Home Building Brains Thirty Million Words (Part 3) Take Turns

Thirty Million Words (Part 3) Take Turns

by grammiestewart
Thirty Million Words

I have many important roles, but the ones I feel have been most significant in my life are wife, mom, teacher and grandma. Often I read something that changes my thinking and I feel makes me better in my roles. So it happened when I read the book Thirty Million Words by Dana Suskind. It was more like being hit by lightning!


This is the 3rd post about the exciting skills I learned from the book. It is dealing with the third T concept … Take Turns (my first post about this book was about Tune In and the second post about Talk More).


Take Turns is all about talking with the child in a conversational exchange (that back-and-forth talking that you and I would do with a friend). Suskind says it it the most valuable of the Three Ts when it comes to developing a child’s brain. When I first read this I said to myself, “How am I suppose to have a conversation with a newborn or a child that doesn’t talk? I have trouble carrying real conversations with adults!”


No worries  … Suskind says that how a parent or grandparent Takes Turns with a child will change as the child grows.




Thirty Million Words

Babies will let you know what they need!

Babies are effective communicators. A crying baby may be telling you they are hungry. A baby who rubs his eyes is saying it is time to go to bed. A conversation with a baby means reading those communication clues (crying, rubbing eyes), figuring out what those clues mean, and then responding to them i.e. feeding the baby or putting them to bed. It is not what we would consider a typical conversation, but these back-and-forth exchanges are really important for building a baby’s brain and for parent-child attachment.




When the baby becomes a toddler, Taking Turns changes.


The child adds made-up words, words that are almost correct, and real words to the facial expressions and gestures that they learned as a baby. Now a parent needs to respond to these signals and then wait for the child to respond, just like you do in a real conversation.


Children just learning to talk often have to search for language. Sometimes they take a loooong time to search for those words. It may take so long that you will want to respond for the child. You would be exposing the child to more language, but the conversation may end. Allowing your grandchild a little extra time to come up with the words can make the difference in continuing with Take Turns, or ending it.


Thirty Million Words



Suskind gives some hints for encouraging conversations with little children. She says that “what” questions (What color is the ball? What does a cow say?) often limit vocabulary building because they have a one word answer and that word is one the child already knows.  Questions that are answered with a yes or a no fall into this same category. That doesn’t mean you can’t ask these kinds of questions  (I am always asking my granddaughter what noises different animals make… I love to hear her responses!), it just means that these shouldn’t make up the majority of your Taking Turns.


The book Thirty Million Words says that open-ended questions, that don’t have a yes or no or one-word answer, are the way to go. These often start with “how” or “why”. A simple “how” or “why” allows a child to respond with a variety of words, thoughts, and ideas. They can lead, eventually, to the skill of problem solving.


Examples of “How” or “Why” and Open-ended Questions

  • Why do you think the dog is barking?
  • What do you think the princess in the story will do next?
  • How should we take all these pebbles to the back yard?
  • Why do you like this doll best?
  • What colors would you like to paint your picture with?
  • How does the fur of this bunny feel?
  • Why do you want to wear these pants today?
  • How many books do you think will fit in your bag?
  • Which toys would you like to take to the park with you today?
  • How can we clean the mud off of your hands?
  • Why do you like this flower the best?


Suskind also suggests offering children choices and letting children make choices because when all choices are made by an adult, a child never has to consider actions or the results of those actions.  Here is a Take Turns conversation that could occur when a very young child, just out of bed, is eager to visit Grandma who has just arrived…


Mom: Which one of these dresses do you want to wear?

Child: Pink dress.

Mom: The pink one? I thought you’d pick the purple one. Can you tell me why you picked the pink one?

Child: (Child points to pockets) ‘ockets.

Mom: You wanted it because it has pockets? Ah, so you can put Grandma’s candy in it!

Child: Yes!

Mom: I also think it’s the best one because the skirt is perfect for spinning round and round and you like to dance with Grandma.

Child: Dancing!

Mom: Very nice choice for a visit with Grandma!



Taking Turns is something I am excited to try, especially with my granddaughter who just turned one year old and is just beginning to talk. I think by using all three of the Three Ts, Tune In, Talk More, and Taking Turns, we as gung ho grandmas will be helping build the brains of these grandchildren we love so much! I recommend this book, Thirty Million Words,  to you all!


gung ho grandma signature

Share with us your experiences/successes using these ideas from Thirty Million Words in the comments below!


You may also like


Devon February 8, 2017 - 6:32 am

Thank you for writing these posts! They are so interesting and informative. I will have to start doing some of the things recommended with my four month old… then he will grow up being able to better communicate with the world! Thanks for saving us from having to read the book ourselves!

grammiestewart February 8, 2017 - 12:13 pm

Love babies that have a mom that wants to do all they can for them. Lucky baby!

Debby February 8, 2017 - 8:09 am

Hi Melonee! I have 7 grandbabies ranging from age 17 years to 9 mos. I’m especially blessed because the oldest lives with us, 3 live only 5 minutes away and the other 3 are close enough to see almost every wknd! My grandma was a huge part of my life and my hope is to be the same kind of loving and fun memory maker to my grandkids that my grandma was to my siblings and I. I love your posts…thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts and ideas with the rest of us gung-ho grandmas! Anyway, I just put Thirty Million Words on hold at the library. Can’t wait to get my hands on it! Have a great day Melonee!

grammiestewart February 8, 2017 - 12:16 pm

Thanks Debby … you sound like an awesome gung ho grandma and you are so lucky to have all those grandkids so close to you. Glad you will read the book … I think that it will change how parents and grandparents talk with children.


Leave a Comment