As babies begin to put sounds together and make sense of their world, we can see the delight on their faces. They are communicating with the people they love. We answer in kind, with supportive sounds and loving hugs, in the sort of call-and-response that encourages further exploration of sounds and words. These are all instinctive. The Baby Goes Beep by Rebecca O’Connell, illustrated by Ken Wilson-Max, encourages these kinds of exchanges in playful, meaningful ways.
Last week, I attended the ALSC (Association of Library Service to Children) Institute in Atlanta, Georgia. Susan B. Neuman, a professor at the University of Michigan in Educational Studies specializing in early literacy development, talked about how key this kind of wordplay is to the development of early literacy. She emphasized the importance of talking to your child (even when you’re not in the best mood), singing and playing in helping your child to develop language skills. But—no surprise to all of us who love books—“books are the single most important avenue for learning new words.”
One thing that did surprise me was when Neuman said we should always respond to babies with the correct name for the things in their world. For instance, to take a common example, if the baby says “baa baa” for “bottle,” to respond with, “Would you like your bottle?” She encouraged us to always supply the baby with accurate vocabulary, so he or she can continue to expand his or her language in vocabulary-rich ways. Neuman said it takes, on average, 28 repetitions of a word for a child to learn it.
So, the message I took from her was: Have fun with language, sing, play, shout from the rafters—and give children the proper names for the things they seek.