Learning to talk

It appears from some studies that a certain amount of "baby talk" by adults may be significant in an infants speech development.  It is also important that the infant be exposed to models of mature speech.  As mentioned above (see: Getting Started), Adults often underestimate what young children understand.  One recommended practice is to tell the baby what you are doing as you tend to them.  "Now we put your right foot in here.  Now your left foot in here."  

Remember that the young learn only from what they hear.  We all suffer at times from "lazy lips and tired tongue syndrome". So, wha'cha gonna do 'boutit?  Not every time, but a significant part of the time, take time to speak clearly and distinctly.  It is common for preschoolers to know the alphabet well, except for L,M,N,O,P, which in the song version, are crammed together into a single, unrecognizable lump.

Sometimes it is important to "talk down" (phrase your ideas at the student's current level of language mastery) to a student to be certain of being understood.  But if students are not frequently exposed to levels above their current one, there is no motivation to progress further.  

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Patient guidance

Language development seems to progress by jumps and plateaus.  Attempting to push a child to a higher level than they are ready for leads to frustration for both them and us.  How can I tell when they are ready for the next level?  When they not only accept the correction, but understand how it works.  

It is not desirable to try to correct every grammatical error every time.  Perhaps the best approach is to rephrase the statement correctly, "Do you mean .....?"  The child will usually agree, unless you misunderstood.  You have provided a model for future reference.  And the conversation can continue without interruption.  Upon reaching the appropriate level, they will pick up the rule with little difficulty.

Historically teachers and parents have had a tendency to confront grammatical errors with, "That is not right.  Say it this way. ...."  Insisting that the child repeat it "correctly" before continuing.  This leads to rote learning of a pattern without understanding.
A common result is "over correction", where the same pattern is applied to situations where it is not correct.

A common example of over correction:
When should myself be referred to as "I", and when as " Me "?
Child: Me and Jim want ice cream.
Parent:  No.  Say, "Jim and I want ice cream."  No reason is given, it's just "right."
After great struggle, child now says correctly, "Jim and I want ice cream."   But, having learned it only by rote, with no understanding of why, over correction occurs.  The child says, "Mom gave Jim and I ice cream."  Which is not correct.  But should have been, "Mom gave Jim and me ice cream."
Simple rule:  If it had been just you, without Jim, would you have said "I", or "Me"?  Then stick Jim in front, and you'll be correct.  It is not really necessary to explain about objective and subjective cases.

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You don't need to be an expert

Many parents worry that they can't answer all of their child's questions.  Not to worry, do the best you can, admit that some answers you don't know.  If it is a truly important question, offer to try to find out, and get back to them.  But then you had better make a good effort.  It is often appropriate to suggest a source where the child can look for the answer.  That can be followed by, "Please let me know what you find out."  Sometimes, "What do you already know that might help you answer that question?"  Or, with an older child, "How can we find out?", implying learning together as a team.  Much more important than having an answer to all of your questions, is developing effective skills for finding answers.   YES! this is a key set of skills in any science.

It is also important to remember that a toddler in the infamous "Why?" stage, may have little or no interest in the answers.  They have found that by asking "why?", they can continue the interaction with an adult.  The attention is the goal, not information.  In such cases nonsense responses serve the purpose quite well, saving the adult some effort, and keeping the child content.

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Quality science time

There are times when your child will say, "Come see what I found!"  If not too inconvenient, it is usually a good idea to go and appreciate whatever it is.  When in the middle of a task which can't easily be interrupted.  "Sorry, I can't come right now" is ok occasionally.  But if used too often may convince the child that you really are not interested, that such discoveries are unimportant. And discourages them from even noticing, let alone reporting such incidents.   It may be possible, without seriously interrupting your work, to provide "quality" time that is also educational.

Child:  "Daddy, Daddy, come see what I found in the yard!"
Parent:  "Sorry, I'm fixing dinner, and I can't come outside right now.  So, tell me what you found."
C:  "It's a big bug."
P:  "Oh?  How big is it?  How big is it?  The size of your little finger?  Your thumb?"
C:  "I'm not sure."
P:  "If it's still there, be careful to not move too fast, or get too close, you don't want to scare it away.  See just how big it is."
C:  returning "It's this big."
P:  "I see.  That is big for a bug.  How many legs does it have?"
C:  back again "It has six legs."
P:  "If it has six legs, it must be an insect.  What color is it?"
C:  after going for another look "It's green and brown."
P:  "Which parts are green and which brown?"
Further questions suitable to age and skill level of the child, and to the available time, are limited only by the resourcefullness of the adult.

With the child most likely making another trip to find the answer to each question, this could go on for an extended period  without the parent being directly involved for much of it.  This is "QUALITY" time.  It also rewards curiosity, while developing observation, and improving ability to describe and report.

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Developing awareness

I once had a student turn in a beautiful display with her project.  While visiting her grand parents, she had the help of a retired science teacher.  The project was on observations of house sparrows.  The display contained photos, preserved specimens, and was well designed.  Even though the recorded observations didn't amount to much, I expect many science teachers would have given her rave reviews and highest grades.  I asked one question.  "Where would I have to go if I wanted to see a house sparrow?"  She said, "I suppose you would have to go to Redlands." (The town where her grand parents live.)  It just never entered her head that the birds which had been making such a mess above her locker might be house sparrows.  I opened the door and pointed at the nearest house sparrow, "What kind of bird is that?"  Looking at it intently, she answered, "I don't know."

Start at the earliest age, by setting an example.  Whether in the car, walking, standing in line, wherever, make a point of drawing their attention to things of small interest.

"Oh look, there's the moon."  I find that many teenagers are not aware that the moon is often visible in the day time sky.
"Look at this beautiful flower.  I wonder what kind it is."  Of course if you happen to know, you would name it.
"Hear that mockingbird which is imitating a car alarm?"

I have noticed, people pointing out an animal to a small child don't say, "see the mammal."  But, "See the dog", or "See the cow", or "See the bear."    Yet, mostly they don't say, "See the sparrow", or "See the mockingbird", or "See the crow".  But they say, "See the bird."  Really! it is not hard to learn to name the most common flowers, birds, butterflies, etc.  (One place you could start is the web site " Back Yard Biology ")

For more ideas see "Back Yard Botany: Simple Beginnings"

Awareness of geography:
An understanding of geography is important to life in general, and also in science.  As a start I recommend that you keep a globe of Earth handy.  It doesn't have to be large or fancy, I find a 4 inch globe works well.  When the news is about a natural disaster, point out the location on the globe.  Even if a child is too young to completely understand, each example makes an significant impression, even when it seems otherwise.  (just don't push hard for immediate understanding, it will come.)  Are you discussing gorillas?  Point to the place where they live.  A TV show about the Amazon?  Point to it on the globe.

Taking the family on a trip?  Show the kids your route on a map.  It doesn't matter whether it be a long or short trip.

I have included an online game called Global Navigator on the game page.  Playing this game will develop familiarity with the names of countries and their capitols, as well as their locations on Earth.  I expect most kids will find it much more fun than the old memorization drill.

Awareness of their body:
An understanding of their own anatomy is important is important in developing a healthy life style, as well as an entry into biology.  For this reason I have included an online game called Body Parts on the game page.  It is not very detailed or precise, but it is a good beginning.  And hopefully it's fun.

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Developing Science Skills

The only way to develop skills is to use them, in other words, practice.  The more practice the better. However, the skills used in science need not always be practiced in the context of science.  On the game page, I have included some online games that are useful for developing science skills.

Ocean Catch is a variation of the table game Memory.  The table game has the advantage of shared experience, and I recommend it for family time.  The online game has the advantage that it does not require finding someone else willing to play.  In either case, it develops skill in pattern recognition and comparison.  Skills used in such things as identifying a bird by looking in a field guide. These are also important parts of classification skills.

Cube Crush is a game that requires observation skills.  It also needs the use of logic to get isolated blocks together so they can be removed.  Also, the larger the group, the higher the score when it is removed.

Alphabet Jungle, at first glance might not seem an appropriate game to teach science skills.  However, it requires the player to rearrange bits of data in order to discover patterns which were not obvious in the original presentation.  This is the way scientific theories come into being.  It is a critical part of creative ability.  That it develops vocabulary and spelling at the same time is just a bonus.

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