Talking to babies and toddlers, sharing focus, shapes critical skills

Sure, we goo-goo and ga-ga at babies. We love to “talk” to them, right? And who among us doesn’t chit-chat and engage with our toddlers? Or do we? Do we do enough of it?

Nearly 17 years ago, the New York Times reported on research suggesting that talking to infants shapes their ability to think. It went so far as to emphasize, “new studies are showing that spoken language has an astonishing impact on an infant's brain development. In fact, some researchers say the number of words an infant hears each day is the single most important predictor of later intelligence, school success and social competence.”

A few years later another research study, frequently cited ever since, found that children in some low-income families hear 3 million fewer words each year than the average child from a family of professionals. But it’s not just a socioeconomic issue; some families are simply more quiet.

It’s also not just about talking. The Ounce of Prevention Fund, has published a report titled The Language of Babies, Toddlers and Preschoolers: Connecting Research to Practice. It suggests that not only talking to babies and toddlers is important, but so is identifying and focusing on their interests. It says, “Social situations in which caregivers and infants share the same focus on an object or topic are referred to as episodes of joint attention.” The report continues, “Joint attention is more than a means to larger vocabulary; it is also a process that fosters secure emotional attachment, the basis for healthy social and emotional attachment.”

Something as simple as helping a young preschooler complete a workbook activity can accomplish many things at once, including bonding, socialization, vocabulary-building, and readiness for other skills. For example, reading begins with recognizing patterns. Gently guiding a child through a colorful workbook such as Same or Different, provides an opportunity to model vocabulary, share an activity, and improve a child’s focus and concentration, as well as sharpen the perceptual skills involved in getting ready to read.

Guiding a toddler through the colorful My First series of board books including ABC, 123, Shapes, Opposites, Rhymes, Words, Colours, and Animals, provides visual stimulation and develops core skills, including eye-hand coordination.

Start a little conversation, spend a sliver of time, and create an “episode of joint attention” today!