MomsGetReal Contributor Kristin Hackler
“Wow, it’s chilly today. Don’t you think so, little guy? I’ll bet it’s in the mid fifties, maybe lower. What’s that? Is that a red bird? What do we call those red birds? A cardinal! And there’s Mrs. Cardinal! I wonder what they’re up to today…”
Conversing with an infant tends to sound less like a discussion and more like crazy lady chatter to the outside observer, but this was how I would talk with my son during his first few months of life as we strolled around the neighborhood. Odd lines of poetry, observations and nursery rhymes were just as likely to come out of my mouth as random sounds and spontaneous words. Part of it was the lack of sleep — I didn’t get more than an hour-and-a-half straight during those first six weeks – but the other reason was because somewhere, at some point, I heard that babies needed to hear their parents talking as much as possible, as early as possible.
I was surprised, however, when I found out how truly important this really is.
Stimulating the Growing Brain
A child’s brain grows to 90 percent of its adult weight during the first three years of life. During this time, all of the talking, reading, singing and interacting you do with your baby literally turns on their brain cells.
By talking to your baby, you’re actively setting the foundation for their future vocabulary and literacy skills. And even if they haven’t yet figured out babbling or seem to ignore you as you sing and recite to them, all of that verbal activity is making a huge difference. In fact, the more a parent talks with their child starting from the day they are born, the more likely that child is to succeed in school later on.
Talking Their Language
Despite all of the encouragements to talk with my baby as much as possible, however, I remember being particularly worried about the effect of talking to him in “baby talk.”
It was my thought that if I spoke to him like an adult, he would learn to speak like an adult and we could avoid all that silly sing-song language in the meantime. But on this one, I was dead wrong.
Speaking with long vowels and in varying pitch, usually accompanied by exaggerated facial expressions, can actually help a baby learn language more quickly. The sing-song language and use of short, simple sentences helps them hear the words you’re using more clearly, and the goofy faces and funny sounds helps to keep their attention. Just think about when you’ve tried to learn other languages. Did you understand more when the teacher spoke slowly and in an engaging manner, or when you tried to hold a conversation with a fast-talking native speaker?
Another very important point that I learned about baby talk is that speaking back to your child in their own abbreviated language – “ba ba la da dee da” – in no way hampers their growing language skills. In fact, it helps them learn about pacing and tone, and teaches them how people take turns when holding a conversation. And perhaps most importantly, it lets them know you’re paying attention to them and that you’re interested in what they have to say.
Break Out the Books!
While all this talking is certainly helping your child’s brain grow and make all-too-important neural connections, reading is by far the most important thing you can do with your child, hands down.
According to the National Research Council, the larger a child’s vocabulary is, the greater their tendency to become a proficient reader, which in turn helps them form a solid foundation for later learning.
I had no idea that my newborn would care if I read to him or not, but multiple studies over past years have shown that it’s never too early to start reading to your baby. From simply enjoying the sound of your voice to eventually pairing the images on the page with the words you’re saying, reading is as much of a bonding experience as an educational one. So instead of plopping down in front of the television at night, curl up together in your favorite pair of reading pajamas and break open a good book. It’s one of the best and most long lasting positive impacts you can make on your little one.
So whether you babble in baby talk or chat softly about random thoughts, pour through poetry or read a couple pages of your latest novel to your newborn, every moment spent interacting is vital not only to your child’s future education but to the bond you’re forming every day with your precious little one.
Kristin Hackler writes about parenting, family and home life for eBay.com, a popular source for the entire spectrum of childcare supplies – from cribs and bedroom furniture to pull up diapers (available here). Kristin is also a freelance journalist and author of a children’s book.