Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Promoting Early Language Development

An Interview with CHATT Group Facilitator 
Sadiqa Cash

30 Million Word Gap

Research shows that in their first three years, children absorb more language than at any other time, and that lower income children hear about 30 million fewer words through the age of 3 than their upper-income peers. This “30 million word gap” contributes directly to language and academic disparities between low and high-income children. Parenting styles and home environments have been identified as key factors in this discrepancy, thus many early childhood interventions try to support parents in the role of the child’s first teacher and language partner.

MPowering Parents

CECEI’s Family and Community Engagement Partnership Project, funded by the Maryland State Department of Education, is strengthening the collaboration between the University of Maryland and Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS) through the establishment of high quality partnerships with the Early Childhood Centers, Infant/Toddler programs, and the Judy Centers in PGCPS. One project that has emerged from the relationship with the staff of the Samuel Chase Judy Center is the collaborative delivery of a birth to three early literacy curriculum for parents and their children.  This early literacy curriculum is being delivered by way of the MPowering Parents to Promote Parity (MP4) project, a joint effort by the University of Maryland’s School of Social Work and College of Education. Through the MP4 project, the University is partnering with two of Maryland’s Judy Centers to organize weekly parent groups aimed at facilitating low-income parents’ nurturance of early language and literacy skills in young children.

Sadiqa Cash, Group Facilitator
Sadiqa Cash is the Group Facilitator of weekly Caregivers Helping to Advance Toddler Talk, or "CHATT" groups at Samuel Chase Judy Center in Prince George’s County, Maryland. Ms. Cash works with Judy Center staff to recruit families and to run weekly parenting groups. Ms. Cash is currently a third year clinical psychology doctoral student at Howard University. After completing her studies, Ms. Cash hopes to continue work in community-based programming, as well as to provide evaluations for underrepresented children and families impacted by developmental delays.  We interviewed Ms. Cash to learn more about how caregivers can promote early language development.

Can you describe the weekly CHATT groups?

The group meets for two hours, once a week, for eight weeks. The weekly groups are attended by five to seven families, usually mothers or grandmothers and their children (birth to age three). Every week, we start with breakfast, followed by a parent-focused session. Each parent session introduces a topic of the week, such as “singing,” and demonstrates how parents can use the specific strategy to support their children’s early language skills at home. The parents also use this time to share common experiences, such as what words their children are saying and what books they like to read. After the parent-focused component, we have a parent-child interaction piece. During the activity, we practice nurturing language skills by coaching the parents to follow their children’s lead and to narrate or label the activity. At the end of the session, families receive a book of the week, a toy, and a skill to practice for the week.

What has been the parent response to the group?

Parent feedback has been mostly positive. Parents report that they enjoy sharing tips with one another, and they feel like it’s a good time to practice the skills they are acquiring.

What is the most important thing that caregivers have learned from participating?

A baby is never too young to talk to.
Babies understand the meaning of words
long before they can speak.
The skills that we teach are mostly things that parents know, such as the importance of talking to their children, but we are able to break things down in ways that parents haven’t thought about before. We highlight how many opportunities there are throughout the day to promote language. We offer concrete strategies, such as building in language to everyday activities, and teach parents to be more deliberate with language.

We also help parents to become more aware of what is developmentally appropriate. Young children are typically impulsive. If they disobey a command like “Don’t touch the remote,” they are not being purposefully disobedient, they just have short memories and have trouble controlling their impulses.

The weekly group also provides an opportunity for parents to have one-on-one time with their children. Parents might have busy work schedules or might be kept busy with household duties, and this group provides a guaranteed, weekly opportunity for them to bond, play, and learn with their children.

Can you talk about the overlap between language development and attachment?

One thing we stress is the importance of relationships and the importance of bonding with your child. We emphasize to parents that as you help your child learn language, you are also strengthening your relationship. We encourage parents to be present and to engage in deliberate, purposeful interactions with their children, to carve out interaction time daily, to tell your children something that you love about them every day. 

Activities to promote early language

Conversation and interaction should be woven into a child’s day. Here are some easy ways to work language into your daily routines.

In the kitchen

Young children love to help you in the kitchen, and involving them in an age-appropriate way is a great way to encourage language development. When you make a meal, talk to your baby about what you are doing, seeing, smelling, tasting, and what comes next. Let older toddlers and children help you in hands-on ways, and describe what they are doing: “First we pour the milk into the bowl and then we mix the batter with a spoon.” It might get messy, but children also love to help with cleanup and you can use messes as another teachable moment.

In the bath
Bath time is often a relaxed time for parents and children, and part of a daily bedtime routine.  That makes it a perfect time for learning and playing with your child. Label your baby’s body parts as you wash it, “Time to wash your fingers! Time to wash your toes!” You can even sing a song about each part. For instance, use the tune of “Row, Row, Row your Boat” and sing “Wash, wash, wash your head!”

Follow Your Child’s Lead
We all learn best when we are interested in something, and actively observing and responding to your child’s interests will help promote language skills. Try following your child’s lead with books. Start by placing a few books in front of your child and observe which book she looks at or reaches for, and start talking about that book. If your child points at pictures, name what she is pointing to: “Look at the big fat caterpillar!” If she puts the book in her mouth, talk about what she is doing to the book: “You are biting the book with your teeth!” or talk about what the book feels like: “The book is hard and cold.” It doesn’t matter if you never actually read the book, your child will benefit from you observing and responding to her interests. 

Additional Resources:

These resources from Zero to Three offer different ideas for nurturing Early Language & Literacy skills in your everyday interactions with your young child. 

This article from NAECY offers 12 Ways to Support Language Development for Infants and Toddlers.

Read about Professor Dana Suskind's Thirty Million Words® Initiative, which is based on scientific research that demonstrates the critical importance of early language exposure on the developing child. 

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