Sunday, October 16, 2011

The Bridge to Language

Too often I talk about what I do wrong with my parenting, and not often enough about what I do right. I guess it would be fair to say that my little one is verbally precocious. Everyone remarks on his many words.

Twenty-five month old Cayce is talking a blue streak these days. He’s putting together complex phrases with compound words, ebulliently uttered sentences replete with rich sounds, alliteration to amuse any poet worth his salt.

When we drive around the mid-island and the new windmill at the High School is in view, as it is from Surfside Road and from Sparks Avenue, Cayce says, “Wind mill turn. Energy round round round.” Thank you Ziggy Marley, for giving my two year old the words, and thank you Nantucket for giving him the daily visual of what it means to have wind energy.

Saxophone, motorcycle, siberweb, helicopter, sunset, breakfast, grapefruit. “Like some apple juice please.” “More butter jelly toast please.”

For a two year old, and I guess, the studies suggest, especially for a boy, he is cultivating quite a rich vocabulary, and mastering a complex array of sounds with precision and incredible musicality.

So what have I done? Well, being outspoken and chatty by nature hasn’t hurt. I’ve always kind of needed a microphone, and the second I had a baby it was an instant excuse to talk out loud.

But also, I think my background in poetry, as well as acting experience, have helped me to find my stage voice, which basically means finding the music, the cadence, the incredible array of sounds across the scale that are available in language. My wonderful experiences living in the Happy Valley of Massachusetts, near UMass, and in the Big Apple while attending NYU of hearing great poets read their work, lyric poets like Jack Gilbert, Sharon Olds, Galway Kinnel, Robert Hass, with whom I studied, and so many more that I got to hear read.

So poetry is great fodder for motherese. And what is motherese, but emphasizing the music in words? So when we talk, we are not just saying words; we are singing. The appeal of children’s books is that, in their simplicity, and their repetition, they allow the music to happen in language. They are poems that tell a story.

Because I love music and drama and poetry, and I am a ham at heart, I’ve always read to my son with a lot of drama. Go big. Be goofy and free with it. Use a range of voices. Where the Wild Things Are and Goodnight Moon, two classics, are two of our favorites.

And I have sung to my son since he was in the womb. That last summer before he arrived when I spent twelve hours a day taxiing people around the island, the radio was constantly on, and I was constantly singing to it. When we came home from the hospital, we switched to kids music. We had a blast with a wonderful collection called Humpty Who? Nursery Songs for Clueless Moms and Dads, a wonderfully arranged CD with all the classics, which comes with a lyric book. From it I learned the words to Brahm’s Lullaby, The Noble Duke of York, and other classics. I also learned a really fun Burl Ives song from a mix my sister in law made, Little White Duck, an early Disney song.The songs, which I learned in the early days of long hours of nursing, have since kept us company on stroller walks, car rides, nap time, or whenever calming is needed.

In addition to all of this, I should also mention the Your Baby Can Read program, developed by Marc Titzer. I was skeptical, but my mother was intrigued, and bought me the program when Cayce was eleven months old. A multipronged approach to early literacy using videos, music, flip books and word cards, Cayce immediately began learning from the program. It definitely has a lot to offer, and I highly recommend it. However, it is expensive. A wonderful early literacy enrichment program can be created in your own way without need of these marketed materials, just using books, music, speech, pen and paper, letter magnets on the fridge, and seeing each moment as a fun opportunity to describe the world and fill it with voice.

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