I am a proponent of reading early to babies, and even as early as reading to them inside our wombs.
Believing that my son, Elijah, has listened to me tell the entire story of James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl, while he was in utero, I partially attribute his current passion for books to his advantageous exposure to them, while I worked as a very pregnant teacher.
Before the age of eight months, he would sit still and listen to five storybooks in a row. (Okay perhaps my first job as a preschool teacher was another advantage, but still he listened very well.) Now that he is almost two years old and has been unavoidably semi-exposed to television, iPhones, and iPads, he still remains very much interested in books, often asking to be read to, in the morning when he wakes up or at night before going to sleep, or anytime in between. He would recite words or sentences from his books, and would sometimes speak in complete sentences entirely his own, “Mama, I want a banana.” He usually forgets the “please” and I would remind him to say it, and he would repeat the request — “Mama, I want a banana please”. (Okay sometimes I push it, “May I have a banana please, Mama?” He would attempt to say it, twisting his tongue at “may I have”, but he does it. On a daily basis though, his sentence is usually “Mama, I want ___ insert bread, guyabano, etc.) He would usually say the very easy, complete sentences. They are complete sentences, nonetheless. (“Where’s Papa?” or “I don’t know” and “It’s traffic. I don’t like traffic.”).
I reviewed my books in Developmental Psychology (the famous Life-Span Development by Santrock) and found that children would usually string two words together at 18- 24 months, say full sentences at three. But, I’ve met some children, not just Elijah, who could say more words or say complete sentences before the age of two, and also some who would say less words at the same age (someone like me!!!). Before we start judging and comparing our children, please take note of my next paragraph.
All children are different. Verbal skills, motor skills, spatial skills — they all develop differently for each child, but can we all help our children enhance their verbal skills as much as their motor skills? I believe that as parents we can. Hopefully we push them to develop these skills to their best potential, and not for any other reason.
Experience-wise, I cannot speak as confidently for motor and spatial skills as I can for verbal skills, so that’s what I will share about.
Here’s my answer to parents who would ask me what I did: Early on, Elijah was not allowed to watch television, touch iPhones or iPads, a decision fully supported by my husband, which made the task a little bit easier despite the over-accessibility of such. He had books, books, and more books. We spoke a lot with him, in both English and Filipino. He knows that Nanay is Mama/Mommy and Tatay is Papa/Daddy. He sings “Moon River” as much as “Bahay Kubo”. And aside from books, we engaged him in play and conversations. He had very high stranger anxiety before and after the age of one (and even sometimes up to this day), but he recognized relationships of people, and he recognized and labeled people’s faces including the Pope! It was a chicken and egg issue here for us — whether he remembered more people because we explained their relationships, or we explained more about the people because he was good at remembering and connecting them. Without knowing where it started, a fact was that he had a knack for identifying relationships, and so the more we introduced people to him through their relationships. He was able to connect that even Lolos have brothers and sisters, and even Mama has a Mama who is his Lola (grandma), and even Lola has a mama who is another Lola (great grandma), and there are many friends, aunts, uncles, Titos, Titas, and cousins out there in the world. Looking back at all these, his own relationships grew, because everyone enjoyed having their names called out by this little boy who was less than two.
For new parents or grandparents, who want to give this a shot, here are some verbal language development tips:
1. Expose your child to verbal language, both through reading books and actual conversations. (everyday from prenatal to post-natal)
2. Connect real life items and people with those seen in books. (as much as possible and as early as you can after giving birth)
3. Cite relationships of real people with other people and places. (as much as you can, especially as your child grows older, meets more people, and sees new places)
4. Avoid television and gadgets before the age of two. If television and gadgets cannot be avoided, speak and explain as much as you can to your child.
5. As Pope Francis said, “Be quiet”. In this context, allow your child to explore and play on his/her own at certain times of the day. Listen.
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Here are some links that can help parents decide to promote reading books, instead of using videos and television. In a gist, the world moves differently, and comparably-slow-paced, than the things we see on screen. Let’s allow our children to see, smell, taste, hear, and feel the world as it truly is, especially in the first two years of their lives.