Carolyn Dent shares:
***Part I-Setting the Stage for Optimum Brain Development***
This chapter discusses how the Thirty Million Words (TMW) initiative looks in practice. The curriculum is parent developed, parent tested, and parent directed. Hundreds of parents were recruited to review module examples and give feedback regarding quality, clarity, and relevance. Parent-friendly explanations, illustrations, and videos are used to promote a rich language environment. One example given was an illustration for the phrase “words grow your baby’s brain.”
The Three Ts—Tune In, Talk More, Take Turns—were designed to become a natural part of everyday activities (making bed, peeling apple, sweeping floor, etc.)
“Tune In” requires making a conscious effort to notice what a child is focused on, then talking with the child about it, following and responding to the child’s lead. It is critical to be aware of what the child is doing and become a part of it. This enhances the relationship with the child, helps to improve play skills, and helps develop the child’s brain since the brain does not have to use energy to switch to another arena (parent is engaging in what child is already interested in/focused on). When children are encouraged to focus on something other than what is currently holding their interest they are less likely to learn. When participating in child-led activities, the child will stay engaged longer, imitate communication, and learn more easily.
Child-directed speech (melodic pitch, positive tones, simplified vocabulary, and singsong rhythm) entices a child into shared attention and to be engaged and interact. Repetition is emphasized as babies learn words they hear more frequently and will listen longer to sounds/words they’ve heard before.
Parental responsiveness consists of observation, interpretation, and action all being completed with warmth. This warmth, or lack thereof, predicts the stability of the child. When a child is crying, the parent responds (“Mommy is here,”) creating an attachment. Unattended newborn cries results in toxic stress, if continued over time, and the child’s brain connections are permanently, negatively impacted. This affects a child’s learning to control emotions, behavior, trusting others, and health. Responding to a child causes attachment. The many colors of communication are discussed—crying, babbling, making faces, eye contact, etc. all used to get parents’ attention.
“Talk More” requires talking WITH the child, not TO the child with attention to not only the kinds of words, but how they are said. An example of a piggy bank full of pennies versus a piggy bank full of various coins was used to explain using a rich vocabulary. Narration (parent’s talk about what THEY’RE doing) is encouraged for parents to use throughout the day to surround child with language and familiarize the child with steps in a routine. Parallel talk (parent’s talk about what the CHILD is doing) should be done with eye contact, regarding the immediate environment, holding the child close, and with warmth. Suskin also discourages use of pronouns when developing early language skills. Decontextualized language is a higher level of thinking for processing and responding and optimizes school learning. This is accomplished by use of familiar words to talk about things parent/child have done together with no observable reference.
Expansion, extension, and scaffolding are encouraged for the “Talk More” piece of TMW. Expansion offers a better way of saying something. Extension encourages using the child’s word as a building block to add more vocabulary. Scaffolding is adding words to a child’s response to make it more mature.
“Take Turns” promotes conversational exchange. Waiting for the child to respond, allowing a little extra time for the child to retrieve words is important. It was explained that “WHAT” questions don’t enhance conversational exchange or build vocabulary because you are only requiring the child to retrieve words he/she is already familiar with (same with y/n). Open-ended questions are encouraged to promote problem solving.
***Part II-The Three Ts in Action***
Part II focuses on the introduction of math concepts, developing literacy, building self-regulation and executive function, and developing critical thinking skills, emotional insight, creativity, and persistence. Book sharing is recommended with dialogic reading to be used. This is when the child takes an active role in telling the story and answering questions about what they see, think, and feel. This is a great opportunity for using decontextualized language—when answers aren’t on the page. Even reading to a baby is beneficial as they are comforted by the sound of a parent’s voice, the rhythm of the speech and warmth of the touch. The importance of print awareness is discussed and pointing to words is emphasized to make connections between spoken words and print as well as to familiarize the child with the procedure for reading (left to right, top to bottom, etc.) There is a link between parents’ oral narrative activities and their children’s later language skills, which is where storytelling and narrative come into play. This can be addressed with everyday activities (going to the grocery story) and parents should encourage participation, ask open-ended questions to develop imagination, deep thinking, and vocabulary growth.
Numbers and learning to count, at first as a rote practice, lay the foundation for math. Counting things all around (adding subtracting/crackers) is suggested. Talking about shapes and their relationship to one another (spatial reasoning) is important as children who had more spatial words at 2 had better spatial skills at 4.5 years.
Teaching patterns and routine is important as patterns help a child know what will happen next, which helps them focus on learning.
“Process-based praise “(praising the effort) rather than “person-based praise” (praising the child) has proven to produce children who are less likely to give up when faced with a challenge.
Self-regulation and executive function are also discussed. Offering choices allows a child to think independently (regulatory part of child’s brain). The best way to teach self-regulation is to exhibit it, especially watching tone of voice. Directives do not build self-regulation or brains as there is little or no language required in the response.
“Because thinking” provides a rationale for doing something, cause/effect explanation, consequences of actions. This results in critical thinking and a lifetime understanding. An example that was provided was to explain WHY we need to put certain items of clothes on rather than demanding “Put your shoes on!”
Creativity is encouraged through music, painting, drawing, sculpting, and pretend play. This allows a tendency toward exploration, discovery, and imagination and as a result provides a stronger foundation for the beginning of school. The arts also promote an outlet for expressing thoughts and feelings.
The chapter ends with a discussion on technology and simply put, the conclusion is that children’s’ brains learn best from social interaction. Limits on technology use and its purpose should be carefully considered.