School Readiness: Standards Wednesday

Spring break starts Friday!  Life seems to be getting busier, in general, as spring approaches, and I am quite sure writing this blog will get more difficult once my 5 children (in varying combinations!) are around the house for 10 days.  Add travel this weekend and Wednesday through Easter Sunday to the mix and, well, you get the picture.  Because my “Standards Saturday/Sunday” blogs are liked by many, I will go ahead and post today as “Standards Wednesday” (It’s important to be flexible, right?), knowing that the next two weekends will be busier than usual.  

Today’s standard is:  Locates and uses information from a variety of sources.  This kindergarten standard is taken from Fairfax County Public Schools, one of the top school systems in the country.  The benchmark to be discussed today that aligns with this standard is:  Identify common signs and logos.

For those of us who have or whose work focuses on infants and toddlers, we know that children come to recognize signs and logos long before they arrive in kindergarten.  My son Sam, who is now 38 months, has been able to recognize the infamous golden arches, a stop sign and the sign for the local toy store, amongst others, since about the age of 2-1/2.  He arrived at this skill by seamlessly combining his visual and auditory skills, or, as I like to call them, his looking and listening skills.  Only by looking at the signs and symbols while I spoke about them (either by way of me offering the information or him asking “What’s that?” and listening to my response), and absorbing both the “looking” and “listening” information at the same time, could he come to know at such a young age what the signs and logos meant.    

If he only processed the visual part of the sign/logo (and didn’t hear my words, such as “We’re at McDonald’s” or “I stop my car when I see the stop sign”), or vice versa (only hearing my words, but not processing the shape, size, and color of the sign/logo), then he would not have been able to demonstrate solid competence for recognizing signs or logos.  For a child, an inability to integrate, or merge, his senses of seeing and hearing could be the result of a serious developmental disorder, such as autism, but it can also lead to a delay or difficulty in development that frequently goes unseen from birth to three years old.  However, a delay or difficulty in being able to process visual and auditory information at the same time leads to deficiencies in speech-language development, school readiness and success in school.  As we all know, the classroom is a setting full of required looking and listening (e.g., when the teacher speaks and refers to something pictured or written, when engaged in pre-literacy activities, when a peer does “show-and’tell,” etc.).  

This ability to combine visual and auditory information seamlessly actually develops much earlier than most people would think.  In the research lab, babies as young as four months old will stay interested (i.e., keeping looking at) faces that have a “shape” that matches the sound they are hearing.  For example, if the baby heard the sound “o” (as in “”boat”) and the face shape was rounded lips, as one would expect when hearing “o,” the baby looked at the face.  If the baby heard the sound “o,” and the face shape had lips spread into a smiling shape (as one would see with the sound “ee” as in “meet”), the baby lost interest and turned his head away from looking at the face on the screen.  

This particular ability that babies have to integrate the visual and auditory information is a necessary piece to learning to speak.  When a baby doesn’t merge visual and auditory information successfully, it can lead to delays in learning to talk, delays in social-emotional development, difficulties in behavior and learning, and a myriad of other developmental challenges.

What should we make of all this?  Consider the following if you have or work with/care for infants and toddlers:

1)  Look for evidence from the day a baby is born that he is seeing objects and hearing voices and sounds.  Baby should track (or follow with his eyes) objects that move across his line of vision.  He should be interested in high contrast patterns on clothing, blankets, and in pictures.  He should be interested in looking at faces and begin responding socially to others’ smiles by about 8-12 weeks of age.  

2)  Look for evidence around 4 months of age that baby is watching mouths moving during speech, as if he is lip-reading.  Baby should be very interested in faces by now.  He should be making solid eye contact with others as well as smiling in response to others’ smiles.  

3)  Be sure that baby is babbling, or using his tongue and lips to produce sound strings such as “ba-ba-ba” and “goo-goo,” by about 6 months.  All the developmental work baby did looking and listening from 0-6 months now pays off big time as he plays with sounds, in preparation for his first words at about 12 months of age.

4)  Use the period of development from 0-12 months to build baby’s skills for combining looking and listening.  Show him objects and name the object at the same time.  Point to objects, name them, and look for evidence that baby turns his head quickly to see what you are talking about.  Look for evidence of baby hearing a sound on his own (e.g., a firetruck going by, voices heard in another room than where baby is presently, etc.) and turning his head to see what or who is making the sound.

5)  Use the “language of sensory processing” with babies right from the start, but especially with toddlers.  That means using lots of vocabulary that has to do with the 5 senses (e.g., Do you see the firetruck?,  You hear the sound of the garbage truck?,  I heard the dog barking,  I see you are tired,  That tastes delicious!, The dog feels soft, I smell something stinky, etc.).  Specific examples of the “language of sensory processing” are as follows:

–It’s not time for doing, it’s time for listening.

–It’s not time for doing, it’s time for looking.

–It’s not time for doing, it’s time for looking and listening.

–It’s not time for looking, it’s time for listening.

–Hear my words.

–See this/Look at this.




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