Guest blogger Kate Tuttle: A new report out of England warns that many children arrive at preschool or kindergarten with diminished listening and speaking skills due to households that are too noisy and chaotic. In particular, the study cites parents who leave the television or radio going for hours at a time, and who communicate via yelling or lecturing rather than by gently speaking and listening to their kids.
Nearly all parents know that children learn nearly everything by doing. You can't plop your kid in front of a television and expect her to get the same thing she gets from having a conversation with you, a real-live person. It turns out that kids who get their fair share of in-person conversation with family members arrive at school far better prepared to listen to teachers and communicate their ideas than those whose home lives are filled with electronic stimulation.
This doesn't mean that parents need to self-consciously set up talking sessions with their kids, or make any particular effort to "teach" them to talk. In fact, most child-development experts say that such efforts are pointless and even counterproductive. What it does mean is that activities you may find totally boring -- going grocery shopping, preparing a meal, doing the laundry -- are fascinating to a baby or toddler, who will learn more from your narration of these mundane events than from a year's worth of "Baby Einstein" videos.
According to those who study speech and language development, the main things to keep in mind are labeling (so that kids can learn new words, which my kids seemed to crave as a source of power and entertainment), listening (making sure your conversation with your child is two-way, not a lecture -- even if your baby is just babbling) and being open to experience (tying words to concepts a child can see and touch).
And turn off the TV or radio while you're hanging out with your kids: You may be surprised just how much more you can hear when the house feels calmer.