What predicts Math and Reading Success in your Child and How to Start Early

As a woman, a mom, a friend, and [what I like to think] a good story-teller, there’s something that I’m particularly good it. Exaggerating.

I exaggerate the most recent tiff with my sister when I tell my husband about it, and I absolutely exaggerate about what time my husband came home from happy hour when I complain to my sister about it. See? Goes both ways.

So what’s this got to do with baby and toddler language development?

Let me ask you this first… What gets your kiddo’s attention? Fire truck sirens? That moment when you screech out loud because you’ve burned dinner or they’re enjoying some good ‘ole fashion fun water play in the toilet?

Kids love exaggeration! We’re using big voices, big emotions all over our face, dramatic pauses and gasps, and the moment is filled with excitement. And… BOOM-BAM! You’ve immediately got their attention. They’re wide-eyed, making eye contact, and interested in you because of their innate curiosity and need to know (kind of like me and my embarrassing Bravo reality TV addiction).

Keeping your child’s attention is actually key to learning. They’ve got to be engaged, responsive, fascinated, and drawn to what you’re doing. So guess what… you have to be interesting.

Oh the pressure to entertain our own children!

Studies show that how well a child is able to maintain their attention at age 4, can predict math and reading achievement. And in my experience, the best way to keep their attention is to exaggerate.

For example… you’re building a block tower for the 354th time today. Your child is losing interest and you can see them fading, eyeing the next toy in the corner. Instead…. you exaggerate the shakiness of your hand as you place the next block atop, shoot a look of extreme worry in your kid’s direction, pleading for assistance to stabilize your exhausted hand… and then the worst happens. The tower collapses, crushing every block beneath it, crashing into the couch, and YOUR TOE. Your precious toe! Catastrophe.

Congratulations, you’ve just created an incredibly fun, entertaining, engaging moment with your child, and I’ll bet they’re back begging for more.

All it takes is a little exaggeration… or maybe I just watch too much reality TV.

Why My Kid and I can’t get enough Coffee

It’s 6:40 AM on a weekday, we’re already up, showered, dressed, and halfway through breakfast and my almost 2-year old says, “Coffee?”

Yes. Coffee. Does he know me or what?

But his brilliant cognitive mind is NOT thinking of his Mama first, unfortunately. He’s [once again] thinking about himself.

We’ve had the Green Toys Tea Set since his first birthday, and it’s been in our toy rotation ever since. But in this house, we’re not much of “tea” drinkers. So we’ve always called it his “coffee set,” to create our adult-world in his child-centered play, just as Maria Montessori would suggest. 

I’m also a huge fan of breaking the gender norms when it comes to toys. My son has a tea (ehem strike that) coffee set, baby doll, and serves soup out of his kitchen like a master toddler chef. In fact, the Green Toys Tea Set in Blue is my go-to First Birthday gift for every boy pal just to be different, because I know that blocks, trains, and cars are always going to be in the mix.

Toys that promote a sequence of events during play (like tea/coffee sets), create more complex cognitive patterns in the brains of our little ones. The language that accompanies each of these events is rich with the ability to give your child an opportunity to hear more different words, which has been found to maximize vocabulary development.

So the sequence of play, and vocabulary magic would go something like this:

  1. Brew the coffee in the pot (cue loud brewing pssshhhh—puh puh noises)
  2. Pour the coffee in the cup, be careful not to spill!!!
  3. One scoop of sugar and just a tiny dash of milk, please
  4. May I have a spoon, please? Stir it up, mix slowly and carefully… oooooh, this is going to be delicious.
  5. Eek! It’s hot. Can you help me blow? Cool it down…. ok, ready now!
  6. Cheers!!!
  7. Drink! (cue loud slurping, gulping, and over-exaggerated MMMmmmmm sound)

Now, my toddler isn’t quite ready to do all 7 steps solo, but I can walk him through these and we serve coffee to family members and our closest stuffed animal friends, of course. Doing this sequence again and again promotes repetition, which is exactly what little brains need to grow.

Remember that play is your child’s job. So the next time you’re brewing your real cup of coffee, let your little one watch as you work the Keurig and once you’ve had your fix, your kiddo can brew a pretend cup to follow.

It’s kind of our morning routine now.

How to get your Toddler to TALK

You know what gets me really jazzed? Meeting awesome parents, like you!, that crave more and more information about their child's development. That's why I've teamed up with Adrienne Patterson from LearnWithAdrienne.com to give you boat-loads of ideas of what to do with your toddler.

The great thing about this video is that you've already got these very non-fancy toys laying around at home, so you can start boosting language, vocabulary, and play skills immediately. Check out the video here:

10 Words to Teach Baby

You know that moment in motherhood when it looks like your baby is actually looking at you? Focusing on your face, your mouth, perhaps even locking eyes for that brief second. It happens before they’re 3 months of age, and oh does it feel glorious.

From the moment babies are born, their brains begin to decode language. By 3 months, they’re cooing and using those magical vowels. I have this incredibly vivid memory of my first born’s early coos. It actually sounded a bit more like a pterodactyl call… but it was beautiful to me.

The babbling follows shortly after (and of course it’s always “Dada” first) and then… those precious first words. My kid’s first word was “cheese,” so not sure if I actually have the clout to write the rest of this blog. But here goes….

How to Teach Baby First Words

Babies are fascinated by you. It’s true… makes you feel kind of like a champion Mom when you can get your babe to smile with a big “Hellllloooo!!!!” face. And as they watch you, yes you…. they’re gathering tons of information from looking at the way your mouth moves, your eyebrows raise and beginning to understand social and pragmatic cues. For instance, Mom is happy when her yes are bright, Mom is serious when she's looking away.

Since they’re watching your face and your mouth as you talk to them, exaggerating sounds will help show baby how to talk. Sounds that are made with your lips, like “m,” “p,” and “b” are easy for baby to see.  Teaching words that have “visual sounds” are often the first words that baby says.

Even more important is teaching verbs to baby, not just nouns. Using verbs in your daily chatter will help give function and meaning to the word, which makes learning more salient. More simply, hearing what an object does helps a baby to learn what it is.

So … my list of favorite 10 words to teach baby are words that have function and also words that are visual (or have sounds that you can see).

*Notice that “cheese” is not included on this list — but sometimes, food is an incredible motivator ;o)

Top 10 Words to Teach Baby

  • Mama/Dada
  • Baby
  • More
  • All-done
  • Up
  • Open
  • Hello/Bye Bye
  • Uh-oh
  • Eat
  • Wash

If you're into baby signs, you can learn all of these signs in Week 3 of Baby School. So now I want to hear from you... what was your baby's first word??

Why Kids Think Peek-a-Boo is so Damn Interesting

Another confession. Here it goes… For Christmas, I didn’t buy my kid anything. Not a single toy or book.  And not just because I’m into the less is more on the toy front, but because everyone else pretty much spoiled him rotten. Love my family and how much they love him…

I’m not judging myself. He won’t remember Christmas 2015 as the year that Mom and Dad stiffed him (I hope!).

He did, however, end up with a stuffed Elmo as part of his Christmas treasures. And when Elmo isn’t sitting in the chair next to him during dinner or joining him for a story on the couch, his other favorite thing to do is play Peek-a-boo.

Why is Peek-a-boo so damn interesting to kids?

It starts when they’re young… Like, really young. Around 3 months or so, you’re probably getting some smiles from your little one by just covering your face for a brief second and then popping back with big smiles as your babe squeals in delight.

Why Do Babies Love it?

Well, the idea of object permanence hasn’t been established quite yet. At these early stages, they are simply amazed that something can reappear after being gone. They’re learning about existence.

Now as baby grows, they’re obviously learning more, developing, and well… getting smarter. So around 8 months of age, they know to look for the object. So if you try to play Peek-a-boo and keep your face covered, your baby will likely try to pry your hands away to get that big smile.

Can Peek-a-boo still be fun after 8 months??

Of course! As they start to establish object permanence, they begin to set expectations. When these expectations change, new learning patterns are established. In other words… keep them guessing. Keep them surprised.

For example, Elmo has been lurking around the side of the couch, under beds, and behind other stuffed animals in his great efforts to play Peek-a-boo. And it’s hilarious. Especially as our little guy expects one thing, he magically appears either under, above, or behind the last place he was.

Peek-a-boo and all it’s surprises will probably continue to be fun until about 2. Then you just graduate to more complex games… like hide-and-seek ;p

What's the best Peek-a-Boo reaction you get?

Comment below and tell us!

5 Things I Learned Going from “Parenting Expert” to Actual Parent

Friends, let me introduce you to Melissa Georgiou. When I first stumbled upon her blogging, I just couldn’t stop reading. Every post resonated more and more than the next. But this one hit home. More affirmations that as parents, we’re all just doing the best we can, in the most loving way that can do it. Sing on, Melissa….

By: Melissa Georgiou

The biggest experts on child behavior, nutrition, sleeping, and general parenting are usually people who don’t have children of their own.

I used to be one of them.

The next biggest experts are lucky parents who have children who are naturally well-tempered, eat everything and sleep soundly.

I expected to be one.

Then there is everybody else. The parents who go about this ever evolving process of mess, disruption, and learning and mistakes. They seem to take the process of parenting in their stride, work out how to keep on moving, while trying to be present enough to experience, find joy and ultimately thrive.

I am trying to be one.

This process keeps evolving but accepting this moment and all it entails is my only anchor. It sounds trite but I have realized that it is the only way to keep going when parenting challenges become tougher than I had imagined.

So this is my apology letter to all of the people that I have pissed off in the past with my all-knowing, high horse knowledge. It’s not that I knew better. I didn’t. In fact, I now see that I know so very little. I have felt guilty about being a solution-based know it all. I feel embarrassed. I feel silly.

In the process exercising self-compassion and kindness, I won’t even say that I was wrong.

I wasn’t wrong- I just didn’t understand.

Now I understand better.

To the friend that struggled with infertility. I suggested you overhaul your diet before trying IVF. It was insensitive of me. I didn’t know better until we struggled for almost three years before conceiving. After the umpteenth person told us to ‘relax’ it was the last thing I wanted to do….

Now I understand.

To the family with the 2 year old child still sleeping in their bed. I suggested you let the baby cry it out in the cot and set firmer boundaries around bedtime. I had opinions about weirdos who parent in such a way and found that sort of attachment ‘unhealthy’. I had no idea what it meant to have a wakeful child. I have never been able to let my baby cry it out. He will sleep alone when he is ready, when he is confident. When he feels safe. I write this blog as he sleeps on my chest. The best feeling in the world. I treasure it.

Now I understand.

To every parent with a child with a food allergy. I judged you for not trying hard enough to get to the bottom of the allergies via healthy, nutritious, non-pharmaceutical means. I judged you for probably exposing yourselves and your kids to too much crap food. I had my opinions about nut-free schools. I thought- ‘Why on earth should others have to change their food preferences for the allergic few?’

I have a beautiful child with severe allergies to nuts and many other foods. It’s hell. It’s anxiety inducing. It’s lonely- especially when you feel like every child and parent around you is luckier-and at liberty to order anything off a menu for instance without a second thought. And they can! Allergies are an ongoing daily battle in my life now. I didn’t know before. I didn’t realize what you faced. But now I know. I wasn’t right.

Now I understand better.

To the parents who look at their smart phone while out with their kids: I judged from my mindful present high horse in the meditation sky… I wondered why you bothered having kids if you didn’t want to look after them? Now I realize that we NEVER know what goes on behind closed doors and unless I am with you for 24 hours a day, I have no idea whether it is your first minute on your phone or the 100th. And even if I was with you 24 hours a day- it is actually none of my business anyway.

Now I realize that parenting can sometimes feel lonely and disconnected from your tribe. Sometimes after intense one on one time with my little one in the home, the first time I get to look at my phone and connect with my mother or a friend might be while he climbs and plays at the park. I cherish those moments and they help me keep going when I am tired, stressed or looking for advice about something. I didn’t know before how much I would need to connect with my tribe and that in some cases, the phone is the only way.

Now I understand better.

To the parent who allowed their child to throw tantrums and seemingly did nothing about it. Just like the apology above, I have no idea what happened before this moment and nor is it my business. You were probably simply choosing your battles and that wasn’t one of them. I didn’t realize the meaning of determination until I had a toddler of my own. Heck, the definition of determination is toddlerhood! I didn’t realize that punishment doesn’t actually work. I understand now that in trying to understand a little being’s needs, sometimes you have to simply be. Be present. Not intervene. Allow.

Now I understand.

More realizations continue to come every day. I now take each one as it comes. I didn’t know any better before. Now I understand.

Bio Shot copyMelissa Georgiou is a mindfulness teacher, joy advocate, and mother. She also holds a Master of Education. When she is not playing mindfully with her son, she helps pregnant women and new families in the areas of good food, doing less, mindfulness, and emotional wellbeing. You can find out more and get lots of free goodies at www.happybabybrain.com.

My Most Favorite Sign… and the timing couldn’t be better!

If your halls are decked, candles lit, lights bright and maybe some presents lurking under trees and left over from Hanukkah, my timing on this tidbit of information is key.

My favorite sign to use with kiddos is WAIT.

WAITING is hard. It’s the toddler version of us grown-ups in line at the DMV. Hard to understand, impatience escalating, and maybe on the verge of a melt down or two.

Maybe you’ve planted some bait (i.e. perfectly wrapped presents) under your tree already. Is your kiddo lunging toward it with overt eagerness to destroy and reveal its contents? (I mean really, you should know better…).

If you’re trying to teach the concept this holiday, or any day… try using this American Sign Language sign.

It’s a great sign, not just to keep them from ripping wrapping to shreds, but also if they’re in the high chair and waiting for food, waiting for the bathtub to fill up, or eager waiting to destroy a super tall block tower that you’re really proud of.

Are you into signs? Want to learn more? Subscribe to my friend and colleague, Adrienne’s YouTube channel at Sign with Adrienne. She’s teaching a sign a week with stellar memory strategies, and well, she’s awesome.

Did you like this tip? Like it, share it, tweet it, or tell us your favorite sign in the comments below.

Speaking of waiting… we’re taking a holiday break from blogs this season, so see you all in 2016!

8 Holiday Shopping Ideas for Every Kid on Your List

Tis the season for indulgence and extra pie, cyber shopping, caroling, and gift giving. So this week, we’re bringing you our holiday toy guide, 8 essential tips for holiday toy shopping for every kid on your list.

These 8 key categories will teach you how to spot the best toys for language learning and getting cognitive wheels turning!

Go Old School

The classics are classic for a reason! Baby’s first Christmas? Check out these Uncle Goose classic blocks. Second time around, upgrade to these awesome Hape blocks. Maybe you’re kiddo is a bit older and ready for Legos.

My favorite toy ever is a shape sorter. Any shape sorter. Check out this First Shape Sorter for a newbie, or more challenging ones like this. More complex puzzles or toys that require building and use of size/matching concepts (like putting together train tracks) are perfect for creative minds.

No Batteries Required

Batteries are a hassle regardless, so simplify your child’s toys because simple can be better. Sounds and lights can be distracting, and take away from the language rich environment that you could be providing for your child during play. When you have your child’s full attention, you are optimizing a learning moment.

More words, less letters

Young children should be more focused on word learning and language development, rather than identifying, writing, and saying letters. Sure, we sing ABC’s for fun, but actual letter and number learning is more of a pre-school concept. So for the toddler, keep it simple and bombard them with strong vocabulary and language to enhance their development. Tell stories, sing songs, and really wait for your child to respond.

Forget Gender Toys

Why can’t a boy have a baby doll? Research has been done since the 1970’s showing what gender specific toys do for our children’s minds. The result, “girls toys” helped develop communication skills and emotional literacy, while “boys toys” encouraged more technical knowledge. Give your child the best of both worlds!

Bookshelf Awesomeness

Using pictures and book reading can always boost your child’s language and word learning. Choose books that have vivid vocabulary and opportunities for you to ask questions during reading. Take book reading to the next level, with new books this holiday season. Check out our recommended book list for ideas.

Get Real

On a budget this holiday? Sometimes the best “toys” are not toys at all. Children can learn and use pretend play using real adult items. For instance, an old set of pots and pans for pretend cooking, or head to the dollar store for some cheaper cooking or cleaning items, or set up for a tea party. Basic stationary and office items like envelopes, post-its, and paper bags can also make for great craft projects, like puppets.

Toy Rotation

If you haven’t heard about toy rotation, get on board. It’s a great way to use and reuse old toys, or swap with friends to give your child a new experience and an opportunity to build a new set of skills.

Less is More

Remember, that when it comes to the tangibles, less is more. The best learning opportunities happen when you are present as a parent. So get outside, get playing, pretend, read, and spend quality time with your kiddo, that you’ll never regret.

Happy Holidays!!!

10 Holiday Books, Not to be Missed

No spoiler alert here… books are amazing. In addition to all of the language and literacy benefits, they bring a child to a world they might not otherwise discover. They’re great for learning new vocabulary, building associations, and opening more flood gates to creativity and imagination.

In case you missed our Facebook post, a novel idea in Advent calendars is wrapping 24 books in anticipation for each day before Christmas.

(and since you’re getting this a tad late, you only have 22 books to go ;p)

They don’t have to be new books. Wrap some hand-me-down books, some favorites, some back of the shelf books, or library books!

If you’re looking for some holiday book recommendations, don't think I was going to leave you hanging!

The Littlest Ones (0-12 months)Screen Shot 2015-12-01 at 9.55.22 PMScreen Shot 2015-12-01 at 9.58.07 PM

The “This ain’t my first Christmas!” Ones (1-3 years)

The Christmas Veterans (3 and up!)

Now I want to hear from you... What are your favorite Christmas stories? Are you establishing reading traditions at home? Are you a fan of the classics or do you have any off-the-radar books to share? Tell us in the comments below.

The one thing I’ve got a black belt in….

After 4 years of undergraduate education, 2 years of Masters degree, a fellowship in speech pathology, and ten years of practicing this trade, there is ONE thing that I know I do well…. like, really well….


Yup. I'm a total Sensei when it comes to bubbles. Black belt in bubbles. I use them probably 5 days a week at minimum between entertaining my little guy, and my clients. And why wouldn’t I?

Bubbles are the coolest thing ever. Right?

Not only are they captivating, in that you’ll have your kiddo’s attention in no-time, they make for a great opportunity for providing this incredible language rich environment. Here’s what to do:

Under 12 months:

Practice pointing and joint attention with baby. As you blow bubbles, choose one bubble to point at and share that experience with your baby. See if baby can follow your gaze and pointing finger. Use lots of repetition as you say things like “bubbles up up… and pop pop pop!”

12-24 months:

Be sure to really exaggerate that breath before you blow bubbles. They love that stuff. Work on verbs like blow, breath, pop. Practice turn taking and have your toddler ask for bubbles using signs or words like “my turn,” “give me bubbles,” or “more bubbles.” Practice size concepts like big and little, and see if your toddler can imitate the words.

2-4 years:

Try making your own bubbles at home and talk about the sequence of steps, using words like first, next, last. Make your own bubble wands and designs using pipe cleaners.

4 and up:

Talk about the why. Find out how bubbles work and start getting creative with all the goodness that comes with innovation.

Switch it up, do bubbles inside, outside, in the bathtub, in the garage, at the park. My fave Bubble Tumbler can be found here… love the no spill factor.

Now I want to hear from you! What activity does your kiddo love to do when the bubbles are out? Pop? Reach? Blow? Taste?!?! (bleh!) Leave a comment below!