Category Archives: Infants

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

“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

Lets Read!

Reading is undeniably one of the most prominent and accepted “good parenting” practices in the United States.  In a country that loves to debate the quality of everything, literacy has really never been questioned. Pregnancy books tell you to start reading to your child before the baby is born and you are expected to read to your child forever and always!  The US Department of Education Reading is Fundamental has a nice article about Reading with your Child that talks about when to start and how to make reading a part of your child’s life.
I find that many parents understand the importance of reading to their children, but there is very little advice about what to read, how to pick books, how long to spend reading, etc.  So here is my quick Reading Guide to reading with your pre-reader. (I will post later about working with your child to learn to read.)
What makes a kids book a good book?
The good thing with children’s books is they are generally short so you can, and SHOULD, take the time to read through books before you select one and check for some of the following criteria:
  • Age Appropriate.  This can be hard to determine, but a good place to start is to look at the age recommendations that often appear on children’s books or on   Also, consider the number of words per page and the type of vocabulary used in the book.  Too many words will test the attention span and interest of a young child and books filled with words that are too challenging for the child (or the parent for that matter) will disrupt the flow of the story and will potential hinder comprehension.  The nice thing about technology is that you can now “look inside” books online before purchasing them online.  This will give you a better idea of the words per page and the vocabulary in each book.  Also ask your librarian about what books might be appropriate for your child given their age and developmental abilities.  Parenting Magazine offers books for Building Baby’s First Library.
  • Comprehensible Storyline.  If the book you choose doesn’t seem to make any sense to you, it’s likely not going to make sense to your child.  Part of the reasons reading to your child is so important is it helps build language and literacy skills.  One important literacy skill is reading comprehension so begin to build on this skill early by selecting books that your child can understand and by asking questions about the book to ensure the child is “getting it”.
  • Interesting topics.  Kids like what they like.  Some kids love cars, trucks, boats, and planes others love princesses, worms, dinosaurs, or stories about food.  Find books that are about things that interest your child but don’t be afraid to try new ideas or story lines.  If your kid is obsessed with cars make connections between cars and other things like animals.  For example, get a book about animals and show your child that elephants move slowly like big trucks and instead of saying “beep beep” lions say “roar”.
Where to find good books?
  • Go to the Library!  Librarians offer all sorts of knowledge about new good kids books and the kids rooms at libraries around the country are really fantastic.  Also libraries and bookstores often offer story times when children can all sit together and have a story read to them. This is a great opportunity to find new books and to make new friends.
How much should you read reading?
  • There really isn’t one set answer to this question, although the Children’s Reading Foundation suggests 20 minutes a day.  Really the best answer is to try to make a routine out of reading and make sure you do it daily.  Many families like to read books as a downtime activity before a child goes to bed.  But kids often love books and reading can be sprinkled in throughout the day with other activities.  Keep books in your playroom and your children’s room at a level where your child can reach them so they can take them out as they please.  In between coloring and building a tower suggest reading a book or even bring a few books with you to the park and read when your kids need to cool down or are eating a snack.

What are some benefits of reading?

  • Positive impact on children’s language and cognitive skills (See SRCD report).
  • Reading aloud with your young children has positive effects on bonding between parent and child
  • Builds listening and attention skills


Fletcher,K. L. & Reese, E. (2004).  Picture book reading with young children: A conceptual framework. Developmental Review, 25, 64-103.

University of Michigan Health System YourChild Development & Behavior Resources.  PDF on Langauge & Literacy Development

Reading Rockets  Reading Tips for Parents.  This resource provides Tips for Parents of babies, toddlers, preschoolers, kindergarteners, and 1st- 3rd graders.

Reach Out and Read Reading Tips.  This resource offers very basic reading tips for parents.

Scholastic offers advice on picking age-appropriate books for slightly older children here.

Huffington  Post Article on Reading IS Fundamental by Christal Watts Deb 29, 2010.

National Education Association Read Across America

Parenting Magazine Building Babies First Library

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Intro to Childcare

Guest Blog Post

by Beth Meloy

Often, as a Child Care Researcher, I get questions from friends, family members, and sometimes even total strangers about the benefits of childcare for their children and how to pick a childcare arrangement.  The truth is, as with most parenting decisions, there isn’t one correct answer.  Luckily there is plenty of research on the topic, and we do know a couple of things that can help guide parents as they make this important decision.

What are the benefits of childcare for your child?  The answer to this question largely depends on the alternatives. We know that child care, especially preschool/ pre-Kindergarten programs boost cognitive test scores, increase school readiness, and can even impact long-term outcomes (visit these sites for findings from a few high profile studies: The Carolina Abecedarian Project, High Scope Perry Preschool Study, Gormley, Phillips, Gayer, 2008. However, most of this research is derived from samples of low-income children, and when studies compare children by family income, they find that more disadvantaged children derive greater benefits from childcare and pre-K.

When you are making a decision for your own child, it is important to consider the alternatives.  Childcare can be beneficial for children if it places them in a more stimulating, sensitive, and/or secure environment.  That said, if your child is very young (under 3) and the alternative is staying home with you—the sensitive and instructive primary caregiver- then there is no rush to put your child into childcare.

The most important factor is the quality of the experience for your child (See Burchinal, 1999).  For young children, the highest quality experience may be staying at home with a parent.  For older children, it may be a preschool program.  And for parents who work, cannot stay home, or want their child to enter childcare, the goal should be to find the highest quality arrangement, and the best fit for their child.

Not sure how to find a “high quality” child care arrangement or preschool program?  Here are some helpful guidelines and tips:

(1)  Research. Currently, twenty-three states have implemented Childcare Rating and Improvement Systems (QRIS).  Like the rating systems for hotels or restaurants, QRIS assesses childcare settings based on program standards. A full list of states that have these systems and their websites is available here.   For example, if you live in Illinois and are considering childcare for your child you can go here and click on Licensed Child Care Centers & School-Age Programs and it will give you a 10 page pdf document listing all of the centers by county.

In addition, several states have public pre-K programs.  Find out if your state has one, and how they measure-up by visiting the National Institute for Early Education Research.  If your state isn’t on either of these sites, a simple google search, asking other parents, and looking at local parenting websites for advice is always a good place to start!  Another great resources is Child Care Aware which provides information about locating high-quality child care, parent information, helpful tools, resources, and newsletters.

When you find a center that you are interested in, you should also ask to tour the facilities and meet the prospective caregivers.  Again, trust your gut, if something feels off when the facility ought to be putting its best foot forward (to get your business), you could be picking up on something important that you don’t want to expose your child to.

(2) Child’s Age. Your child’s age may be particularly important when making the decision of where to place your child.  For young children, informal arrangements, such as those with relative caregivers, nanny care, or home-based childcare may be best.  Lower adult to child ratios are associated with higher quality care for infants and toddlers (NICHD ECCRN, 2007).  As your child gets older, it becomes more important to help them get used to school-like settings.  Childcare centers, and especially high quality preschool programs may be a good way to do this.   Think about it this way—you wouldn’t throw your child in the deep end of a pool without first teaching them to swim.  Kindergarten is a scary place with lots of rules and expectations.  High quality center care and/or preschool programs, like swimming lessons, will help teach your child the skills they need to succeed in school  (See Pre-K Now).

(3) Center Care vs Home-Based Care. Both center-based and home-based child care offer benefits and disadvantages. Home-based care may be more flexible with your work hours and are more likely to mix age groups (more sibling interaction).  However, center-based childcare is usually higher quality than family day care.  Childcare centers also tend to be more educationally focused… they are geared more towards learning and preparing children for school, so they are particularly beneficial for older children when compared to home-based day care options (Loeb, Fuller, Lynn, & Carrol, 2004). That said, parents can usually trust their gut on these things, not all childcare centers are better than all family care centers, and most importantly, not all child care centers are high quality (Love et al., 2003, Fuller. Kagen, Loeb, & Chang, 2004).

(4) Stability.  Find a childcare arrangement that works for you and stick with it.  From the childcare research we know that stability matters!  Stability in childcare can be defined in terms of stability of the childcare center (the physical building) and stability of the caregiver.  Ideally, the arrangement you choose for your child will be stable for both. Each arrangement has different expectations (rules and routines) and entering a new arrangement involves navigating new relationships (with the caregiver and with peers).  Switching up the game too often will be stressful for your child.  When you are choosing a childcare program, it is important to find a good fit, so that you are less likely to move your child mid-year.  Consider the center’s policies.  If your child will age out of the center after a few months, or even a year, you may want to look for a different arrangement. Read all about childcare stability and its potential impacts on your child’s development by going here.

So, what is the take home message?  Choosing childcare is all about considering the alternatives, finding a high-quality program—and one that is a good fit for you—and sticking with it.  There are tools out there to help guide your decision, but in the end it’s all about knowing yourself, knowing your child, and going with your gut.

About the Author:

Beth Meloy is a fifth-year student in the Dual MPP/PhD program working with Deborah Phillips at Georgetown University. Her research interests include the effects of early education (child care) programs on subsequent cognitive development (particularly for minority and low-income children), as well as the effect
of involvement with the child welfare system on child development. Her current research focuses on the effects of type, stability, and quality of childcare on young children with special needs and young children in foster care. She received her BA in Psychology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2005 and her MPP from the Georgetown Public Policy Institute in 2008. Email Beth at

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Filed under Infants, News and Other Resources, Preschoolers, Toddlers

Art For All Ages

“Every child is an artist.  The problem is how to remain an artist when he grows up”- Pablo Picasso

Just the other day, I received an email from a woman who had joined the PlayLearnParent Facebook Fan Page and was really excited about the January 27, 2011 post from the New York Times titled Mom, You’re One Tough Art Critic.   She was an Art Teacher and was glad that something art related was posted and wanted to let me know that she would like to see more!   Well, she is in luck- she inspired me to do a little more research on Art and Young Children.

I came across a three items that I wanted to share:

1. In 1998 the Arts Education Partnership and the Task Force on Children’s Learning and the Arts: Birth to Age Eight came out with a report called Young Children and the Arts: Making Creative Connections. This report focuses on the importance of early Arts Education and has guidelines for how to successfully implement a program.  For parents it also has a great chart that provides appropriate arts activities for children at every level of development (see page 6-13).

2.  Angela Eckhoff, an Assistant Professor of Early Childhood Education at Clemson University in South Carolina has published 2 articles about young children and art.

First, Eckhoff published an article in Early Childhood Education Journal in 2008 that examined how Art Teachers teach art to young children.  Eckhoff (2008) reports that Art teachers used 4 main strategies when teaching children age 4-5 about art: Questioning, Game Play, Storytelling, and Technical.  Based on her research each of these strategies were effective in teaching preschool aged children about art and are strategies that could be adopted and used by parents with their own children.

Eckhoff (2008) explained that Questioning was used by the teacher to help introduce the children to the artwork by discussing technical aspects like color, design, etc and contextual factors like  what the art was intended to look like.   Parents could use similar questioning techniques to help their children begin to think and discuss aspects of artwork they see.

Eckhoff (2008) explains that storytelling was used by the art teachers to further engage the students in understanding the art.  On page 468, Eckhoff uses the example of a teacher asking a young child to pretend that they were very, very tiny and that they could be in the painting and then asking the child to describe and tell a story about what it is like “living” in the painting.

Technical discussion may be a little bit more challenging for parents who do not have as much of a background in art, but it can still be done.  Eckhoff (2008) describes a teacher talking to preschoolers about how the paint was made to decorate a Rawhide Box in the 1930’s.  While this teacher had the expertise to know that the paintbrushes used to paint this box were sticks made from Yucca, parents can provide other technical information to their children.  Possibly a parent could discuss the orange paint and explain that you can make orange paint by mixing red and  yellow paint.

Finally, Eckhoff (2008) talks about gameplay and the ways in which teachers were creative in developing age appropriate games to engage their students in the art.  Eckhoff just recently published an article in Young Children– a magazine published by the National Association for the Education of Young Children providing teachers with more ideas of how to use games to help children explore Art.

Eckhoff’s article is titled Using Games to Explore Visual Art with Young Children and is in the January 2010 edition of Young Children which is free online. This is a great article, please read!

The article (on page 20) provides excellent games to play with young children to help them understand, appreciate, and enjoy art.  Here are a couple of great suggestions from that article:

1.  Color Spinner Wheel:  Bring a color spinner wheel (take one from a game at home or make out before you leave) to the museum with you.  Have the child pick out a picture that they like and the child spin the wheel to determine colors to search for in the piece of art.

2. Eye Spy: play the traditional eye spy game in a museum.  Have the child give “hints” based on the colors, size, texture, type of art, etc that they see in the room.

And some fun suggestions of my own:

3.  Bring a large notebook and crayons with you to the museum (some museums even have these available for young children to use) and have your child pick out their favorite piece of art and let them draw it. (This is good for kids who are preschool age and older and are good at staying on the paper when they color).

4.  Bring different colored index cards or post-its or even the color swatches they give you when you are painting a room.  Go around the museum and see if you can finding paintings with each of the different colors.  As you find them write the name of the painting and the date on the cards and one sentence describing the painting so you can talk about it again when you get home.


Eckhoff, A. (2008).  The Importance of Art Viewing Experiences in Early Childhood Visual Arts: The Exploration of a Master Art Teacher’s Strategies for Meaningful Early Art Experiences.   Early Childhood Education Journal, 35, 463-472. Link

Eckhoff, A. (January, 2010).  Using Games to Explore Visual Art with Young Children.  Young Children, pp. 18-22.  Link

The Task Force on Children’s Learning and the Arts: Birth to Age Eight & Sarah Goldhawk, Arts Education Partnership.  (1998).Eds Carol Bruce.  Young Children and the Arts: Making Creative Connections.  Retrieved from: on February 3, 2011.

Related Resources:

The Artful Parent

Creative Art Helps Children Develop Across Many Domains

Art Ideas for Small Children

Children’s Museum of the Arts

Parents Magazine Ten Best Art Museums for Kids Number 1 is the Art Institute of Chicago

National Gallery of Art


Filed under Infants, Preschoolers, Toddlers

Help! Quality Media?

When I was growing up media consisted of the Television- a total of 5 channels (cable was around, but we didn’t have it), a VCR, a Nintendo (the result of a particularly traumatizing dentist appointment that my Dad had taken me to), eventually a GameBoy, a computer (that my mother “borrowed” from the school she taught at), a record/tape/radio combination stereo, and books.

I don’t even know where to begin with what is considered “media” today! There are ipods playing songs from YoGabbaGabba, DVD players in minivans playing the Princess and the Frog, laptop computers with A Bug’s Life CD-Rom software (although that seems to be nearly extinct), ipads with Sesame Street apps, smartphones & iphones with apps that translate your child’s voice into a cute squeaky guinea pig voice , regular old Television programs like SuperWhy (that you can  now get in High Definition on cable, satellite, or online on demand), new motion sensored video games like theNintendo Wii, handheld video game players like PSP, and online interactive storybooks of the 3 Little Pigs… I could go on forever, but instead I will provide you with a Sesame Street clip called “There’s an App for That”.

Given all of these technologies and all of the content that is now “out there”.  How do parents decide what programs/games/books/music/content to show/play/interact/use with their kids? In a world of instant replies via email and blog posts about everything, are parents supposed to rely on “word of mouth” (which now exists via telephone, Facebook, email, etc) or base their purchases/downloads on reviews and product descriptions and their own best guess?

Should there be some sort of Children’s Quality Media Guru?  A resource that offers advice on what apps to buy for your 2-year-old versus your 8-year-old?  A guide that can tell you what is required to play the newest top app Bubble Ball (created by a 14-year-old boy)?  A checklist of questions parents might want to ask before purchasing media for their child?  Do parents want/need help with these questions?

Earlier this week the Fred Rogers Center held a roundtable discussion at Erikson Institute with 30 impressive people in the fields of child development and media production/creation to discuss just this issue.  Given all of the technology out there, how do we help creators and parents decide what “quality” media is for young children?  Lisa Guernsey at the New America Foundation wrote an excellent blog about the event.

But my question is really to parents… what questions are you asking before downloading new material for your young children? Who are you asking for advice? How do you decide what IS and what is NOT quality media for your children?  Help!  How do you decide what is quality media for your young children?

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Filed under Elementary School Age, Infants, Preschoolers, Toddlers