I really wanted to post about words. Joseph has got loads at the moment and more coming every day. I did suspect, like his crawling and walking that he'd be a bit behind, but Joseph has always been much closer to his actual age from the neck up.
In a previous life, I was a carer for adults and children with severe disabilities and during my time as a carer spent a lot of time with speech therapists, and helping kids and adults with their exercises. A lot of what I learnt has become an integral part of my parenting. I like to think some of what I did and continue to do with Joseph has helped his speech and wanted to share some of these things. I am no expert at all, and if you have any concerns about your child's speech, I would urge you to contact your GP, consultant or health visitor.
Singing - I'm not about to enter X-Factor any time soon, however I can sort of hold a tune, and I know a song (usually a bad country and western one) for any occasion. Singing is great for kids to learn pattern and rhythm, and repetition. Nursery rhymes are great especially ones with actions, and you will find that children can often do the actions before they can utter words. Joseph has been doing all the actions for "Wind the Bobbin Up" and "Twinkle Twinkle" since he was one. Later on a fun game is to leave a word out. Joseph started by saying "knee" for the end of "Wind the Bobbin Up" and then learning what his knees were. We play this game a lot and its amazing how many words he can say.
Commentary - I have always provided a gentle running commentary to our day, since Joseph was in NICU. Just a little briefing "today we are going to do this, and then this". I keep it short and simple. As patterns start developing you can ask little questions. "Ok we've had breakfast now what do we do?" I usually get the little reply "teeth!" It's a great way of acquiring language, words that pertain to every day life. Now Joseph actively says "teeth brush" he's a lot more willing to do the task.
Cooking and preparing food - food words are so helpful, especially if you have a reluctant eater. Joseph has been able to say apple and banana for a long time, and recently acquired blueberry. He learnt the sign for toast at about 1, and the word came much later. I tend to have him with me when I prepare breakfast and lunch (if not using anything hot!) and get him to say the words with me. Sometimes he does, sometimes he doesn't and I don't worry if he doesn't.
Book sharing - I think this is the key one. I don't think it always helps to introduce too much too soon. I made the mistake of trying to introduce complicated stories too early, and then went out and acquired a lot of board books. I think board books are best bought. You can get them out of the library but I always worry a bit that they'll be trashed. Also, the other thing about book sharing is that favourites and repetition are so important. Joseph can "read" his favourite "Where is The Green Sheep" almost from cover to cover. Of course he's not reading it, its memory. I would, however, like a pound, for every time I have read that book! When I read it I do actions and make sounds, this helps reinforce the words.
Even if you aren't a fantastic reader, you can share books just by looking at the pictures, and pointing things out, even making up your own story. Or use books that have pictures at all, or make your own with cut outs from magazines or stickers. Joseph likes looking at grown up books with pictures, and he spends quite a bit of time reading my recipe books, which is very cute! But I also get to pick out recipes, and he gets very excitied when what we have produced looks like the picture!
Signing - signing is controversial, and some parents feel that signing delays speech development. I disagree, and its well documented that gesturing occurs a long time before speech, and signing is just a form of gesturing. I do think it always needs to accompanied by the word, and needs to be repeated regularly. Joseph could sign "toast" long before he could say it. He also learnt the sign "thank you". He now, at two years old, says "thank you" rather than "ta", and I believe this is down to signing. I've never wanted him to acquire loads of signs, just enough to help him bridge that gap between understanding and speaking, and its worked well for us.
Word games and patterns - We play a lot of games. Toy cars are good for this. Ready....Steady and the Go is provided by Joseph. A couple of weeks ago we were walking up the stairs to bed, and counting them like we always do, but I only counted the odd numbers, Joseph provided the even ones. Pretty soon he was counting to ten. It's not real counting its sequencing, using the memory of how the words fit together, but its a start! I did have to restrain my husband from calling Mensa, he was quite certain Joseph was a genius!
TV - I do limit television, or try to, especially when the weather is good, but I am sure that television has helped his speech. Whilst waiting to go out today the signing programme "Something Special" was on, and Joseph was joining in with the words as Justin signed them. It was amazing to hear just how many animals he knew. Then when we got to the supermarket he was saying "elephant", I looked down and I had parked his pram near a magazine rack, and lo and behold there was an elephant! He also called a Golden Retriever that we spotted on the field on the way home a "kangaroo" so cleary we still have some work to do in animal recognition.
I think its really important to remember that all children have their strengths and weaknesses, and there is so much variance in term children with language acquisition, putting aside prematurity for the moment, and its important to let children develop at their own rates. I certainly wouldn't advocate sitting babies down with flashcards, or worrying too much about what little Johnny next door is saying. However, I do think there are things we can do, as parents, to help our children acquire and use language.
Tomorrow I'll share about some of our favourite books....."now where IS that Green Sheep....."