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Developing Cognitive And Language Skills In The Early Years

If you take a moment to look at the world from a child’s perspective, you will realize that there is so much to learn in every moment! A child’s brain is hard at work forming neural connections at a remarkable speed; a million connections per second, according to a study by the Center on the Developing Child, 2007: The Science of Early Childhood Development. Observing things around them and developing understanding skills based on cause and effect begins right from infancy. So, it is imperative that these little explorers are exposed to as many varied experiences as possible.

At the heart of developing reasoning, lies cognitive ability. Cognitive skills enable a person to use logic, solve problems using some rational and, in a nutshell, think and figure things out. Cognitive development also refers to how we remember and learn.

The language provides a way for us to communicate and share our thoughts with others. Children are teeming with questions from all that they observe, and through words, they are able to vocalise and share their thoughts.

Linguistic development begins very early for children, in fact, even before they speak their first word! During a massage, as you point to each body part while naming it, your baby begins to associate the sound or name with each part. Storing it in their memory, they will begin saying the correct word once they are able to speak. The cognitive ability helps them to relate an oft-repeated word to the correct stimulus at a later time.

Here are a few ideas of how to help your little one develop both cognitive and linguistic skills hand in hand.

Talk To Them, A Lot

Talk To Them, A Lot

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The more you speak to your child, the more words they will learn. These can then be used by them to verbalise their own thoughts. A baby’s hearing is well developed, so even talking about all that you plan to do during your day, or describing how you are preparing a meal or dressing them up is a great idea to improve vocabulary and give words to actions that they see.

Create Stories to Boost Creative Skills

Create Stories

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Unbound by right or wrong, what’s possible and what’s not, a child’s imagination is free to soar! Creativity is a vital part of cognitive skills, and creating stories is a wonderful way to have fun and get creative. Support your child with open-ended questions like, ‘What do you think will happen next?’ and gives cues for them to build on the story and take it forward using different words to describe situations vividly. Pretend play is another way that encourages imagination. So the next time your toddler picks up a banana to their ear and pretends it’s a phone, do the same and begin a conversation on how the day has been!

Spatial Concepts and Skills Using Play

Spatial Concepts Using Play

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If your child is a budding builder, making a tower of blocks is a great way to explain the concept of tall and short, big and small. Watching it tumble down gives an idea about balance, logic and solving the problem for next time. Analytical skills teach a child to compare objects and learn what words to use to explain this. Through a ‘serve and return’ volley with adults, children pick up words and connect them to objects or their meaning by recognising a pattern.

I Spy

I Spy

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An engaging game that came make a walk in the park, a drive in the car or even time spent at home doing chores lots of fun! Describe any object that you see and let your child guess it. Use descriptive words like ‘I spy something round to play with’ for a ball, or ‘I spy something tall and green’ for a tree. Besides improving vocabulary and learning how to describe things, it also makes them aware of their surroundings and encourages them to analyse, focus and observe things around them.

Sing It, Repeat It

Sing It, Repeat It

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Ever wondered why songs and rhymes for children have so many word repetitions? This helps to reinforce new words and commit them to memory. Children are exposed to so many new things every day that their span of attention and recall is relatively short. Improving memory, another core cognitive skill helps to recall words from words that have been learnt earlier. Create your own special song with your little one for bath time or while dressing up, or sing Old McDonald with your child’s name and have fun making all the different animal sounds!

There is no ‘right’ age to begin teaching your child linguistic skills. Spending time talking to them about everything that’s happening around you helps them hone their cognitive abilities, structure their thoughts and build logic that forms the basis of problem-solving later on. Working on language skills and cognitive skills that are so closely related to each other, sets the foundation for a bright childhood filled with interesting experiences.

Help Your Child Begin Reading With Phonics

From soft cooing and babbling to cherished first words, a child’s journey with speech is full of interesting moments! In just a matter of months, haltingly spoken broken sentences magically transform into incessant chatter. Children have so much to share about all that they observe, and words open up a whole new world of expression.

As your little talkers get ready for pre-school and beyond, it’s time for them to learn another important skill. Learning to read is perhaps the only skill that does not come naturally to them, unlike walking, eating or even speaking. It is natural to try and stand and then walk, but unless specifically taught to read, a child isn’t able to make sense of the written word as anything more than squiggles on paper!

As parents, we believe that knowing how to read is essential for success in school and later in life. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, children who are introduced to reading at an early age excel in school and have a considerable advantage over those who don’t. What makes it even more interesting is that this advantage carries on even beyond kindergarten throughout their school years.

As a toddler, most of the child’s interaction with family members is in the mother tongue; so it becomes the language he or she is most comfortable with. In addition to that, parents usually teach kids common words in English to introduce them to the language which they will soon be exposed to in school. Through a ‘serve and return’ volley with adults, children pick up words and connect them to objects or their meaning by recognising a pattern. ‘Tall’ would refer to a column of blocks stacked on top of each other, and the word ‘bath’ would usually be followed by splashing about in the water. Reading, on the other hand, requires a different approach and the same spoken words often appear alien when presented in print.

Why Phonics?

Online Lecture

Image: The Times of India
Imagine then, for a preschooler heading into a formal education system, apart from an unfamiliar environment and being away from known faces, there is an added burden of learning to read English! This is where phonics is extremely useful in making learning to read an enjoyable and interactive experience. Simply put, the phonics approach teaches young learners to crack the code of how to read written language. A child is taught individual sounds or ‘phonemes’ that represent each letter or combination of letters of the English alphabet as they are spoken. With these building blocks, printed words look less menacing as the letters they are made of now have an oral connection.

In our quest for academic excellence, a huge emphasis is placed on children beginning to read fluently at the earliest. But unless done right, this may be easier said than done. A systematic phonics programme methodically begins with simple letter-sound recognition and gradually moves to more complex sounds formed with different combinations of letters. It does not rely on chance where any letter that a child encounters is taught in random order. Progressive sequential teaching takes into account the students’ ability to understand the concept and put each level into practice before tackling more complex ones.

Interesting Techniques

Online Lecture

Image: The Times of India
Teaching reading through phonics is interactive and incorporates a variety of interesting exercises for practising sound recognition and oral blending. It incorporates rhymes, alliteration, music, imagery, songs and stories to reinforce letter-sound recognition. All these methods tie in beautifully with the play and learn concept of teaching that children enjoy and respond to best in the early years. Often, teachers even connect percussion actions like clapping or stamping to a particular sound, and when a group of children do this together, it becomes a lot of fun!

Especially for children with dyslexia or reading difficulties, a systematic synthetic phonics-based approach to reading works wonderfully. It does not require a child to memorise the order of letters in a word; rather, every sound itself hints to the corresponding letter and makes it easier to spell and read. A multi-sensory approach, one that uses tactile exercises like tracing letters on sandpaper, or a visual image connection to a sound, or even auditory cues like clapping or a jingle helps to connect the dots and make reading easier.

Remember the time when, as kids, we would read s-i-l-k as ‘silk’ and s-h-i-p as ‘ship’ simply because we were taught so, and yet we wondered why the same first letter sounded different both times? Reading a word we had not encountered earlier involved a certain degree of guesswork as we did not know exactly how to pronounce it. Now with phonics, the situation is completely changed. Once children can connect letter sounds and blend them orally, there is so much to look forward to! Armed with the right building blocks, they can confidently attempt to read even unfamiliar words by recognising familiar patterns in individual letters that become easy to handle!

Benefits Galore

Online Lecture

Image: The Times of India

Exposure to reading more words also helps to improve vocabulary, which directly impacts language skills and general knowledge. It brings out the natural curiosity in children to find the meaning of whatever they read so that they can use it later. By breaking down a word into sounds and assigning letters to each sound, children are also able to spell words better.

The ability to read fluently helps to develop strong reading comprehension. With practice, children stop focusing on individual words and instead, begin to look at the entire block of text as a whole. They spend less time reading each word and have a better understanding of the meaning of a story. Knowing how to read unlocks the magical world of books, giving wings to creativity and expression.

So when it’s time for little ones to head out to school, phonics is an excellent way for them to make friends with words!







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