There are 6 crucial school readiness domains to think about when talking, singing and reading to babies and toddlers. Here’s #4 of the 6.

In the last 3 weeks, information about the three crucial school readiness domains of receptive/ expressive language and speech articulation was provided as a way for parents to feel empowered as well as to support them in digging deeper as to “why” the advice of “talk, sing and read to your baby” is so important.  This week, the focus is on the skills for understanding and using emotions, which are also necessary for children to be successful in school.

Emotional development is a primary factor in school readiness. it cannot be emphasized enough in the birth to 3 period of development.  Learning in any situation hinges on a solid ability to understand and use emotions appropriately.  Children from 0-3 years old learn to control their emotions, which leads to direct control over their behavior (e.g., a child who can say “I”m mad at you!” will decrease behaviors of hitting or throwing toys).  A child simply cannot be truly ready for school if emotional skills are not developed.  To be sure, plenty of children begin school without solid development of their emotions, but it is to the detriment of their own and their classmates’ learning success. 

So, let’s ask ourselves again:  why do we “talk, sing, read” to babies and toddlers?  It’s because these activities build connections in their brains that lead to the emotional development which is necessary to learn in a classroom setting.  The following skills are an absolute necessity for school readiness by the age of 36 months with regard to emotional understanding/use:

  1. Understand others’ emotions expressed in words as well as in facial expressions and body language.
  2. Talk about how others feel.
  3. Recognize why someone might be feeling a certain way.
  4. Decrease or cease behavior when it’s pointed out to the child how someone feels when the child behaves that way (e.g., When told “John feels sad when you take his toy,” a child with solid emotional development will stop taking John’s toy.).
  5. Observe or express a curiosity about others’ emotional state(s).
  6. Relate to a character in a story who feels a certain way because the child recognizes that he, too, has felt that way at one time or another.
  7. “Catch” the moods of those around him (e.g., gets swept up in excitement, frustration, etc. of others).
  8. Understand that his behavior affects the mood or emotions of others around him.
  9. Understand that sometimes he just needs to calm down or be alone until a strong emotion can be worked through on his own (e.g., by reading a book, playing with a soothing toy, etc.) and that being alone is not a punishment or consequence of “bad” behavior.
  10. Express a wide variety of emotions, including, but not limited to: happy, sad, scared, angry, frustrated, excited, jealous, nervous, uncertain.
  11. Use feeling words in the appropriate context when he is experiencing a feeling. 
  12. Express “why” she feels a certain way.
  13. Imitate “feeling” language when he heard it (e.g., After hearing “You feel frustrated with your coat zipper right now,” he says “Yah, frustrated.  Bad zipper.).
  14. Incorporate emotion into her play by having a play figure, stuffed animal, toy or puppet express emotions.
  15. Use emotions to get needs met without feeling ashamed or guilty for having feelings.
  16. Manage his emotions to control his behavior.
  17. Interact with peers and adults to work through social situations that involve emotions, especially tense ones.
  18. Able to switch moods effectively and relatively quickly.
  19. Demonstrate a passions for something (e.g., sports/movement, vehicles, animals, friendships/relationships, building/construction, math, etc.) by a clear emotional response when he participates in the activity. (e.g., When he sees a fire truck or ambulance, he appears happy and is proud/excited to share what he knows about the vehicles.).
  20. Use facts in context and deliver them with emotional impact.

To be sure, once parents and caregivers know the skills that are needed in classrooms to understand and use emotions after the age of 36 months, they are able to be more conscious about how to talk, read and sing to babies and toddlers from 0-36 months of age.  They can plan activities (or be spontaneous while feeding, bathing, etc.) armed with the “why” behind choosing certain words, certain books or certain songs which are beneficial and crucial to school readiness by the age of 36 months. 

Related resources regarding building emotional understanding and use in babies and toddlers for school readiness by 36 months of age:

https://www.education.com/reference/article/infant-emotions/

https://www.psychologyinaction.org/psychology-in-action-1/2016/07/12/early-emotion-understanding-when-do-babies-learn-about-emotions

https://www.iidc.indiana.edu/styles/iidc/defiles/ecc/srud-socialemotional.pdf

http://www.kamloopschildrenstherapy.org/social-emotional-infant-milestones

https://www.naeyc.org/resources/pubs/yc/may2017/caring-relationships-heart-early-brain-development

https://www.verywellmind.com/understanding-basic-emotions-babies-have-from-birth-3572565

**Check out the Operation Ready by 3 website at http://www.operationreadyby3.org for more information about parent/caregiver coaching and classes designed to get babies and toddlers ready for school by 36 months and/or to contact Operation Ready by 3 with questions and comments.

**Follow Operation Ready by 3 on Twitter: @Readyby3

Cindi Zarpas Stevens is the creator/founder of Operation Ready by 3 (her mission) and the president of Norfolk Speech & Language Services, Inc. (her day job that pays). She is a mother of 5 (her unpaid, 24-7 job). In her work as a writer (her passion), she supports parents, caregivers and early childhood educators as they navigate Babyland and Toddlerland with greater consciousness, ease, confidence, expertise and joy. She thinks the best job in the world is talking to parents, caregivers and educators about babies and toddlers (they’re amazing, fun and adorable) about ideas such as sharing power with their child (it’s peaceful and positive) while at the same time having power within themselves (it’s affirming and empowering) to be the best parent, caregiver, and educator they can be in order to get the children in their lives ready for school by the age of 36 months (to make the world a better place).

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There are 6 crucial school readiness domains to think about when talking, singing and reading to babies and toddlers. Here’s #3 of the 6.

In the last 2 weeks, information about the two crucial school readiness domains of receptive and expressive language was provided as a way for parents to feel empowered as well as to support them in digging deeper as to why the advice of “talk, sing and read to your baby” is so important.  This week, the focus is on speech production skills, which are so necessary for children to be successful in school.

Speech, or articulation, is defined as the physical act of moving muscles in order to produce the sounds of a language.  Muscles used to produce speech sounds are controlled by the speaker’s brain, which is why brain development happening from birth to 36 months is vital to being a good speaker.

There is a typical path of speech development as a child learns to control the muscle movements needed to speak.  First, the child must learn to control his airflow.  Speech sounds are produced when a baby or toddler breathes out from his lungs, not as he takes air into our lungs. Once a baby or toddler has learned to control airflow, he then learns to control his talking muscles in the following order:  1) jaw muscles, 2) lip and face muscles, and 3) the eight interwoven muscles of the tongue, which allow the tongue to move in any direction (FACT: the tongue is the only muscle in the human body that is not covered by skin!).  Once a baby or toddler achieves control of these “talking” muscles, he must gain control over the order in which he “assembles” the speech sounds.  In other words, he must learn to sequence the speech sounds in a certain way in order to produce words in his language(s).  For example, if a toddler says the word “mix,” but produces the word as “misk,” then the sounds he produces are considered “out of order” or “out of sequence.”

So, let’s ask ourselves again:  why do we “talk, sing, read” to babies and toddlers?  It’s because these activities build connections in their brains that lead to the speech sound development which is necessary to produce words, phrases and sentences for speech.  The following skills are an absolute necessity for school readiness by the age of 36 months with regard to speech/articulation:

  1. Speak clearly so that 90% of what is said by the child can be understood by unfamiliar listeners (e.g., the cashier at the grocery store, a man at the bus stop, a grandparent who only sees the child every couple months, etc.).
  2. Speak clearly so that 100% of what is said can be understood by familiar listeners (e.g., parents, caregivers, siblings, grandparents who see the child every week, etc.)
  3. Use all talking muscles to speak, including muscles for breathing and for speech (i.e., jaw, lips, face and tongue).
  4. Sequence speech sounds in an age-appropriate manner (e.g., “rocketship,” not “shocketrip;” “ball,” not “lob”, etc.).
  5. Use words of many syllables (e.g., hamburger, Tyrannosauraus rex, birthday cake, etc.).
  6. Use pacing, rhythm, and timing of speech, such that words are not all “jammed” together (e.g., I’mgoingtomyhouse) and/or such that there are not pauses in unexpected places in longer phrases and sentences (e.g., I’m not ——- going to my——-house).
  7. Use appropriate inflection, or pitch changes, and volume for a variety of language uses, including, but not limited to: asking questions (rising pitch), making demands or gaining attention (louder than typical volume), expressing surprise or excitement (loud and happy-sounding pitch), or whispering a secret (turn off vibration of speech muscles, including vocal cords).
  8. Controlling airflow as it moves up and out of the lungs, through the mouth, and towards the listener in an easy and smooth way (e.g., control of airflow in the sentence “I-I-I want, I want, I want, I want to g-g-g-g-g-g-g-g-g-o home” would not be described by a listener as “easy and smooth”).

To be sure, once parents and caregivers know the speech/articulation skills that are needed in classrooms after the age of 36 months, they are able to be more conscious about how to talk, read and sing to babies and toddlers from 0-36 months of age.  They can plan activities (or be spontaneous while feeding, bathing, etc.) armed with the “why” behind choosing certain words, certain books or certain songs which are beneficial and crucial to school readiness by the age of 36 months. 

Related resources regarding building speech/articulation skills in babies and toddlers for school readiness by 36 months of age:

https://www.asha.org/uploadedFiles/ASHA/Practice_Portal/Clinical_Topics/Late_Language_Emergence/Consonant-Acquisition-Chart.pdf

https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Speech-Sound-Development-Chart-for-Parents-3139270

http://www.playingwithwords365.com/speech-articulation-development-whats-normal-what-isnt/

https://www.asha.org/public/speech/disorders/Speech-Sound-Disorders/

https://wehavekids.com/parenting/How-to-Encourage-a-Late-Talking-Toddler-To-Talk

**Check out the Operation Ready by 3 website at http://www.operationreadyby3.org for more information about parent/caregiver coaching and classes designed to get babies and toddlers ready for school by 36 months and/or to contact Operation Ready by 3 with questions and comments.

**Follow Operation Ready by 3 on Twitter: @Readyby3

Cindi Zarpas Stevens is the creator/founder of Operation Ready by 3 (her mission) and the president of Norfolk Speech & Language Services, Inc. (her day job that pays). She is a mother of 5 (her unpaid, 24-7 job). In her work as a writer (her passion), she supports parents, caregivers and early childhood educators as they navigate Babyland and Toddlerland with greater consciousness, ease, confidence, expertise and joy. She thinks the best job in the world is talking to parents, caregivers and educators about babies and toddlers (they’re amazing, fun and adorable) about ideas such as sharing power with their child (it’s peaceful and positive) while at the same time having power within themselves (it’s affirming and empowering) to be the best parent, caregiver, and educator they can be in order to get the children in their lives ready for school by the age of 36 months (to make the world a better place).

There are 6 crucial school readiness domains to think about when talking, singing and reading to babies and toddlers. Here’s #2 of the 6.

Last week, information about the first crucial school readiness domain, receptive language, or language understanding, was provided as a way for parents to feel empowered and to think more deeply about “why” the advice of “talk, sing and read to your baby” is so important.  This week, the focus is on expressive language, or language use, which is also necessary for children to be successful in school.

There is an Operation Ready by 3 “rule” called the “Understanding-Use Rule” for children who are 6-36 months of age.  The rule tells us that a child will begin using a word approximately 6 months after he solidly understands what it means, as long as he has the ability to physically make the sounds in the words.  A child’s ability to make sounds will happen at different points in development, based upon his individual speech development, but the key point here is that when she understands a word well, she will use it.  The “Understanding-Use Rule,” identified by Operation Ready by 3 in 2012, after observing countless babies and toddlers, is the reason why we need to speak to our pre-verbal children with words that they will eventually be able to use or “say” for their first words.

Countless examples of this rule can be given.  For example, if a 6-month old understands the word for “doggie” (which can be observed when she looks at the family dog when someone asks “See the doggie?”), the rules tells us that the baby will begin using the word “doggie” (or an approximate or simplified form of the word, such as “daw,” “daw-dee” or “gaw-ghee”) around the age of 12 months.  An example can be given as well for a toddler.  A 19-month old child who follows the direction to put his shoes “under the chair” each time he hears it clearly understands the meaning of the word “under.”  However, he will not begin using the word to talk about something being “under” something else until 6 months goes by, around the age of 26 months.

The Operation Ready by 3 “Rule of 3’s” for vocabulary expansion is also important for building a child’s expressive language that he will need to be successful in 21st century classrooms.  The “Rule of 3’s” tells parents, caregivers and early childhood educators that in order to expose a baby or toddler to as much vocabulary as possible for language understanding (and, eventual, use 6 months down the line in development), speakers should say 3 things about whatever or whomever they are talking about.  Therefore, if a caregiver is talking about a dog nearby, she might say, “Oh, this doggie is black.  He is small too.  The black doggie is a small doggie.” By using the “Rule of 3’s,” parents, caregivers and early childhood educators are able to introduce an abundance of words on a daily basis that the baby or toddler will then use 6 months later.  Limited exposure to words at 6 or 24 months of age, for example, results in limited language use at 12 or 30 months of age, respectively.

So, let’s ask ourselves again:  why do we “talk, sing, read” to babies and toddlers?  It’s because these activities build connections in their brains that lead to the expressive language development of the following skills, each of which is an absolute necessity for school readiness:

  1. Use a wide variety of vocabulary words from many different categories of words (e.g., action words, location words, describing words, etc.).
  2. Use mostly accurate grammar and sentence structure (e.g., plural “s”, verb tense markers, compound sentences, etc.).
  3. Respond to a variety of question forms accurately (e.g., a “what” question is answered with a noun,  a response to a “why” question begins with “because” or “so,” a “how question is answered with a sequence of steps that tell how to do something, etc.).
  4. State the functions of objects (e.g., to say “Daddy, the oven is for cooking pizza, but not for cooking noodles”).
  5. State objects that go with other objects (e.g., “Mommy, a shovel goes with a bucket because you scoop up sand and put it in the bucket”), that people go with objects (e.g., Mrs. Smith sits at her desk) and that people “go with” other people (e.g., Mommy is a doctor and she works at the hospital with the nurse”).
  6. Use connecting words (e.g., but, so, because, when, then, before, after, and, since) to say long and complex sentences.
  7. Use connecting language to tell stories, to explain what happened, or to tell what will happen (e.g., “I saw the man that lives next door and he drives red car and his dog was running but the man can’t catch it” or “I’m gonna go downstairs and get my doll”).
  8. Use social language to engage and interact with others in an age-appropriate way and to express a sense of humor (e.g., A child asking a friend “Do you like my hat?” while balancing a book on her head).
  9. Create a purposeful interpretation of the world around her and then be able to talk about it (e.g., I see the fast choo-choos on the computer).
  10. Explain his answers, reasons, ideas, opinions, etc. to demonstrate that he can think critically (e.g., “I can’t do it because I am not big  But I am growing!”).
  11. Use clear, concise language to describe something he has created and to explain how or why he created it (e.g., “I made this for you, Mommy.  Are you happy?”).
  12. Use clear, concise language to explain his likes, dislikes, preferences, methods that help him learn/understand, etc. (e.g., “I like cheese pizza but not pepperoni”).
  13. Use clear, concise language to lead others (e.g., a single person, a small group, a large audience) by way of any skills such as commenting and responding appropriately to the ideas of others, sharing his own ideas, compromising, and taking responsibility.
  14. Use language to create, critique, analyze, and evaluate multi-media (e.g., “The mouse is not clicking on the picture,” “The game is loading,” “I want to color the pictures on the website, but the printer is not working.”).
  15. Use clear, concise language to reflect on his own learning, including by analyzing his successes and failures, breaking learning down into small steps, and discussing how he would improve on his learning the next time.

To be sure, once parents and caregivers know the expressive language skills that are needed in classrooms after the age of 36 months, they are able to be more conscious about how to talk, read and sing to babies and toddlers from 0-36 months of age.  They can plan activities (or be spontaneous while feeding, bathing, etc.) armed with the “why” behind choosing certain words, certain books or certain songs which are beneficial and crucial to school readiness. 

Related resources regarding building expressive language skills in babies and toddlers for school readiness by 36 months of age:

https://www.babycenter.com/0_baby-milestone-talking_6573.bc

https://childdevelopmentinfo.com/child-development/language_development/#.W19ul9hKiSM

https://www.webmd.com/parenting/baby-talk-your-babys-first-words#1

https://www.medicinenet.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=52130

https://www.speech-language-therapy.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=33:brown&catid=2:uncategorised&Itemid=117


**Check out the OperationReady by 3 website at http://www.operationreadyby3.org for more information about parent/caregiver coaching and classes designed to get babies and toddlers ready for school by 36 months and/or to contact Operation Ready by 3 with questions and comments.

**Follow Operation Ready by 3 on Twitter: @Readyby3

Cindi Zarpas Stevens is the creator/founder of Operation Ready by 3 (her mission) and the president of Norfolk Speech & Language Services, Inc. (her day job that pays). She is a mother of 5 (her unpaid, 24-7 job). In her work as a writer (her passion), she supports parents, caregivers and early childhood educators as they navigate Babyland and Toddlerland with greater consciousness, ease, confidence, expertise and joy. She thinks the best job in the world is talking to parents, caregivers and educators about babies and toddlers (they’re amazing, fun and adorable) about ideas such as sharing power with their child (it’s peaceful and positive) while at the same time having power within themselves (it’s affirming and empowering) to be the best parent, caregiver, and educator they can be in order to get the children in their lives ready for school by the age of 36 months (to make the world a better place).

There are 6 crucial school readiness domains to think about when talking, singing and reading to babies and toddlers. Here’s 1 of the 6.

The advice to “talk, sing and read” to babies and toddlers is universal and ever-present.  The advice is given in countless blogs and articles, on countless websites and by countless pediatricians, home visitors and other professionals.  Less often read or heard, however, are the details regarding why we should talk, sing and read to children under the age of 3 and how these “whys” lead to future learning and success.  Research tells us if parents and caregivers understand more about how brain development works, parents and caregivers are more likely to follow the broad advice of “talk, sing, read to your baby or toddler.”  Parents who know the skills that are necessary for a child to be successful in a classroom feel empowered with that knowledge and are more likely to get the job of parenting for school readiness done.

One of the six crucial school readiness domains that makes the advice of “talk, sing, and read” to babies and toddlers so valuable is called receptive language, or language understanding. Children under the age of 3 who understand the meaning of many, many words, and who hear more positive or affirming words, do better in school and life.  Children who understand fewer words and/or who hear more discouraging or negative words in the first 3 years of life struggle in school.  Children who grow up in a language-deficient home or daycare setting, in which discouraging or negative words are frequently spoken, arrive to preschool, pre-K or kindergarten with poor vocabularies for both speaking and learning.  They also arrive with weak skills for attachment or building trust with the grown-ups in their classrooms who have their best interest at heart for developing skills.  

These children who grow up hearing little language or language that was emotionally upsetting to them end up believing that school isn’t a place of excitement, learning and possibility. According to child development specialists: “Within the school setting, difficulties in understanding may lead to attention and listening difficulties and/or behavioral issues” and “it may also make it difficult for a child to access the curriculum or engage in the activities and academic tasks required for their year level of school.” Even at the tender ages of 3, 4 or 5 years old, children with poor receptive language skills recognize that school is a language-based setting for which they are unprepared.  They realize that they are at a significant disadvantage in this type of setting.  Sadly, too many of them give up.  Many of them will act out because they want out of a setting in which they know they are cannot be successful.

So, why do we “talk, sing, read” to babies and toddlers?  These activities build connections in their brains that lead to the receptive language development of the following skills, each of which is an absolute necessity for school readiness:

  1. Understand a wide variety of words from many different categories of words (e.g., nouns, verbs, adverbs, adjectives, pronouns, etc.)
  2. Understand word categories (e.g., foods, vehicles, clothing, toys, ocean animals, things that are big, things that smell bad, etc.)
  3. Understand word associations (e.g., a shoe goes with a sock, a pilot goes with an airplane, a pot goes on a stove, etc.)
  4. Understand the functions of objects (e.g., that a shovel is for digging, that a bucket is not for throwing, but is for putting shells and rocks into, that a carrot is for eating, etc.)
  5. Understand parts of objects (e.g., a car has wheels, a steering wheel, tires, a trunk, a hood, a roof, doors, seats, etc.) and that words can have multiple meanings (e.g., a trunk can be on a car or on an elephant, that a hood can be on a car and it can be on a jacket, etc.)
  6. Understand words involving color, shape and size (e.g., “Get the big, blue ball,” “Show me the round, red shape,” etc.)
  7. Understand grammar and sentence structure (e.g., the plural “s,” tense markers, compound sentences, complex sentences, etc.)
  8. Understand different question forms (e.g., who, where, what + doing, which one, how many, could you ever, what would happen if, etc.)
  9. Understand location words (e.g., in front of, under, next to, top/middle/bottom, edge, corner) in a variety of situations (e.g., physical space, when using tools of technology, with regard to a book, etc.)
  10. Understand “math” words (e.g., more than, shorter than, add to, take away, etc.)
  11. Understand sentences of various lengths and complexity (e.g., I saw the man who had the box; He took the pencil, the book, the shoe and the dog; The boy and the girl were running and jumping)
  12. Understand that words can “go together” and belong in “groups” to form sentences (e.g., a hammer and a nail go together because the carpenter uses the hammer to hit the nail into the wood) and that things and people can be compared and contrasted (e.g., The fireman is taller than the teacher;  Fire is hotter than pizza; A knife if sharper than a stick, etc.)
  13. Think critically when a problem is presented via language alone or language plus a visual (e.g., a worksheet, a picture, etc.).  For example, if the teacher says “What do you need to do before we go to lunch?,” the child should be able to think critically about what he’s doing, whether or not it’s what he should be doing, and then make a decision about what to do next and/or respond to the teacher’s question.
  14. Understand language in order to manage, analyze and synthesize multiple streams of simultaneous information. For example, if the teacher says “Look at the animals on the table and give me all the farm animals,” the child will need to look at the animals, think about which ones live on a farm, listen to the teacher’s direction to “give” them, and do what was asked.

Once parents and caregivers know the skills that are needed in classrooms after the age of 36 months, they are able to be more conscious about how to talk, read and sing to babies and toddlers.  They can plan activities (or be spontaneous while feeding, bathing, etc.) armed with the “why” behind choosing certain words, certain books or certain songs which are beneficial and crucial to school readiness.

Related resources regarding building receptive language skills in babies and toddlers for school readiness by 36 months of age:

https://www.nidcd.nih.gov/health/speech-and-language

http://teacher.scholastic.com/professional/childdev/how_talk_babies.htm

https://www.webmd.com/parenting/baby/baby-talk-language#

https://www.speech-language-therapy.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=35:admin&catid=2:uncategorised&Itemid=117

https://www.zerotothree.org/resources/300-what-we-know-about-early-literacy-and-language-development

Cindi Zarpas Stevens is the creator/founder of Operation Ready by 3 (her mission) and the president of Norfolk Speech & Language Services, Inc. (her day job that pays). She is a mother of 5 (her unpaid, 24-7 job). In her work as a writer (her passion), she supports parents, caregivers and early childhood educators as they navigate Baby and Toddlerland with greater consciousness, ease, confidence, expertise and joy. She thinks the best job in the world is talking to parents, caregivers and educators about babies and toddlers (they’re amazing, fun and adorable) about ideas such as sharing power with their child (it’s peaceful and positive) while at the same time having power within themselves (it’s affirming and empowering) to be the best parent, caregiver, and educator they can be in order to get the children in their lives ready for school by the age of 36 months (to make the world a better place).

Operation Ready by 3 launches #Readyby3 which focuses on language- and relationship-based learning to prepare children 0-36 months for 21st century schools

There are many products and toys available to parents and caregivers these days that are aimed to get babies and toddlers ready for school.  They vary in cost, ease of use, and accessibility.  Some parents and caregivers feel compelled, and are able, to buy “fancy” toys that light up and sing.  Some purchase expensive learning devices or tablets on which a seemingly limitless supply of apps can be used.  The learning curricula used in formal daycare or childcare centers are packaged learning kits and well-researched educational programs that are expensive, the cost of which is passed down to the parents in the cost of care for their children.  Fancy toys, devices or expensive learning kits or programs can be considered unnecessary, since what babies and toddlers need to get ready for school by the age of 36 months does not involve expensive toys or learning kits.  They need human faces, human touch, healthy relationships with providers and language.  With the faces, bodies and words of parents and care providers in a safe, healthy setting, babies and toddlers will thrive and develop the skills needed for school readiness and success by the age of 36 months.

School readiness and success in the 21st century is not the same as it was in the 20th century.  The expectations have changed; memorization and regurgitation of facts to pass tests and get good grades is no longer the primary focus. Performance is measured by competence and whether competence is progressing, halted or faltering.  Children of the 21st century, rightfully so, are expected to demonstrate an entrepreneurial spirit, to be flexible, to be engaged thinkers, to be ethical citizens, to be creative problem solvers, and so much more.  They need to be able to collaborate with others with strong communication and social skills in all subject areas, including subject areas like math and writing, which are taught differently today than in the 20th century.

So what can we do as parents and caregivers of children under 3 to get them ready for the 21st century school experience? We can put down the toys that go beep when a button is pressed or the robotic doll that encourages bonding with a machine rather than people.  We can box up bossy toys like the “Let’s Pretend Elmo” (currently on sale for $89.99 on Amazon) which directs babies and toddlers to play a certain way.  We can shelve the ABC puzzles and the learning games/toys that teach letters, numbers, shapes and colors to children, especially those targeting children younger than 24 months, and spend our time engaging with babies and toddlers in ways that offer limitless discovery and learning of skills such as large motor coordination, object permanence, turn-taking and language development.  We can cover up the screens of iPads/iPhones and a child’s “dream scene” (such as the Vtech Musical Dreams Light Projector, on sale on Amazon for $45) and, instead, let babies and toddlers spend time gazing into our eyes, watching our every move, and hearing our every word while we observe their development and react to their coos, burps, and babbles.

To play a role in supporting parents and caregivers in using language- and relationship-based play and engagement with babies and toddlers for school readiness by 36 months of age, ORB3 is launching #Readyby3.  Via social media, ORB3 will make available activity ideas and vital information regarding the following crucial school readiness skills that develop from 0-36 months:  language understanding and use, speech/articulation, emotional understanding and use, social understanding and ability, and sensory processing.  ORB3 will provide opportunities for parent/caregiver coaching as well as a platform for parents, caregivers and anyone else who cares about babies and toddlers to ask questions, give feedback, and share ideas.  More than anything, #Readyby3 is a movement to inspire, empower and encourage parents and caregivers to support the development of babies and toddlers and to get them ready for school by the time they blow out 3 candles on their birthday cakes.

A parent or caregiver is the best toy for children 0-36 months

Many light-up or electronic toys for babies and toddlers have a predicable response to an action taken by him or her.  If a baby shakes an electronic rattle, the toy will beep and light up.  If a toddler opens a door on a battery-driven barn, a cow will pop out and say “moo.” Sometimes a single action can cause a limited number of “random” electronic responses, such as when a button on a toy phone is pressed and the baby or toddler can hear a variety of responses (e.g., “Hi, it’s Daddy” or “Call you later.”). These types of toys are good for stimulating a child’s senses for sights, sounds and textures.  They are great for learning about simple cause and effect.  It’s not that these toys which integrate the senses and motor skills at the same time are bad, of course. They are entertaining, for a while, and babies and toddlers do learn from them.  However, they are not good for learning about unpredictable responses that arise from specific actions, which is a skill they need to be ready for preschool and beyond.  When babies and toddlers go to school, they must deal with a variety of people who will make a variety of unpredictable responses in the environment.  Being able to observe, manage, work through and learn from one’s own and others’ unpredictable responses and actions is crucial for a child’s success in school.

One problem with the single action/single response or single action/random response toys is they are toys for watching and experiencing passively rather for exploring and making complex brain connections during play.  There is limited discovery about the toy beyond the actions the toy elicits and the response(s) it provides.  These toys do not foster skills needed to be successful in a 21st century classroom, such as curiosity, flexibility, problem solving or critical thinking.

The best toys that give babies and toddlers the chance to experience their world more fully and help them learn school readiness skills are those that allow them to shape their own play in order to make their own discoveries.  Objects in the child’s environment that are safe and age-appropriate can be considered “toys” that build these skills.  A spoon can be banged, mouthed or dropped.  It can be banged on a pot, the floor, the chair or the highchair, and it will make a different sound on each place it is banged. A baby or toddler can shake the spoon, listen and then stop.  He can bang it quietly, listen and stop, and can then bang it loudly, listen and stop.  She can drop it, listen and stop.  Each time a child goes through the steps of doing, listening, looking and thinking (while stopping), he or she is processing sensory information, integrating it in his or her mind, and making thousands upon thousands of brain connections that will prepare him or her for school.

According to neuroscientist Audrey van der Meer, a professor at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU), another “toy” that can build brain connections is a baby or toddler’s own body.  When a baby or toddler uses his own body in play (e.g., grabbing and sucking on his toes, kicking his legs, making sounds), the child is learning that he can entertain himself, that he is powerful enough to satisfy his own needs, and he can work hard to get done what he wants to get done through practice and problem solving.  A toddler who knows the joy of playing with her own body movements as she crawls, bounces, jumps and steps on the stairs is one who has a great attitude about controlling her body while having fun and problem solving. SciencyDaily.com tells us that “van der Meer believes that even the smallest babies must be challenged and stimulated at their level from birth onward, need to engage their entire body and senses by exploring their world and different materials, both indoors and out and in all types of weather” as well as that van der Meer “emphasizes that the experiences must be self-produced; it is not enough for children merely to be carried or pushed in a stroller.”

All that said, what is the very best toy for them?  You, the parent!  As a parent plays with a baby or toddler, the play is transformed into something even more important and worthwhile.  It is transformed from play for play’s sake and into play that teaches and guides, as well as play that observes a child on his or her developmental journey. It is fun and brings joy to all participants as well as helps parents know when there is the possibility of a concern or a developmental delay.  Play that involves a parent is multi-faceted, multi-directional and multi-sensory for the baby and toddler with a partner who knows him best.  It turns play into something solitary and uni-directional into a cooperative, social experience in which unpredictable responses that arise from specific actions taken by each participant in the play build crucial brain connections.  To be sure, the “parent-as-toy” concept is irreplaceable for play that is best for learning about how people respond, what happens next after they respond and how that has an effect on the play or the people involved.

 

Bootstrap parenting utilizes unused opportunities to empower parents to build school readiness in babies and toddlers

In the business world, bootstrap financing utilizes unused opportunities that can be found within a company by simply managing finances better.  According to the website Entrepreneur.com, “bootstrap financing is probably one of the best and most inexpensive routes an entrepreneur can explore when raising capital.”

In the not-so-far-away past, the saying “pull oneself up by one’s bootstraps” was very meaningful to Americans.  Defined as the ability to “improve your situation by your own efforts,” according to The Phrase Finder, the phrase has come to epitomize the American spirit of ingenuity, freedom and individualism.  The Phrase Finder tells us that the phrase was known by the early 20th century and that James Joyce alluded to it in “Ulysses,” 1922:

“There were others who had forced their way to the top from the lowest rung by the aid of their bootstraps.”

In the world of babies and toddlers, the concept of bootstrap parenting was created by Operation Ready by 3 to mean that parents can utilize unused opportunities, found within themselves, by identifying and managing their skills better.  It is one of the best and most inexpensive routes that a parent can explore when raising babies and toddlers in order to raise a child who will be ready of school by the age of 36 months.  To be sure, bootstrap parenting has as much to do with raising babies and toddlers as it does with investing in them and everyone around them to the benefit of all Americans.

To use another concept in a creative sense from the world of finance, babies and toddlers can be considered a form of capital.  Capital is most frequently thought of as wealth or other assets owned by a person or company.  Of course, parents do not own their children and, as the saying goes, “our children are only ever lent to us.” But, we can think of babies and toddlers as assets and capital in the lives of the people who care for them as well as in the lives of people in their neighborhood, city, state, America, or the world as a whole.  If a baby thrives, is healthy and develops well, he will go on to be an asset in his home, his community and his country.  If a toddler’s brain has been stimulated to form millions of healthy connections and has not experienced high levels of toxic stress, she will succeed in school and life and become a taxpayer, a voter, a friend, a member of a group, a global citizen, and, if she chooses, a parent.  Children are capital in the sense that they will go on to do great things for themselves and the world, if they are raised well and do well in school, are healthy and happy, and can be self-sufficient in life so that they may enjoy all the blessings of liberty.

So what does bootstrap parenting look like?  It occurs when parents to look inside themselves to discover and identify the skills they already have within, and then they use those skills when parenting their 0-36 month old children.  It happens when an individual explores one’s already-established skill set and applies the same skill set to the work of building their child’s brain connections, keeping their children safe and healthy, and readying them for preschool and beyond.  For example, if a person knows that she received “B’s” and “C’s” on tests in school, is able to play basketball, can drive a car, works as a small grocery store manager, and is able to maintain friendships, then she can take the skills involved in and necessary for those activities to the work of parenting.  If a father can identify the skills that he needs to work as a landscaper, to fix his own car, to teach Sunday school and to organize his personal items well, he can take the skills needed to accomplish those tasks to the task of raising his infant or toddler.

Let’s take the above example of the mother who was a solid student, drives herself to work to manage a small grocery store, and plays basketball with friends on the weekends.  To feel empowered and confident as a mother of an infant, she can look at the skills she had in those parts of her life and can apply them to her parenting.  She knows she is able to get herself to work on time and study for a test on a certain date, so she can be confident that she can get her baby on a schedule.  She operates a vehicle safely on her commute, so she can feel confident that she will be able to keep her baby safe when he starts to be mobile.  She can take her dribbling and shooting skills into the realm of observing her baby and getting to know him well to be sure development is on track and that there are no signs of developmental delay or disorder. She can utilize the friendship skills she already possesses to recognize her competence in building a relationship with her son.

When we show men and women that they already possess the basic skill set necessary to be a good parent, we empower them to be the best parent they can be. Even if they did not have good parent role models around them or their pregnancy was unexpected or unwanted, we can help parents see themselves for who they already are and how this self-reflection can translate well to being a great parent.  Utilizing their skill set awareness, a bootstrap parent can say “I can do this parenting thing!” and “I can improve my life, as well as my child’s life, by my own efforts.”