Want your baby to have a big vocabulary?… Don’t miss out on teaching them this!

I know what it’s like to be in a Mom group. I love it…. and then… confession… sometimes I don’t!

I love hanging with other Moms, lunching while our babies hang out reaching for each other’s hair and eyes, dishing on the latest in-law gossip, giving live reviews of recent baby gear, and sharing any new baby friendly recipes to get that picky eater interested in something.

And then… I hate it. Not actually hate it.  But sometimes you leave Mom group, and you think “Ugh! Susie is already crawling?!?!” or “Jack already says Mama?!?!

Have you been there? We can’t help but compare our babes to others. But, as they say… all children develop at their own pace.

There’s no such thing as “normal.” Normal is a setting on a dishwasher. Our children are all so unique in their each way, developing a bit differently, at different times. That’s the reality.

However… we all want our kiddos to excel in any way, right?!? Well, this week I bring you a research proven tip that has been shown to predict vocabulary size.

It’s pointing.

Yup, the index finger point.

Studies show that a child’s use of gesture and pointing at 14 months is the best predictor of later vocabulary size. The study looked at how often a parent pointing during playtime, and how quickly children were able to learn new words. It also found that using other gestures (for instance flapping your arms when you see a bird), helped children learn words faster too!

So… How do you get your child to point? Model the behavior! Point to pictures in books, specific parts on toys (for example, the wheel of a car), or use bubbles during play or bath-time. Don’t be shy about acting things out (charades with baby can really make the time go by).

If by 15 months, your child has not begun pointing, consult with your pediatrician to address other issues related to language or communication delays.

Next Mom’s group, share this word-tip with your crew. Be confident that your baby is getting a boat load of stimulation, and try… just try… to remember that good things come to those who wait.

(I often have to give my impatient self this exact pep talk).

Can a boy have a baby doll? Why breaking gender rolls for toys is necessary

I had a recent conversation with a group of Moms about how without much influence at all, at a very young age, it seems that boys become so mesmerized by anything with wheels.

Having a son who’s obsessed with vehicles, I could immediately relate with the opinions and story swapping. Seriously. My son and I walked by a construction zone a few days back and it was his version of heaven. He’s still making reference to the “digger truck.”

Somehow, we’re sucked into these gender-specific toys, but..… Do you want your child to be exposed to a wide range of play experiences? Of course! Do you want your child’s imaginative play world to have endless options? Absolutely!

Studies have looked at how gender-specific toys shape language, play, and thinking skills. They found that “girl toys” fostered more use of language and more imaginative play. On the other hand, “boy toys” allowed for more development of hand-eye coordination and problem solving.

So Moms of the girls… Does your daughter have a baby doll? Probably! Does she have a train set? Legos? A tool box? If so… awesome. You’re encouraging more analytical skills, which have been shown to promote success in math and science later on!

Moms of the boys…. Does your son have a toy car? Of course! Does he have a tea set? Toy food for cooking? Dare I say…. a doll? If you said yes, you’re allowing for more caring and nurturing play experiences, which may help them perform with reading and humanities subjects when they get to school.

Does gender specificity exist in toys? Yes. And sometimes you’ve just got to give in… hence the frequenting of saying and signing “dig” at dinner the past few nights in my house. But, we can offer more.

Break the mold, go against the grain… and [maybe] convince your husband that it’s ok for a boy to have a doll. I did.

ONE tip, and Triple the Benefits… Boost your kid’s language skills

Maybe you’ve already heard my soapbox speech about pointing, .

Pointing is surprisingly a super important skill for communication, and can predict your kiddo’s vocabulary size later on. So…. no pressure kid… but let’s get the pointing business on the road.

One way to reinforce pointing is by modeling, and pointing to really specific things.

Let’s chat part-whole relationships…

It’s a basic concept in language and cognitive development, usually acquired around age 2. For example, does babe know that the wheel is part of the whole car; or that the tail (part) belongs to the dog (whole).

Copy that?

So this week… you can double-up on your speech and language development to-do list, by pointing to parts of a whole thing.

Action Step: When you’re reading a book this week, point to the fish’s mouth in Pout Pout Fish, or the caterpillar’s antennae in The Very Hungry Caterpillar.  Why? Well because you’re teaching this basic cognitive concept that parts make up a whole, using lots of new and rich vocabulary (have you said antennae yet?!) and teaching baby to point with the index finger, which can predict language skills later. Triple bonus.

4 Things they don’t tell you about Baby Signs

Baby signs are all the craze!

Wild videos of 8-month olds signing butterfly and truck. Makes you feel like your babe should really pick up the pace, right?

Welllllll, not exactly. Baby signs are great. They give kiddos an opportunity to use their big muscles (their hands) before those tiny muscles in their mouth develop.

However, many forget that signs are for communicating. And although impressive that the not-even-one-year old can respond to pictures on flashcards and do 10+ signs, they aren’t really conveying information to their parent.

The real objective is that kiddos use signs to tell us something.

For instance, “More singing!” or “I’m hungry!” or “Open this damn box!”

The cool thing is, kids communicate all of those things really nicely. Whether it be by pointing, grunting, looking to you for help, or having a total meltdown. With just a few signs, we can help them get their message to us faster and with less drama.

Here’s what they don’t tell you about signs:

1- Kids probably aren’t using signs to convey a message until around 12 months.

2- You don’t have to use the actual American Sign Language (ASL) sign. You can make up your own signs. For example, tap your head for "hat," pretend to eat/drink to show "hunger or thirst," or shake your arms high for "dance with me!"

3- Kids often do their version of a sign you teach, which is also okay! The important thing is that they do the same sign for one word; so consistency is key. Give them a good ole Bravo! for every attempt at signing.

4- Signs count as words! So if you’re feeling a bit worried that your babe hasn’t hit “their word count” in terms of milestones - know that the consistent signs they use to try to tell you something count as words (yes, even though they aren’t saying a thing).

My philosophy is that signs are just the stepping stone to spoken words. So often, once a kid is signing, the sounds and words quickly follow.

What Dad Really Wants this Father’s Day

Full disclosure here: my own father has never changed a diaper in his entire life. After kids and grandkids of his own, he’s quick to do handoff in the “I think this one needs a new diaper” sort of thing.

But the next generation of dads is different…

Modern dads are incredible. So many of them are doing everything moms do. The H (husband) for example, was a pro swaddler (I mean seriously pro- a burrito roll that Chipotle could be enchanted with), poop handler, booger sucker, breastfeeding cheerleader, master soother, and bath-time champion, that impressed generations of women in my, old-school, immigrant family.

He’s pretty much the best.

And so many modern dads are taking it all on too. It’s a new era of professional women that juggle work and family, and dads are stepping up to carry some of the weight.

So with Father’s Day nearly here, they deserve something awesome.

Besides noise canceling headphones (sometimes necessary if taking calls from home in our world), I’m a sucker for creating a moment.

Consider gifting Dad some books to share with the nugget at home.

For the young ones:

I Love My Daddy Because is a great concept book, has lots of great verbs, and also awesome for practicing animal sounds (a skill that I feel like Dads totally have a leg-up over Moms).

If your kiddo is vehicle obsessed like mine, Mighty Dads will be a soon favorite. Creative rhythm and rhyme, which is great for language development, and fantastic use of exciting adjectives

And for the older ones:

Tad and Dad is a cute story about how the little ones from up so fast, that we miss the things that might have been a bit aggravating before.

Because I’m Your Dad tells the story about Monster Dads and the fun and funny things Dads do that might slightly bend the rules of the house. This ones for the rule breakers. Get it now.

This Sunday, we’re planning on plenty of reading, maybe a hike and lunch out, looking through pictures, and reminiscing. Hoping this Sunday brings lots of new memories, tight cuddles, and a deserved celebration for the Modern Dad! After all, he’s pretty awesome!

4 Ways Singing Promotes Language Development

Singing and Language Development

You know those gurgles and screeches your baby started making early on? Those sounds, and vocal play sound a bit more like singing, than talking. In many ways, language is a kind of song. It’s true that singing promotes language development in the budding brain.

Singing to your baby can help develop early language and literacy skills, such as auditory discrimination, phonological awareness,  vocabulary development, and auditory memory.


Auditory Discrimination

Babies’ brains are wired to learn language. “Infants listen first to sounds of language and only later to its meaning,” says Anthony Brandt. One of the first components of language babies learn is auditory discrimination. This is the ability to differentiate sounds in their native tongue. Hearing songs sung again and again can help build this skill.

Phonological Awareness

Many of the classics that we sing to our children, rhyme! Rhyming is another form of auditory discrimination, but it is also the building block skill for phonological awareness. These skills help to promote literacy and are the precursors to reading success. Studies show that rhyming is something that can be taught early, and children as young as 3 years are able to generate rhyming words. Songs are loaded with rhymes and alliteration. So singing early on can help wire your baby’s brain to be attuned to literacy skills sooner.

Vocabulary Development

Singing also targets many of the ways your child learns new words. The repetition of words and verses can help children acquire new vocabulary and new concepts. It can provide an excellent language model for your child as they hear the construction of phrases and sentences and start to understand the syntax of our language.


Auditory Memory

For your pre-schooler, auditory memory (hearing information, processing it, retaining it, and then later recalling it) is a crucial academic skill that can be improved upon with activities. Singing is one of them. Songs that build on each verse, like, The Green Grass Grows All Around, can really challenge those memory skills.

Remember that as a parent, the BEST way to engage your child is to be dynamic. So change the way you sing a song, by singing it faster, or slower, or in a different voice. My inner camp counselor is humming Boom Chicka Boom as we speak.

Check out this list of songs for ideas:

Not-to-be-Missed Classics:

  • Itsy Bitsy Spider
  • Wheels on the Bus
  • Row Row Row Your Boat

Body Parts:

  • Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes
  • If You’re Happy and You Know It
  • Do Your Ears Hang Low
  • Where is Thumbkin


  • Down By the Bay
  • Going on a Bear Hunt
  • Baby Bumble Bee
  • Farmer in the Dell


  • Five Little Ducks
  • Five Green Speckled Frogs
  • Five Little Monkeys
  • Ants Go Marching

Looking for more songs? Raffi’s Singable Song Collection is another great resource.

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.

How Ball Play Enhances Language Development

One of your top 10 favorite toys should be one of the simplest of them all... a ball. Along with some of the other no batteries required toys, a ball is a great way to promote word learning and sound development in the pre-talker, and other gross motor benefits for the older kiddo.

A ball facilitates early social skills, like turn-taking and eye contact. It’s great for word exposure to verbs (throw, roll, pass, bounce), and opposites (up/down, inside/out). Hide the ball behind your back or under a blanket and see if your baby can locate it when it’s out of sight. This theory of “object permanence” is an early cognitive skill, usually developed around 9 months.

Some Target Words & Phrases to use during ball play for Word Learning

Work the verbs:

  • throw, roll, pass, bounce, toss, squeeze, shake, chasebaby reaching for ball

Try out Spatial concepts:

  • up, down, on, inside, under, behind

As your baby grows, have them imitate and repeat simple phrases.


  • Roll it, Throw it
  • Mama gets it, Baby gets it
  • Teddy Bear can throw too


  • Ball up
  • Where is it?
  • It's inside the bag, on the table, under the couch

Teach Possession and Pronouns:

  • Who has it? Mama has it, it's my ball.
  • Your turn, who has it? Baby has it, it's your ball!


  • My turn, Your turn
  • Please, Thank You

Low-tech toys are fantastic for developing play and language skills because they must be manipulated to make them interesting. Remember that its our responsibility as the adult, to make the toy more visually appealing and to engage our child to keep their attention for longer periods of time.

Five “Puzzling” Ways to Enhance Language & Thinking

Like puzzles, language takes on a pattern. Identifying certain pieces and components of a big picture can be a highly challenging cognitive task. Early identification of patterns can also foster early critical thinking skills for improved foundation for reading and math.

By combining early language skills and cognitive development, puzzles are a unique method to establish good attention and concentration and help your child thrive.

Here’s how:

1. Spatial Concepts - Studies support that high quality parent interactions during puzzle play promote spatial thinking and later math skills. Create that for your child and teach words such as, Next to, above, below, between, edge, flat, straight, corner, curve, side, top, bottom, long, short, inside, outside, upside down, and flip.

2. Labeling - labeling parts and whole (e.g. the arm of the Giant, the Giant’s eyes) for fast word learning and expanding vocabulary. Providing a language-rich environment during play will always be the best way to learn more words.

3. Boost in cognitive skills such as Problem Solving & Reasoning - The old “guess and check” method is the simplest form of problem solving, which kids can learn during puzzle play. To further promote early critical thinking skills, ask your child same/different questions (e.g. How is this corner piece similar to this one, how is it different?). If your kiddo is even younger, try matching and sorting by colors as a first step to completing a puzzle.

4. Promotes “Self-Talk” - in those late toddler and early preschool years, “self-talk” can be a great way for children to advance and build confidence with conversation skills and sentence development. Encourage your child to talk through the logic of completing a puzzle.

5. Promotes Conversation - on the first go-around, likely your child will need some assistance with starting and finishing a puzzle. Use this opportunity to facilitate asking for help, or where questions (e.g. Where does this one go? and you respond using spatial concepts from #1). Puzzles can also be used as story starters, so start creating something new every time.