about language development that I have been struggling to understand.  How in the world a mother with a full time job and two kids could find the time and energy to possibly dig up, read, and understand all of this is beyond me.  So I’m doing it for you. That is the point of this blog and I’m really glad that I can help translate some of this jargon-filled research into information that parents can actually use and understand.

Since I  have been reading a lot of research articles on this topic (and struggling through some of the particularly complex ones), it’s going to take a couple days for me to actually answer this question, but until then here is a very basic “how to” video about teaching your child to talk- but unfortunately it doesn’t answer my original question.  And  here is another very interesting, scientific video about young children learning to speak- at 3:45  he starts talking about his son’s language development. (Note this video is very long but really interesting if you have the time to watch it)


Filed under Infants, Toddlers, Uncategorized

Technology in the Classroom

As I mentioned in one of my first posts, every time I get on a plane, the person next to me ends up talking to me.  And like most first encounters in American culture, the question of occupation and more specifically, “what you do” always comes up.  I think what I do is pretty cool and most times my plane neighbors agree.  It seems like someone can always relate to either children or media in some way.  Thus, the fact that I study both children and media generally leads to a flight-long conversation.  What’s amazing to me is that over the years, people always want to talk about kids media use at home.  I have had conversations about families with no-media rules and parents who insist Baby Einstein was their child’s favorite activity.  Over the years I have also been asked a lot of questions: Should I show my kid Baby Einstein videos? Why does every kid love Elmo?  Should I limit the amount of time that I let my kid watch TV?  Does TV cause ADHD? What about Autism?…. The lists go on.  What I realized today, is that no one has every asked me or talked to me about their kids media use in the classroom.  I know parents aren’t only concerned about media at home and that many parents choose childcare setting based on their media use policies, but are parents concerned or interested in how media is used in the classroom once their childcare selection has been made?

Interestingly, this is a question that researchers haven’t spent much time thinking about or asking either.  Just recently the National Association for the Education of Young Children and the Fred Rogers Center published a report titled Technology in the Lives of Teachers and Classrooms: Survey of Classroom Teachers and Family Child Care Providers. This study found that yes, media is used in the child care settings of young children (kids under age 8).  Of the almost 1,500 teachers surveyed, almost all use books and music daily with children.   In general there appear to be some differences in the use of media technology in classroom based settings and the homes of family child care providers.  Computers seem to be used more frequently by teachers in classrooms compared to family child care homes.  However, TV and video based technologies seem to be used much more often with children in family child care homes compared to center based classrooms.

Keep in mind these are just statistics.  Not every family child care provider fits into these generalizations nor does every center based child care teacher. Unfortunately, this study isn’t able to tell us how teachers and providers are using these technologies in the classroom.  Is music continuously playing in the background?  Are nature videos shown on the TV to extend upon a topic taught that day?  Do children use computers to learn about what foods leopards eat?

This study does give us some things to think about.  How as parents are the media worlds our children live in at home similar and different from the ones they are experiencing at school?  How are child care providers and teachers helping our children understand media and how to learn from it?  Can parents also learn from these teachers?  What kinds of materials are children using in their classrooms and how can we bring similar ideas back home to continue their education and learning outside of the classroom?

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Kids are always watching

Most parents at least attempt to watch their language around young children, recognizing that if they say it, soon enough so will their little one.  And while the stories are funny in retrospect, at the time they can be mortifying for the parent and sometimes end up in a problem that needs to be addressed. So as a result, most parents do try to “watch their mouth” at least when it comes to “bad words”.

But what about words (and actions) that aren’t always considered “bad”?  What about all the things that we say and do in front of little kids that aren’t frowned upon by preschool teachers the way swears and words like “shut-up” are.  What about words like “fat”, “ugly”, and “gross”.  You won’t get a call home from Jenny’s daycare if she calls something “gross” or “ugly” they way you would if she happened to drop the “S-word.”  So, if preschool teachers aren’t calling home, does that mean parents shouldn’t’ worry?  Nope, sorry Mom and Dad, there are a whole lot of things you have to be both careful about saying and doing in front of your little ones because they are always watching.

As a someone who studies the effects of media on young children, it amazes me how many rules parents have in place to restrict what their children are watching and seeing either on the TV, Internet, video games, or whatever, but rarely do you hear parents talk about their rules about how they personally act and behave in front of their children.  In my house growing up, “shut up” was a “swear word.”  I have yet to meet a parent that has declared “fat”, “gross”, or “ugly unspeakable terms at home.  Similarly, there are rules about certain behaviors in homes, like “no kicking”, “no hitting”, and “no running” but rules about grabbing your belly fat and making a disgusted face or refusing to eat dinner because of a diet are yet to be outlawed in most homes.  Now, I’m not denying the effects of seeing an image of an airbrushed model in a magazine or on TV 20 times a day. Certainly, that has negative impacts on body image (for kids and adults alike).  And I’m not suggesting that homes should become rule-bound prison camps where discussion of exercise and health shouldn’t happen. I’m just suggesting that as parents and caregivers we take note of the other “bad” behaviors and words that we are modeling for our children.

There was a great public awareness campaign in England about this issue of kids always watching.  Watch the video here but note that it is pretty intense and it’s a video for parents, not kids.  While this video is extreme, it does demonstrate that young children are always watching and learning from you and from others.  If young children hear their mother constantly saying “I look so ugly” or their aunt staring at herself in the mirror sucking her stomach or their father complaining about being fat, they will copy the words and the behaviors in the same way they will repeat a mistakenly said “bad word”.

Body image concerns start in early childhood and effects both boys and girls. Note, while most of the research focuses on moms and daughters, please recognize that this is an issues for fathers and sons as well.

Here are great resources to further understand body image and young children and the role that parents can play:

Family Anatomy Body Image, Part 1: How kids can learn to like their looks.  Provides statistics from reports in the Journal of Health Psychology and the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Eating Disorders.
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Learning: Classical Conditioning

Classical conditioning is just one way in which children learn.  For some of you the two words “classical condition” may ring a bell. (Pun intended!) In classical conditioning a person or animal learns to respond in a certain way to a neutral stimulus (e.g., a bell, a flash or a light, etc) that on its own wouldn’t cause that response.  The most well-known example of classical conditioning is Pavlov’s dogs.  In the early 1900’s, Pavlov trained his dogs to salivate at the sound of a bell.  Meaning, he taught his dogs to respond (salivate) to a neutral stimulus (bell) which doesn’t on its own cause the responses (meaning a bell by itself doesn’t automatically cause a dog to get hungry and salivate.)  So, the take home message is that after repeated experiences, the dog LEARNED that when the bell rang food would be coming and the dog began to salivate (even if food never arrived).

The interesting thing with classical conditioning is it works with more than just dogs- it works with people too!  A very popular psychology example of classical conditioning with young children is the “Little Albert” example.  Little Albert was an 11-month-0ld boy who loved all furry animals (including rats).  Little Albert participated in a research study in which every time he played with a furry rat (it was harmless) a loud noise was made in the laboratory which startled him.  Soon, even when the noise did not go off, he was afraid to play with the furry rat.  His fear extended to other furry animals including rabbits!  In this example, Little Albert was conditioned to fear furry rats.

***Note that this type of research is no longer conducted in this manner as it is considered unethical and would not pass the stringent Institutional Review Board procedures for conducting research***


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