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!

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!!!

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!

Why Play on the Playground?

Earlier this fall, our family of 3 took a brave vacation to Europe. One of the best things about vacationing is changing your surroundings, getting out of your comfort zone, and learning just through experience

(I could go on about travel tips with a one year old, but we’ll save that for another time.)

Traveling with our kiddo was different. Instead of searching for wine bars, we were hunting down playgrounds on city maps. Instead of sleeping in on weekdays, we sought out the finest bakeries in our hoods at the opening time. Nothing beats a piping hot pastry. Ahhh, vacation indulgence.

Check out that spider web in the back!
Check out that spider web in the back!

The playground search became a thing. Of all the spots we traveled to, The Luxembourg Gardens won my heart. Uneven and unsteady climbs, small slides, big slides, a sand pit, massive trees, rope bridges, and did I mention… zip lining?!?!

You just don’t see those kinds of things at an American playground. Europeans have been in the forefront of allowing kids to entertain “risky behaviors” during play, and for no other purposes but for learning and exploration. We have to remember that for children, play is their job. And with busy schedules, errands to be ran, and sometimes some helicopter parenting… we forget that this is what they’re supposed to do.

5 Reasons why you should bring your kid to a playground, right now:

1. Problem solving. They’re learning how to conquer something new. Typically learning through the guess and check method, but their brains are firing and working hard to figure out “well how far do I have to duck so that I can fit under here?”

2. Self-discovery and self-expression. After they’ve figured out what they can do easily and what requires a bit more problem solving, they start to develop self-confidence and can feel proud of a new. What a great conversation topic for post playground antics.

3. Repetition. Doing something again and again strengthens brain pathways. So your kiddo is integrating motor, sensory, emotional, and language experiences. Stronger pathways means faster processing.

4. Social skills. You know what’s great about a playground? The ease of unplanned play dates. Kids learn from each other. They thrive from the social interaction, turn taking, communication, and learning empathy (we always send hugs to a new friend that’s sad from a fall, and needs some TLC).

5. Imagination overload. Slides can be towers, monkey bars can be a swamp, sand pits can be parking lots and construction sites… Your child can transform into a king, queen, guard, fireman, Mom, Dad, etc. The pretend play is where language and cognition meet and do a happy brain dance together.FullSizeRender-1

Here in San Francisco, we’ve become creatures of habit and go to the same one or two playgrounds in walking distance of our apartment. Great for repetition and forming expectation, but sometimes you gotta switch it up a bit. We try to venture to some indoor playspaces and meet friends at new spots too. 

Is it getting chilly where you are? Bring the playground inside. Throw some pillows and couch blankets on the floor and practice crawling, hopping, climbing right in your living room.

Now I want to hear from you! What’s your kiddo’s favorite thing at the playground? Swings, slide, sandbox? Is there something incredible at your playground that your child can't get enough from? Share it with us in the comments below!

5 Brain Boosting Reasons to Talk with your Baby

You’ve probably heard that talking to your baby is important. From the minute your baby is born, their brains are ready and wired to hear, process, and learn language. It’s true that in the first 3 years of life, your baby’s brain triples in size; craving more stimulation to help that organ grow.

So… no pressure, right? I remember that first day of maternity leave when my husband was back at work and my Mom just got on a flight to head home. It was just me and baby.

Now, I've made a career out of teaching kids to talk, teaching stroke survivors to talk, and even getting my husband to talk when it was time to over-communicate and hash something out.

I know all about talking. Trust me on that one. But in the beginning, I was sleep deprived, focused on this little human’s eating patterns, and lucky if I had a decent meal other than cheese and crackers. Changing a diaper required mental energy! How could I possibly narrate every waking moment of the day when I had so little brain power?!

Luckily, things got easier (sort of). And once you’ve figured it out (and you will if you haven’t already), there are a few things to keep in mind when it comes to talking:

Your baby needs face time.

Not the video version of grandparents and cousins on your iPhone, but your actual face. Your face gives so much information into what you’re saying and can make your words more meaningful. So start perfecting your “close talker” game.

Chatty Cathy’s preferred.

Talk as often as you can, about whatever you can. If you’re in the car, narrate some directions. If you’re chopping vegetables, narrate the process of holding a knife appropriately. If you’re catching up on emails or texts, read them out loud with emphatic expression.

Don’t shy away from baby talk.

Research shows that going goo-goo-gah-gah and talking in that high-pitched, sing-songy way actually boosts baby’s language, and might get your baby talking sooner.

Keep your thesaurus handy.

Well, not really. But studies show that the number of different words that parents use when they talk with their babies is what can help them succeed with reading later on. For instance, instead of saying “the bird is flying,” try “soaring” or “gliding in the sky.” Admittedly, this is taxing and exhausting to do sometimes. So look for other ways to expose your baby to different words, like books with rich vocabulary or songs.

More than words.

Of course talking is critical to language development and brain development. Your baby can’t learn language from staring at a television all day. It’s the personal communication, love, and attention that they need for learning. Understanding relationships and the beginning of social skills are the perfect foundations for the brain.

More words means bigger brains. Give your baby a boost and get talking.

Now I want to hear from you! Leave a comment below and tell us what your baby loves hearing about the most! Stories? Songs? Do they love when you talk about cars, or food?

3 Playtime Surprises for Baby

Ever since my little guy started crawling and cruising around the edges of the couch, he loved being chased. We’d pop out from behind a door with this expressive I’m gonna get you, he’d cackle in delight, and kisses and tickles directly followed. We’re still playing the chasing game, but now we just have to be more on our toes, since he’s getting kind of fast!

Does your baby love peek-a-boo too? Do they dig finding you hiding behind a wall? Do you get the same belly laughs that are pretty much the best part of your day?

Turns out that babies love being surprised. Why? Well, it actually helps them learn.

Babies have these sophisticated brains that start understanding what objects are capable of doing very early on. For instance, a ball can roll… a rattle shakes… and blocks can stack.

A recent study revealed that when babies are shown a surprising play idea, or they see the object do something that they don’t expect, they show deeper attention as they tried to understand the event. They examined the object and actually showed better learning, than the infants who were shown an event that they did expect.

You might have heard me preach about using toys in different ways.

This gives baby a chance to explore all the properties of one toy for better learning. And it’s up to us to show baby the surprising things too!

Playtime Action Steps:

  1.  Next time you shake a maraca, instead of holding it by the handle, hold it at the top and make an unexpected sound for baby. Try rolling the maraca across the floor or putting it inside another container and shaking to make it sound.
  2. Instead of building a tower with blocks, build a train and push it along the floor. Instead of putting blocks into a bag, put them through a paper towel roll, or in an old tissue box or oatmeal container and shake them up.
  3. Instead of just rolling a ball, you can bounce it, throw it up, or use a book and create an easy in-home ramp off the couch.

Surprise, Surprise!

So keep it interesting at home. Keep baby guessing and challenge what they already know. If you're looking for more ideas on how to make playtime easy, rewarding, and fun, then check out Baby School here.