Prepping Kids for “Back to School”

So long summer. Farewell sprinkler, swim trunks, and water wings. Adieu late nights and sleep-in mornings. As we bid our farewells to the pleasures of summer,  there is only one thing on the family brain... back to school.

And whether your child is returning for another year of school, or just starting their first day - these 5 tips for prepping for the transition are sure to keep you on your toes when the big day arrives.

Create less chance for dreaded Morning Madness 

Start the morning routines now! Ease into those soon-to-be hectic 7:30 AM breakfasts, and try waking up and being out the door earlier. Plan an activity that creates an opportunity for punctuality, like a play-date or a volunteer gig at your local farm, food bank, or animal shelter. Start the bedtime routine sooner too!

Help your kids actually “see it coming”

Visual reminders are great for young children to understand the close proximity of the big day, and help them prepare for the transition. Use a calendar to mark the days or create a construction paper chain link - As the days go by, the chain gets shorter.

Be dramatic

Role playing can be a great way to prepare your child for new situations. Practice the drive or the walk to school for a visit. Try simulating a moment of attendance taking, lining up for gym, or meeting the teacher for the first time. Giving your child some “scripts” for new situations can ease anxiety and make them more successful when it’s really show time. Let them know what some of their expectations will be as students, and re-create those moments.

All hands on deck

You can’t be too prepared. As a parent, try to rid any anxiety you have too - make the necessary copies of emergency contact information and phone lists. Plan out breakfasts, bagged lunches, and maybe even freeze some dinners. Shop for the essential pencil cases and backpacks, and keep it in an organized and visible place for you kiddo to see in the days preceding school.

Check in, be present.

Talk to your child and make that essential one-on-one time for each of them. Your child needs that individual attention, and you need to be their sounding board to hear all their thoughts, fears, and hopes. Validate their nervous feelings and then generate a positive outcome too. Discuss the unexpected - and since you can’t be there all the time, try giving your child some go-to coping strategies in the event of an obstacle.

Remember that transitions can be tough and we all respond to change differently.  Though remember that by helping your child with these transitions, you can teach resilience to make it smoother.

Affirming Parenthood

Nearly half a million babies in the United States alone are born premature. That means that every 1 in 8 babies are considered “preterm.” Important fetal growth and development occurs, even in the last weeks of pregnancy. Learning about how to care for your baby and foster their development outside of the womb, and especially at home, is a valuable tool for parents.

Introducing, Affirming Parenthood. A series of video learning modules for parents and caregivers, to understand how to best support preemies at home. Are you a parent or caregiver of a preemie? Find out more here

Summer Activities for Kids that Build Language

Ahhhh, summer. This time of year leaves many parents with mixed emotions. Excitement, anticipation, perhaps angst? Entertaining your baby, toddler, or child can be a challenge sometimes. But as parents we want to create the best learning environment to help them continue to thrive during this season. Check out these summer activities for kids that help promote and build language skills.

6 Things to Make this Summer Memorable

“The best camera  you have, is the one with you.”

Snapshotting every chance you get will create great memories and also great opportunities for language development. You can create a “facebook,” on your iThing, and ask different family members to send selfies with different emotions for your child to identify. Take pictures of your day at the park, or baking cookies, and ask your pre-schooler to retell the story of the day. Narrative skills, or being able to tell a story, are a great predictor of literacy and academic success later on.


Children having picnic

We know that children learn by experience, being engaged, and manipulating their environments. Learning through play has been proven to teach children new words faster, build vocabulary, cognition and problem solving skills. So grow your your child’s brain, get those synapses firing, and head outside to a park or playground. Pick flowers, use sidewalk chalk, play tag, cloud watch, and meet new friends.

Take a trip.

Your child learns from new experiences every day. Different environments (both indoors and outdoors!) are great for your kiddo’s brain. Take a walk or go for a hike outside, go to the zoo, walk around a museum, choose new parks and indoor play spaces. Go to reading time at the library or fun enrichment classes (music, swimming, language). Try taking a different mode of transportation if available, walking, bussing, or biking to do daily errands can provide your child with a new experience to get talking.  Again, asking them to retell the story of the day will help develop those crucial narrative skills that will later help with literacy and academic success.

Sing a song.

Singing nursery rhymes and lullabies (or even Top 40 songs!) can have benefits on your child’s cognition. Although some of the research is still working on proven effects of music and cognition, there is evidence to show that children can further develop their language skills, literacy, and creativity by singing more. We like songs for enhancing language development because they are repetitive (one of our Big 5 methods for language learning!), and can provide a child with new and meaningful vocabulary.

Keep reading.

Children learn between 4,000 and 12,000 new words each year as a result of reading books. Head to the library or our Recommended Book List, and get your child some new reading and familiar reading material for this summer. Build a reading routine (after breakfast, before dinner, bedtime) or not, and get your child more engaged in the world outside of their own. Learn how to Take Book Reading to the Next Level with your child, and really enhance their literacy experience. Remember that keeping book reading dynamic and engaging will build your child’s attention and foster better language and cognitive development.

Question Everything.

Asking and answering questions is the basis of all conversation, and thus will help develop language skills, as early as infancy. A 10-month old might hold up on object and show it to you as a method of asking or requesting for information. Children begin asking what - questions sometimes before 2 years of age. As they get older, begin asking them more complex and abstract questions to promote language skills.

Milestones for Asking and Answering Questions:


  • 1-2 years: Answers where questions by pointing (e.g. Where’s the ball? Where’s Daddy?), answers yes/no questions (e.g. Do you want...?)
  • 2-3 years: Answers simple what, who, and where questions
  • 3-4 years: Answers complex who, where, why, and how questions
  • 4 years: Answers when questions


  • 2 years:  Asks, “What’s that?”
  • 2-2.5 years:  Asks questions with rising intonation
  • 2.5 to 3 years:  Asks where questions
  • 3 years:  Asks who questions
  • 3 to 3.5 years:  Asks “Is…?” and “Do…?” questions
  • 3.5 to 4 years:  Asks when, why, and how questions

8 Holiday Toy Shopping Tips for Kids

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 kids. Learn how to spot the best toys for language learning and development! These quick tips will make you the master of all playthings, and Santa’s favorite elf.

Go Old School

The traditional toys that we all knew as children are really the best ones to get the cognitive wheels turning. Children have to learn to manipulate objects within their environment and the basic toys are perfect for this. An upgraded set of blocks (perhaps your kiddo is ready for Legos?), a more difficult shape sorter or more complex puzzle, toys that require building and knowledge of use of size/matching concepts (putting together train tracks, maybe?). Forget getting mod[ern] and fancy, get traditional. Check out these Top 10 traditional toys for suggestions.

No Batteries Required

Adorable Boy ready for Christmas
Get excited for holiday shopping!

Batteries are a hassle regardless, so let’s simplify our children’s toys and look for the those that don’t require batteries. Sounds and lights can sometimes 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

Children under 3 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.

Mix up the gender specific toys

Girls play with dolls and boys play with cars, but why not switch it up? Research has been done since the 1970’s showing what these 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!

Books just don’t get old

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, or these Top 10 books for baby.

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!!

Top 10 Books for Baby

We know that reading to your child is so crucial, even sometimes before birth. Introducing your baby to books early is fantastic for language development and brain growth! So wondering what books are musts for your shelf? Here are The Speechies top 10 books for your baby before age 1.

Babies Love Babies

Its a fact. Babies stare at themselves in mirrors, not because they recognize themselves, but because they are fascinated with faces. Your face especially, and other babies too! Baby Faces, by Margaret Miller is a definite must, and should be one of your baby’s absolute first books!

Screen shot 2013-10-01 at 9.14.27 PM

Playing Peek-a-boo

Your baby is constantly listening to you speak, and sometimes simple is better. Babies will begin to imitate simple sounds around 6-8 months, and Peek-a-Who by Nina Laden, can provide ample opportunity to hear and even say some of these words! Want to get baby babbling? Make this book a regular read.

A Little Extra Lovin’

Touch-and-feel books are all great for engaging your baby in a language and sensory experience while reading books. Animal Kisses, by Barney Saltzberg is definitely on my bookshelf. Simple pictures and great adjectives, make this book a hit.

It’s a Zoo Out There!

Lift-the-flap books are also spectacular for keeping your child engaged and introducing them to basic concepts (like open and close) for following simple directions. Dear Zoo by Rod Campbell is a classic, and an absolute must-have on your shelf. The language in the book is predictable and its filled with new rich vocabulary in a simple sentence structure.

happy hippo angry duck

Poor Hippopotamus

Sandra Boynton is an all-time favorite, and all 10 of this list could easily be by her. The natural favorite is But Not the Hippopotamus. It provides enriching vocabulary with a repetitive musical tone, and your child will be looking for that hippo on every page.

It’s Ok to Be Emotional

Another Boynton must is Happy Hippo, Angry Duck. Emotions are an abstract concept for babies, but they recognize the extremes. Remember that exaggeration is one of the best methods for new word learning, and this book allows you to get emotional and make book reading a salient and fun time with your tot.

Let’s Get Physical

Learning the names of body parts is one of the first 50 vocabulary words that most children have, and that is probably due to the constant repetition that we give them. Whether its during bath-time or getting dressed, we are naming things for baby to hear. Toes, Ears, & Nose by Marion Dane Bauer is another delightful lift-the-flap book that helps provide that repetition necessary for new word learning.

A Story in Utero

Surely Dr. Seuss didn’t intend for this one, but adapter Tish Rabe created something great for moms, dads, and even siblings waiting for a new babe to arrive. Oh, Baby, the Places You’ll Go! A Book to be Read in Utero is a charming baby shower gift and adds to the excitement and anticipation of having a new little one. Plus, studies show that talking to your baby on the inside, actually does make them smarter!

Simple Ways of Learning

Orange Pear Apple Bear, by Emily Gravett provides simple illustrations and simple language that will teach your baby that words have meaning. The book only has 5 words throughout the story, but they are used in different ways to show how language is adaptable and introduces kiddos to the nuances of syntax. Its also a great book for older siblings to read to younger siblings, a definite must-have for the shelf.


More to Bear

We couldn’t give you a top 10 list without mentioning the guru of magical children’s literature: Eric Carle. We love Eric Carle for his use of simple sentence structure with predictable page turns and happy endings. Brown Bear Brown Bear, What Do You See? is a classic must-have for the simple illustrations to keep good attentiveness and opportunity for you as the reader to use different animals sounds and noises to keep your child engaged. Polar Bear, Polar Bear, What Do You Hear? does the same thing with a new set of vocabulary words to learn.

The most important thing is that you choose books that you like to read to your child. Take book reading to the next level, use funny voices, ask questions, engage your child in pointing to pictures, and make book sharing a special time. Remember, “Children are made readers on the laps of their parents.” -Emile Buchwald

For more top book recommendations, check out The Speechies Resource page.

Picky Eater at Home? What Parents Should do 10 times to help

If your toddler is a “picky eater,” you are not alone; 25% of parents in the U.S. are dreading feeding times, and that number is increasing. So how do we create all accepting omnivores in our kiddos? Well, the researchers say to start as early as possible.


The Rule of 10: Your child should try a new food 10 times, before deciding whether they like it or not

How do you decide if  your child likes or dislikes a food? Researchers have probed as to how children make this decision. Their findings: children need multiple exposures to new foods before they accept it. Studies have looked at infants acceptance of vegetables, as young as four months. Results showed that after 10 opportunities to consume the vegetables, all infants significantly increased their intake.

baby with a spoon

While other studies showed that the average parent only offers their child a new food 3-5 times, less than half the times of the recommended opportunities!


Children like what they know, and eat what they like

Children’s food preferences and intake patterns are shaped via early experience with food and eating. Giving your a child a wide variety of food tastes is crucial to creating the omnivore.Exposure to food is generalized. That means, if you start out by giving your child only sweet purees (carrots, sweet potatoes, pears, etc.) and then try something bitter (like broccoli), they are most likely to reject it the first few times.

Don’t shy away from spiced up foods! Children’s experience with food influence their preferences and the amount that they consume. Research suggests that the earlier and broader the experience, the healthier the child’s diet.

So, San Francisco moms: what are you waiting for? Check out the weekly menu at Fresh Baby Bites and start giving your child a broader experience with food... and get lots of these fresh, delicious, and local tastes... remember your tot needs 10 opportunities to try it!

How to Start Using Signs with your Baby

Have you heard the craze behind baby signs? Interested in teaching your baby some signs, but not sure where to start? Using signs with your baby can give him/her early access to communication, while strengthening the ability to produce expressive speech.

Signs are easier for babies to use, since gross motor movements (like arms and hands) are much easier to control for a baby than the smaller muscles involved in speech (like the lips and tongue).

Remember that signs are the bridge to verbal communication. You nor your child need to be fluent in sign language, to make using signs at home effective.

How to Start Using Sign with your Baby

Communication is an exchange of information. Teaching your baby concrete nouns like cow, dog, and blanket don’t serve the same purpose as words that convey a basic desire. Starting with “give-me” and “more” can create more opportunities for early communication exchanges.

“Give-me” and “More”

6-13 more infographic

“Give-me” and “more” are the most basic requests that a child communicates. Giving your child the tools to communicate with their hands, before the muscles in their mouths are developed, can reduce frustration, increase social interaction, and improve self-expression. Children between 8 and 24 months are the ideal age to start using signs.

Start by using these two signs in a few contexts. For example, during snack time, give your child just one Cheerio (oh the agony for that little baby!)... model the sign you’d like to teach (for example, “more”), help your child do the sign with his own hands, and then applaud loudly and reward with that second Cheerio.

Other effective times are during bath-time play with bubbles, or playing with some other developmental favorite toys like blocks, mirrors, and puzzles.

Once you and your child have mastered the ease of these two signs, then continue to expand their vocabulary by using the key methods to word learning, paired with using signs throughout the day.

Mirrors: The Essential Toy for Playtime

Mirrors: The Essential Toy for Playtime

Choosing the right toys for playtime can be overwhelming! But a simple mirror can offer incredible developmental opportunities for your baby. Infants as young as 3 months show a strong preference for looking at faces. Multiple studies have shown that look time increases in infants when offered a human face, so why not start with yours or their very own.

The longer the look time, the longer the attention span builds, which means more quality impressions and beginning memory traces on your baby’s brain.

Ever wonder if your baby recognizes himself when he’s smiling in the mirror?


“Mirror Mirror on the Wall”

Using a mirror as a toy can offer plenty of language learning opportunities as well as facilitate those early cognitive skills such as imitation and understanding simple cause and effect.

Discovering a Sense of Self

Research studies have shown that babies younger than 15 months do not actually recognize themselves in the mirror. With a simple test, known as the “rouge test,” researchers place a dab of lipstick on the child’s face or nose. If the child reaches toward the mirror, they still have not understood the concept that it is their reflection they are looking at. If they reach for their own nose, which typically happens around 21 months, they have a keen idea of “sense of self.”

Promote Language and Vocabulary

Beginning at 9-12 months, use a mirror during play to teach facial parts (eyes, nose, mouth, hair). Modeling pointing on the mirror or on your face can also help promote vocabulary skills. Help your baby use that pointer finger to show him specific facial parts as you name them.

Promote Imitation

Working on imitation and improving social-emotional awareness is a basic cognitive skill. Does your baby react differently as you show a sad face? Does he giggle as you show a surprised or happy face? Can your toddler imitate these faces in the mirror? Make mirror play a part of a bedtime routine, like brushing teeth to develop these skills.


A Reflection: Mirrors during Playtime

Young babies really do love looking at other faces and even other babies. They are fascinated by human faces, and you can foster this interest by using mirrors, using face time and getting close to them, or through books with baby faces.

Remember that longer look times create longer attention spans, and create more emotional salience for an improved language learning opportunity.

Looking for more Must-Toys during playtime? Check out 10 Great Toys for Language Development

3 Reasons to Say No to the Sippy Cup

At the 9-12 month mark, you should start thinking about weaning your baby from the bottle. Prolonged bottle use can lead to a misshapen palate, protruded teeth, and can cause articulation delays, such as a lisp, later on.

And although the seemingly logical transition would be to move on to a sippy cup, there is some evidence to say otherwise. Using a sippy cup is actually too similar to using a bottle and can have adverse long-term effects.

3 Reasons to Say No to the Sippy and Go Straight for the Straw

1. A sippy cup can alter tongue placement (which also happens when using a bottle). This means that the tongue is pushed in a forward position, which can also cause the teeth to protrude over time. These structural changes are what can lead to speech and articulation delays. When using a straw or a regular cup, the tongue is placed behind the teeth.

2. Babies do a similar “head back” motion + sucking, in order to get liquid out when using a sippy cup. Moving the head back to get liquid does not engage the facial muscles (e.g. cheeks, lips, tongue) as they should be worked for continued sensorimotor development. Sippy cups don’t provide the oral-motor workout, but using a straw does!

3. Use of sippy cups have been tied to an increase in cavities and tooth decay. When babies and toddlers drink from sippy cups, they immerse the six upper teeth, which means constant exposure to the liquid, leading to tooth decay if there is something sugary (like juice) inside.

If you are using a sippy cup, think of it only as a transition to a straw or a regular cup to get less attached to the bottle. And although straw cups and regular cups can be more of a mess (because they don’t have the valve that sippy cups do), it is better developmentally for your baby.

Try the Oxo Straw Cup and Oxo Training Cup to help with transition to say sayonara to sippy cups!

50 Words to Teach Your Toddler in the High Chair

Using daily routines, like bath-time and getting dressed, are all great times for a language learning opportunity. Breakfast, lunch, snack, and dinner times can be important learning times in your child’s daily schedule too. Talking and eating is something social that we all do as adults, so make mealtime another language building opportunity with your little one.

Remember that your child is learning words from you. So it is important to be that ideal language model.

As always, use the five methods of word learning to reinforce and teach your child new words and concepts. Since mealtime can be repetitious, its a great opportunity to give your child multiple exposures to certain words and concepts. Here are a few to use:

Objects                 Actions                   Concepts                 Location

  • spoon                          sit down                           mine/yours                        on the plate
  • fork                            pour                                 more/less                          next to the cup
  • cup                            stir, mix                             all/none                            under the table
  • plate, dish                  cut                                    hot/cold                             in/inside your belly
  • milk, water                bite, chew                          empty/full
  • food names                wash                                 crunchy/mushy
  • napkin                       clean up                              all gone


  • Time to eat, Wash hands, Sit down, your chair, Hot!, Blow on itbaby with a spoon
  • My spoon, my plate, my chair, Pour it-  Psshh, Want more?
  • Milk please, Stir it up , Clean face, clean hands

Describing foods by their shape, texture, size, and taste is another great opportunity to use words that your child might not otherwise hear in their day. For example, This carrot is crunchy, This cookie is chewy, This tomato is round, This cracker is rough

You can also work on identifying foods and related items:

Identifying by Name: Show me carrots, show me banana, show me spoon, etc.

Identifying by Attribute: Which one is long, Which one is round, Which one is green, etc.

Using daily routines, like eating, bathing, and dressing are the best times to enhance your child’s language skills. These suggestions can help to expand receptive vocabulary and continue to provide the opportunity for hearing that ideal language model for enhanced language production later on.

Need more information on feeding times? Check out the 10 Must-Know Food Rules, or our Feeding Milestone chart to see if your child is on-track.