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Read-Aloud Basics - Questions & Answers
We've heard that parents should talk to their babies. My husband and I are not very talkative. Why should we talk to a baby who does not respond or understand?
Actually your baby's brain does respond by producing dendrite extensions from the neuronal cells. You might even notice your baby's responsive hand, leg, or eye movements when you talk or read to her. Even when your baby is asleep, her brain cells are receptive to language. As William Staso, Ph.D., states in his book Neural Foundations, What Stimulation Your baby Needs to Become Smart, "Infants should be spoken to as if they understood every word you were saying. In the beginning months your baby will not understand the words you say--but there is much about your intonation patterns and the word sounds that you make that is important. Good foundations of language begin shortly after birth." Talk about what you are doing with your baby. For example, "Is it time to change your diaper? Oh yes, I think we need to change your diaper. Let's go to the changing table and put on a new diaper," etc., etc. When you can't think of anything else to say, this is a good time to reach for a book and begin reading.
When my mother comes to visit our baby, she talks to her in a squeaky, high-pitched voice. Is baby talk good for a baby?
This high-pitched, singsong is a form of speech heard almost universally around the world, in cultures from Kenya to Canada. This kind of melodic speech is referred to as motherese, parentese, infant-or child-directed speech, or "baby talk." In their book, How Babies Talk, Drs. Golinkoff and Hirsh-Pasek state that this kind of speech helps babies hear the sounds of language more clearly. When using parentese, you exaggerate sounds. You also use shorter sentences and pause longer between utterances.

As a parent, you must remember that you are the linguistic role model for your child. Always try to use the appropriate words for objects and model good language structure. In speaking parantese, you only vary the speed and tone of language. You should not make up or mispronounce words.
I'm having a hard time reading and talking about our read-alouds, because my nine-month-old has started flipping pages and changing books. What should I do?
When your baby was younger, you probably chose to read to him when he was fed, rested, and alert. We suggest that at about eight or nine months, you start reading as part of his bedtime routine, because your baby has been fed and has had a warm bath, and you have turned off the TV and dimmed the lights. The family is gearing down and beginning to relax in preparation for sleep. The baby becomes less energetic when he is winding down. He will be less interested in handling the book and more likely to listen to mother's or father's voice.

You will still read at other times of the day, but it may be more challenging. Try different positions, like both of you lying on your backs and looking up at the book. You can also change the focus of your reading. Rather than talking about the pictures in the book, your conversation might turn toward what your baby is doing in relation to the book. For example, "Let's read this book about animals. Look at the duck, quack, quack." As your child grabs the book and goes to the last page, you could say, "So, you want to go to the end of this book. Let's see what animal we can find there. This is the last page. Look, the duck found his mommy!" Then he may grab the book again, turn it upside down, and try turning pages. But whatever he does, you verbalize and are thus pointing out the different parts of the book, something that is taught at the kindergarten level (concepts of print), and includes features such as the front and back of the book, the words, the spine, the title, and so forth. Children who have been read to since birth know these features easily by three years of age.

Another example is a mother of a nine-month-old who was having a hard time sitting during reading time. She maintained her reading routine at bedtime, but followed her baby's lead by allowing him to carry books from one box to another as she read to him. When he was learning how to walk, this baby enjoyed standing against a trunk and flipping the pages of his board books as she read and sat next to him on the floor. The point here is that the interaction with books was maintained during this active stage of the child's development. At one-and-a-half years he was able to settle down and listen to stories for a longer time.
Since I did not start reading to our baby until fourteen months, he's not used to it and doesn't seem interested. How can I get him to sit still and listen?
It may take weeks of practice and patience on your part. It's a question of which book, the right time of day, and how you are reading the book. Don't give up. On the other hand, don't "force feed" him books, either. It takes gentle nudging by introducing a variety of books at the right moment and doing it as part of your daily routine. Often boys enjoy truck or train books. Sooner or later, you'll find a book that catches his interest. If he has a box or shelf of books that he has access to, he may of his own volition, get one and bring it to you. He may desire your cuddly closeness when reading as much as anything. Once he realizes he will win your attention by having you read, he may be hooked. However, if there are many distractions in your home, such as background TV or video games, your child could be in a state of over stimulation, which doesn't foster reaching for a book. In addition, try different ways of reading the book. In Chapter 4 we discuss ways to dramatize and adjust the text to engage your baby. You don't have to read each word of the book, but tailor the words to what you think your baby would like. For example, point to or label the objects or one creature, such as the mouse in Goodnight Moon or the flea in The Napping House. After you have gone through the book several times labeling the creatures, ask your baby, "Where is the mouse?" "Can you find the flea?" Soon your baby will be happily pointing to something on each page. "Reading" the book could be merely entail asking your baby to find things. You might not get to reading the actual text at all.

Try to be consistent regarding the time of day when you read, such as before nap time or bedtime. Read on a regular basis, and don't give up just because your baby was not interested the first few times you tried reading. You would not give up if you were teaching your child to ride a bike and he fell on the first try. You would patiently hold him and guide him, time and again, until he was able to ride on his own. It's the same with books!
My husband and I speak Spanish to each other at home. We want our children to do well in school. Our English isn't as good as our Spanish. Should we try to speak English to our children at home?
It's best to speak and read to your children in the language in which you feel most comfortable, even if it is not the language of the majority culture. Your children need to hear lots of vocabulary and lots of good language. Better that your children should hear good Spanish than poor English. Studies show that children with a well-developed home language will successfully learn the majority culture language and do well in school. Children who have not heard enough language, no matter what that language is, usually struggle in learning to read. So it is not which language that matters, but the amount and quality of the language children hear between birth and two years of age. If children's home language is filled with rich descriptions and explanations, they will have more language to be able to question, investigate, and make sense of their environment. The more language children hear, the more intelligent they become. They will become good communicators and successful in reading, math, and the arts.
Why does knowing the language of your parents make it easier to learn another language?
Basically the more words you learn, the more words you can speak. If you see or hear the word azure in English, and if you speak Spanish, your can relate azure to azul, which means blue. The brain connections have already been developed using the home language. Learning concepts in one language easily transfers to another language. For example, at two years of age, a baby might learn that a cement truck goes around and around so the cement won't get hard. If this baby were spoken to by parents with limited English, he might have only learned the name cement truck. However, when these parents speak their native language, they can use a variety of phrases and descriptions to explain to the child that the cement truck goes around and around so the cement won't get hard. When he learns English, he will easily learn the vocabulary and will already have the language and concepts of the workings of a cement truck. The language and concepts learned in the home language are transferable to other languages. If he didn't have the innumerable concepts, he would be held back intellectually. Think of the amount of things we explain to our babies in the first years of life that contribute to the development of brain connections. It doesn't matter from which language the brain connections come.
How long should I leave my five-month-old in front of the television? She seems to like to look at it?
Some parents might think that placing babies in front of the bright colored screen will entertain them and maybe even teach them some vocabulary. For babies under ten months, the television screen is just a confusing blur. It serves no purpose. During their first year of life, it is crucial for babies to listen to and be actively involved in language face to face with a caring adult. Language fosters a baby's ability to think and to solve problems as well as control his emotions. During this time, it is important for you to respond actively to his vocalizations and facial expressions. The two-dimensional picture on the TV screen lacks the ability to interact with a baby. Putting babies in front of the TV at an early age does not stimulate them. Furthermore, it sets a precedent for future behavior. Watching television is a habit that is easily formed and very difficult to break.
The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests that parents not expose their children to television before the age of two.
My older children watch TV. How can I prevent our one-year-old from watching with them?
Anyone who has any doubts about the negative effects of TV on children should read Jim Trelease's Chapter 7 on Television from his highly recommended Read-Aloud Handbook. Trelease mentions numerous studies that point to the addictive nature of TV, calling it the "plug in" drug. Marian Diamond and Janet Hopson, in their book, Magic Trees of the Mind, discuss the endless hours children lose by sitting passively instead of engaging actively in other activities. Children could be outdoors, playing games with toys, or pretending. Almost any activity is more stimulating to the brain than watching TV. It's important to limit the amount of time your children watch TV and monitor what they watch. While your older children are watching TV, you can take advantage of this time to talk and read to your baby. You may find that one or more of the children watching TV will join you as you read to your baby.
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