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POINTING

Many parents do this instinctively. They point out words and letters on the page when they read to Baby.

This is called “referencing” according to a recent paper by Shayne Piasta of Ohio State University published in Child Development. Dr. Piasta studied 300 preschool children with below average language skills enrolled in a reading program called STAR (Sit Together and Read). Half of the teachers were trained to make references to the printed page while reading. The others read as they usually did. Not only did the children whose reader referenced the page have higher word recognition, spelling, and comprehension scores than children in the control group but these higher scores persisted for up to two years.

Pointing is useful is other ways. Pointing to the object while saying the word increases the odds that the child will 1) pay attention and 2) know what you are talking about.

Gestures likely preceded spoken language in the development of language in humans. There was no doubt a survival advantage to creatures that could extend a finger. If the finger pointed to an object of food like a grub the gesture acquired meaning: food is over there. The hominid nearby that paid attention had a survival advantage as well. Meaning and attention were crucial to the development of spoken language as we evolved.

Meaning and attention are also critical to the development of language in a baby. Before babies can say the word “ball” they can look at and later crawl to the ball when you say the word or when you point to it because it “means” the round toy that is interesting to pay attention to.

Michael Grose, an Australian parenting educator, suggested in a recent newsletter that “going visual” is a great way to parent. We parents are verbal creatures and we often over-rely on words to get our kids to do what we want. He suggests using hand gestures to cue kids as you tell them what you expect. Point to the bedroom while saying the child’s name when it is bedtime. I found the palm out gesture meaning “Stop!” was effective and sometimes prevented an unwanted behavior. A “T” for “Time out!” can calm down a family meeting where everyone is talking at once.

Michael also suggest a written roster of chores, stickers or signs to indicate non- negotiable items like “Keep Out!” on a door or “No interrupting” at a family meeting and writing notes. Notes can prompt kids to reflect on a behavior that embarrassed you. Or can be a great way to praise a child for positive behavior: “You cleaned up your room before Grandma’s visit and without being told. That’s being responsible!”

Parents augment your words with VISUAL AIDS. And always POINT to the words and pictures when you read to young children.

By the way I try to keep up with as many professional parenting websites as I can, especially those that are sensible and do not put parents down. Michael Grose has many sensible parenting ideas: http://www.parentingideas.com.au

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