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