Babbling Babies Head Start

What would you pay for a program that can give children a “Head Start” surpassing that of any government program by the name! What would you say if that program could extend through the teen years?

What would you give for a program that can actually help break the cycle of poverty? How much might it cost if that program could help children and teenagers overcome the barriers of race or culture? Suppose the same program could help reduce unemployment figures in your country.

Babbling Babies Head Start can do all of that, and it’s absolutely free!

The term “head start: is defined by Merriam Webster’s Online Dictionary as “an advantage that you have or get when you are starting to do something”. A contestant at the beginning of a race might be given a head start to make the race more even. The term originally referred to a horse’s having its head in front of others at the start of a race.

Babbling Babies Head Start gives babies and young children an advantage as they start living their lives. It gives them a promising beginning rather than a dismal one. It helps them get their head in front of others.

Here’s how it works.

For decades, many educators, including parents, have realized that the more words an adult speaks to a child, the more rapidly the child’s vocabulary develops. Researchers at Rice University and Columbia University learned (during the last 20 years) that well-off children hear 30 million more words by the time they are 3-years old than many low-income children.

The words we use need not be big. It’s fine to teach Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious, and children love to say it, but how often will John or Mary use such words in daily life? The goal is not to teach big words. A child just needs to hear words – many words – even if he or she isn’t using those words yet. The process of hearing many words builds a child’s mind. Every time a child’s ears pick up a word (excluding vulgar language) the mind grows stronger!

Stage One: Sleep-Learning
babysleeping-320“The idea of learning as you sleep was once thought very unlikely, but … during the night, our brain busily processes and consolidates our recollections from the day before, and there could be ways to enhance that process.”
By: Robson, David. (July 22, 2014). Can You Learn in Your Sleep. Retrieved from http://www.bbc.com

You can enhance a baby’s inner word processor by talking to the sleeping infant. Talk softly, speaking of your love for the infant. Talk about the weather, your work, siblings or pets. Talk about anything that is upbeat – positive.

Example: “Sleep well, Katy. Your tiny tummy is full of cereal. This is the first time you ate cereal. You liked your cereal. Your cereal was rice cereal. Your cereal was warm. Your cereal was sweet. Do you know what color your cereal was? It was white cereal. It was the color of your milk. You like your milk, too. You drank some milk before your cereal….”

Will you feel as though you’re babbling? Maybe – but remember that your silly-sounding babbling is building the baby’s brain. Your baby will soon babble back to you. Continue sleep-learning into early childhood, and don’t try to force baby to repeat the words you select. Just keep saying many words to the developing infant and let them babble a response to you.

Stage Two: Direction-extending

preschoolkids-320As children grow, adults in their lives begin to issue directions. “Put away your toys!” That’s a good beginning, but it’s only a beginning for those who use Babbling Babies Head Start.

Add the word “please” to directives. We have authority, but authority does not negate manners.

Build the brain by extending your directions. Talk about toys – and insert questions to encourage children to talk. Speak pleasantly about playtime. Talk about shapes and colors. Talk about how nice the room looks when we put things in their proper places.

Example: “Children, it’s time to stop playing. Please put away the toys. Those toys are colorful, aren’t they? See how bright they are! What color do you see? Yes, I see blue, too. What other colors do you see? What shapes do you see? Is there a square? Look at the picture on the box. What is that? That’s a big truck! ‘Vroom, vroom, vroom,’ roars the truck. When we get all of the blocks into the box, we can put the box on the yellow shelf.”

It’s easier and faster to issue directions and go on with your own work. Many adults do that, but they deprive the children in their care. They aren’t giving them the head start they need to become productive adults. Those who take time to extend their directions into conversations provide valuable building blocks for the brain.

Stage Three: Language-building

youngconsumer-320Children in the 5-to-12-year-old range strengthen brains further by engaging in language-building activities with you. Language-building activities include reading, writing, and telling stories.

Notice that such activities should be done “with you” not alone. Help children learn to read words – many words. Read with children, have them read to you, and have them read to a younger sibling or a pet. While reading, they “hear” more words in their brains, and strengthen the inner word processor.

Use a variety of reading materials. Take children shopping and read toy boxes aloud together in the store’s aisles. Have children help in the kitchen by reading and discussing recipes as you cook. Simple reading by itself is good, but the real secret lies in using a multitude of words spoken aloud. Sit down with an older child and build a model together – or work on a craft. Don’t work in silence. Talk. Talk a lot. Have the child read the directions. Then talk to him or her about the work as it progresses.

Stage Four: Foreign-language-learning

hsstudentseating-320Children of any age are capable of learning a foreign language, and foreign language study expands the brain’s capacity even more.

Middle school students once studied Latin as a matter of course. No one asked if you wanted to study it. Schools placed it in the curriculum and “dead language” or not, students studied it. Many students moved seamlessly from middle school Latin to secondary school Spanish, French, or German.

Statistics from 2008 show that secondary schools were teaching, in descending order of frequency, French, German, Latin, Mandarin Chinese, American Sign Language, Italian, and Japanese.

Foreign languages studied in a natural setting have the most potential to strengthen the brain. Classroom learning helps but total immersion in a foreign language gives the greatest gains. Total immersion in a setting where the language is essential for survival garners stronger reinforcement, and impacts the brain far more.

Consider two scenarios:

  • The student in a classroom says correctly, “May I have that red iPhone?” and gets a good grade.
  • The student in a store says correctly, “May I have that red iPhone?” and gets the red iPhone.

In this final stage of the program, the student should use all of the first three stages, but in a foreign language. Babbling in a language is, after all, how children learn that language. It is how the brain is empowered for a successful adulthood.

Remember the goals of Babbling Babies Head Start?

  • Break the cycle of poverty;
  • Overcome the barriers of race or culture;
  • And reduce unemployment figures.

We reach those three goals best when our program includes all four stages of “babbling” throughout childhood and the teen years. Young people who engage in this program are “off and running” by the time they graduate from high school.

Imagine the joy of all concerned when the young person turns his or her back on mediocrity, believing and acting in accordance with a full expectation that college and a good life work lie ahead!

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