People always comment on my child’s vocabulary and use of words. He didn’t just magically start talking like a smarty-pants. Although, I don’t take as much time as I’d like to sit and teach him (I work full-time and have a house to keep, church, and other obligations on the weekends), I have found some ways to sneak learning into the busiest of schedules. I have a few secrets I’d like to share.
- Talk to your child like an adult and talk as much as possible. Don’t underestimate children’s intelligence. They’ll only learn as much as you teach them so it’s better to expect more from them than too little. Trust me, they are more than capable so don’t be afraid to have high expectations of them. If you’ve seen any of the YouTube videos of toddlers playing Mozart, doing trick basketball shots, or adding math equations better than a scholar then you know a child’s cognitive abilities are only limited by OUR belief and OUR investment in their learning. One thing I’ve never done is use baby-talk to a child. From the moment my son entered this world, I’ve spoken to him in a normal tone and in normal sentences, as I would any adult I speak to. Not to say that I spoke blandly or in a monotone voice (I’m pretty goofy and expressive with my tone) but I tried never to “dumb anything down” or use child-like annunciation. I spoke how I want my child to speak; properly with an advanced vocabulary. If anything I try to smarten things up a bit: I try to use what little Spanish I know, or put on Spanish radio stations in the car, or when we do watch TV I try to put on more educational shows like Dora the Explorer, Blaze and the Monster Machines, or Super Why. Children’s brains are exploding with growth between the ages of 0-3. It’s a critical age for cognitive development. Talk out your day around them as much as possible, narrate everything you do if you have to. It definitely feels weird to do but I remember putting my infant on the floor of the kitchen and just talking as much as I could, “This is an orange. It’s a fruit but it is also the color orange or naranja in Spanish; maybe that is why they named it that. This is a banana, it is also a fruit but it is yellow or Amarillo.” My mother-in-law watches my son during the work week and has always been amazing at constantly singing him the ABCs, counting, and reading to him long before he ever started to speak. Don’t feel like you’ve missed your chance if your kids are past the age of three. In fact, the next few tips apply to kids around 3 and up. Language development continues to be a critical stage up until age 12. Brain scans reveal that those who learn a foreign language after the age of twelve have the information stored in a different area of the brain making it more difficult to recall.
- Pick a word of the day. Everyday that I’m home with my son (three days a week) I pick a “word of the day”. There’s a show that used to do this back in the day; I can’t think of the name of the show for the life of me but I stole their idea. I pick a word that I feel is very advanced for him and bring it up constantly throughout the day and go over the definition and examples of the word multiple times in our day. Sometimes, when I bring it up I’ll state the definition I’ve given him and ask him what the word is. A lot of times he won’t get it just by the definition but that’s ok, the repetition and discussion gets their wheels turning. Those little pathways in the brain are being stimulated even though it might not seem that way sometimes. Today’s word is “compromise”. One of the examples I gave him today of the meaning of the word was that his grandmother came over and brought him a large chocolate treat for Easter. He wanted to eat the whole thing and I told him I didn’t want him to eat any of it, but we would COMPROMISE and he could have some of it today and save the rest for another day.
- Make them read and spell to you. I’m stealing this tip from my dad. He was a very smart man. His IQ was off the charts and I don’t think there was anything he didn’t know how to fix or build. When I was younger and learning to read, every night he would take me to pick out a book then after dinner and instead of reading to me he would make me read a chapter to him. We’d lay in bed and he’d give me his undivided attention as I stumbled and stuttered through sentence after sentence. He didn’t try to rush me through, he’d just sit there and listen and when I’d start to get frustrated he’d patiently say, “Take your time. I’m not going anywhere. You can do it, just sound it out.” Whenever we were in the car he would have me spell out every street sign and the words on the billboards that we passed driving down the street. I went to work with my dad everyday most summers and he drove a lot. By the time I was in middle school I think I could spell better than a lot of adults! lol
You don’t have to be sitting in front of a computer or a desk for your child to learn. You can incorporate it into your existing daily lifestyle. Sometimes when my son wants to go outside or watch TV, I make him tell me the word of the day and its meaning or my mother-in-law has him sing his ABCs first. Make learning fun and part of your everyday life, your child will thank you for it later! Be creative, make it a game. Share your creative tips in the comments below!