Monday, March 28, 2016

Are Two Breakfasts Better Than One?

We always thought that providing free breakfasts in school was a no brainer. What could be detrimental about making sure that school children started the day with proper nutrition? In fact, study after study has confirmed the importance of a good breakfast to helping students get the most out of school.

Statistics tell us that free school lunch is far more common than free breakfast. According to the Food Research and Action Center (and Emma Brown of the Washington Post) for every 100 students who receive a free or subsidized lunch, only 54 are eating a free or subsidized breakfast. Even so, concerns have been raised that students receiving breakfast in school might also be eating at home before they head out for the day. These students would be eating two breakfasts and, presumably, taking in more calories than they needed.

It turns out that this concern is unfounded and that it is the students who skip breakfast completely who are at greater risk of obesity. In a study conducted by Dr. Marlene Schwartz of the University of Connecticut’s Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity, approximately 500 students in a dozen schools were followed from fifth through seventh grades. The goal of the study was to determine where the students ate breakfast – home or school, in both locations, or not at all – and to track the height and weight of the students to determine how these breakfast choices impacted obesity.

Among the findings were that breakfast frequency declined over time as students aged; significantly more students skipped breakfast in seventh grade than earlier. Students who generally skipped breakfast altogether or who ate breakfast inconsistently (more common in girls than boys) were twice as likely to be overweight or obese as those who at breakfast both at home and at school.

The authors could come to no definite conclusion as to why those students who skipped breakfast were significantly more likely to be overweight. They raised several possibilities, including the fact that the school breakfasts were required to be nutritionally sound, so that they were unlikely to cause weight gain and the fact that students who skipped breakfast completely might become so hungry that they ate more later. Clearly, more study is needed to better understand how to encourage students to eat in a way that will benefit their health. 

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Universal Design for Learning

Today’s post features a guest blogger, Deborah P. Waber, Ph.D., Director of the Learning Disabilities Program at Boston Children’s Hospital and Professor of Psychology at Harvard Medical School. Dr. Waber wrote the following explanation of Universal Design for Learning (UDL) in response to a post on the International Mail List for Pediatric Neuropsychology questioning the usefulness of UDL, the role of legislation that supports UDL, and whether UDL can be supported by brain imaging studies. This response was posted jointly by Dr. Waber and Dr. Paul Yellin, who both serve on the Board of Directors of CAST.

I am so glad that you brought UDL to the attention of this listserv. So few of us are familiar with it, yet it can be hugely beneficial to the children we serve as pediatric neuropsychologists.
UDL (Universal Design for Learning) provides a comprehensive framework for education of diverse learners of all ages.  It is not a specific “intervention” like Orton-Gillingham, but a practical tool to enable diverse learners to access curriculum and demonstrate knowledge and skills.

UDL is a variation on the “universal design” concept in architecture, which provides access to people with disabilities who would otherwise be unable to have physical access. Here is an analogy that you may find helpful: If a child has a disability that impairs the ability to walk into a school, one approach would be to provide intensive physical therapy, hoping that someday the child will learn to walk. In the world of learning disabilities, this is analogous to our current practice of providing daily reading support to build reading skills so that the child can one day access the general education curriculum. For the individual who is unable to walk, however, the Americans with Disabilities Act legislates that we provide a ramp so that the child can gain access to the school building in a wheelchair. UDL, similarly, asks what needs to be done to provide the child with LD access to the content of the curriculum, even though he or she is unable to independently read and write at grade level (and frankly may never do so). 

Within the UDL framework, learning problems are not conceptualized solely as a function of the disabled learner, but also as a function of a fixed medium (e.g., text) that is inaccessible to that learner. Technology, however, now affords us flexible media that can be manipulated in a variety of ways that can provide access to the learner on an individualized basis. For example, the student with a reading disability can access content above his or her reading level if provided digital text.  A wide range of supports can be embedded in digital media (e.g., definitions, translations, and links to other media) to make content accessible to a wider range of learners. Moreover, in a well implemented UDL classroom, the “disabled” learner is not singled out for specialized treatment (as you know a big issue for older children) since all students use the same platform but in different ways that are most compatible with their learning profiles.  Thus, the “disabled” learner can become an equal participant in the classroom, rather than the broken child who needs to be fixed.

Although there are certainly reading and writing interventions that have been successful, the reality is that for a significant number of children with learning disabilities, the interventions do not “normalize” their performance even though they may continue to gain skills. Randomized clinical trials for children in this older age range have most often yielded disappointing results. By the late elementary and middle school years, this situation often becomes highly discouraging and demoralizing with the ongoing struggle and stigma of being “different,” with negative social and emotional implications. The UDL framework provides strategies for allowing all students to engage with curriculum in ways that are most compatible with their learning profiles.

Now for outcomes: neuroimaging is cool and interesting, and it has served two important purposes in our field. The first is to inform the models or metaphors we use to understand the behavioral phenomena we observe. The shift from modular models to distributed network models is a good example of this. The second is to confirm or give depth to behavioral observations. For example, while it is very cool that we can document changes in brain function after a reading intervention or a working memory intervention, I have actually not seen instances where the neuroimaging suggests truly innovative ways of approaching intervention. Indeed, if we found that an intervention was effective behaviorally yet we could not document a change in brain function, we would be ill advised to abandon the intervention.  So even though UDL is informed by a brain model, there is no reason to think that neuroimaging is needed to document its value.

In the case of UDL, outcomes can be defined in a variety of ways that are not measured in growth of specific academic skills but rather in increased access to curriculum and especially academic engagement and self-efficacy. The reality is that if a child has been in special education for five years or so and is not independent in the curriculum (and we all have seen tons of these kids), it’s time to shift into a different mode.  UDL can give these students access to curriculum (a ramp) by leveraging the malleability of the digital medium and providing tools and frameworks for teachers to engage these discouraged learners.  With UDL, outcomes are measured in metrics such as time on task, engagement, and social/emotional state, not in the traditional metrics we are used to (how did he do on the Gray Oral?).

I am honored to be a member of the CAST Board and hope that as a neuropsychologist I can make a unique contribution to their work. What they are about is novel, innovative and frankly quite refreshing. It also interdigitates well with my and my colleagues’ understanding of learning disorders, which is that LD’s reflect normal variation in the human brain and its capacities in the context of a rigid educational structure that attributes the “problem” to a disabled learner rather than to a disabled curriculum.

We should welcome the prospect that with the new legislation the UDL framework and UDL designed media will become available to all children, and that (especially for older students) they have options to engage with the curriculum even though they do not have “grade level skills” and frankly may never have them. Moreover, we are giving teachers tools to engage with these students in a positive fashion that they find exciting and rewarding.

One of the great frustrations in my clinical practice is that I can recommend UDL for students who have long standing learning problems and who will continue to struggle with these problems as long as they have to go to school, but have no assurance that teachers will know what it is or be able to implement it. With the new legislation, I can hope that when we recommend UDL, teachers will have the wherewithal to provide it. As neuropsychologists, we should cheer this new legislation and learn more about it so that all the children we serve can be educated in UDL classrooms.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Creativity and Education

A quick walk and one subway transfer away from The Yellin Center is The 92nd Street Y, a brimming New York City resource for arts, fitness, and intellectual engagement. Your blogger had the privilege of attending a recent talk there as part of their 7 Days of Genius Festival. Interviewed by David Epstein, the speakers were psychologist Scott Barry Kaufman and journalist Carolyn Gregoire, authors of Wired to Create: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Creative Mind. They talked about what creativity is, how and when it tends to emerge, paradoxes surrounding its functioning, and an assortment of related fun facts. For example, did you know that Thomas Edison caused an explosion in his lab (Oops!) before becoming the creative genius he tends to be thought of today?

The Edison example speaks to the importance of creative people creating a lot of not-so-great, or potentially just awful, stuff in the process of getting to excellence. Creators thrive when their need for uniqueness exceeds their need to belong, and when they are adept at handling rejection. This makes us wonder about the typical school focus on needing to do X,Y, and Z to get an “A” (for “Approval”?), an encouragement to meet expectations rather than to defy them in hopes of putting forth something creative. Risk-taking, by virtue of its name, is difficult enough; and school systems, by virtue of their predominating models, may be discouraging it further. Also, despite how important play is for fostering creativity, as well as for other key developmental skills, play has seen a huge decline in schools over the past few decades. It may be wise to try to strike more of a balance in classrooms between teaching precise formulas and encouraging playful mindsets.

Kaufman shared that as a child, the prevailing message he got from his teachers was that he was stupid. He was not conforming to expectations. This translated into discouraging messages about his potential, not just as a student but as a contributing member of society. There is a beautiful irony in his talking about this as a successful psychologist and prolific writer, not just contributing in a significant way but— in the process— encouraging others to do the same. He notes that while sitting in the classrooms where he was treated as stupid, he was engaging in creative inner monologues. My hope is that particularly in the Digital Age, in which innovation is arguably more important than memorization, teachers will do what they can to encourage, not stifle, such creativity.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Keeping Guns Away from Children

Twice this past week, students in New York City public schools have brought loaded guns to school. The New York Times notes that these two incidents - one involving a 15-year-old student at an "early college" high school with a strong academic reputation, and one involving an 11-year-old elementary school student -- were two of four times this year where guns were seized in New York City schools. Last year, The Times reported, there were nine such episodes. These latest incidents resulted in the arrest of the 15-year-old and the arrest of the gun-owner grandfather of the 11-year-old.

As far back as 2011, we blogged about efforts by pediatricians to address gun safety by asking parents whether there is a gun in their home as a first step to beginning a conversation about ways to keep that gun away from children. We followed up in later blogs to discuss efforts to block even this basic step towards gun safety and can now report that the Florida ban on asking about guns in the home was upheld by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals. A look at this decision in The Miami Herald lays out the history of this law.

Let's pause for a moment to make it clear that we are not taking a stand on gun ownership. The issue of keeping guns out of our schools and out of the hands of kids is something else entirely.

Notably, neither of the schools in this week's events had metal detectors, which are common in many New York City public high schools and elsewhere. A report last September by WNYC noted that approximately 90,000 New York City public school students go through a scanning process each day. But there are real issues with metal detectors.  The likelihood of having to go through a scanner varies by borough, as well as by the racial and ethnic make-up of the student body. As the WNYC report noted, "getting scanned before school every day can mean earlier wake ups, long waits and lots of hassle." Having experienced scanning while visiting schools, your blogger can report that it is much like going through airport security every day. And while metal detectors and scanners may keep guns outside school buildings, they don't keep guns out of kids' hands elsewhere.

So, what can parents do to help make their children safer, in school and out? Our colleagues at The American Academy of Pediatrics have some common sense information and talking points about guns and kids that addresses families that have guns -- and those that don't. It includes statistics on how having a gun in the home affects family safety and questions to ask other parents before your child visits their home. It's worth reading.

photo credit: Ken via flickr cc

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

English Language Learners

Required professional development courses vary greatly in quality, so it is a real delight when a day devoted to accumulating necessary Continuing Legal Education credits turns out to be a truly fascinating series of lessons in areas that attorneys working in the field of education and special education don't always consider.

Such was the case yesterday at the Practicing Law Institute's School Law Institute. Discussions about sexual assault on campus, transgender youth in public schools, the use of police authority and arrest powers in schools, and how changing family dynamics make deciding who is the "client" in an educational matter complicated, all were extremely well-presented. So was the more expected discussion of new developments in special education case law.

One particularly interesting topic was presented by Abja Midha, Esq. of Advocates for Children of New York, where she is Director of the Immigrant Students’ Rights Project, which works to protect English Language Learners’ and immigrant students’ access to educational programs and improve their educational outcomes. The Project has numerous resources available - many in multiple languages - and is involved in policy initiatives as well.

Ms. Midha noted that not all children who are English language learners (ELL) are immigrants. Some were born here to parents who speak languages other than English. And some children who are proficient in English have parents who have limited English proficiency and require translation services to be able to access necessary information about their child and the school system.

Federal statutes and case law have created significant rights for ELL. In the 1974 U.S. Supreme Court case  Lau v. Nichols, (414 U.S. 563), brought by non-English speaking Chinese students in the San Francisco public schools, Justice William O. Douglas' opinion noted, “There is no equality of treatment merely by providing students with the same facilities, textbooks, teachers, and curriculum; for students who do not understand English are effectively foreclosed from any meaningful education. Basic English skills are at the very core of what these public schools teach. Imposition of a requirement that, before a child can effective participate in the educational program, he must already have acquired those basic skills is to make a mockery of public education.”

The day's presentations on all topics will be available in a couple of weeks as an "on demand" program. The Practicing Law Institute offers scholarships to selected programs for attorneys in the nonprofit sector and others.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Choosing Nonfiction Texts

Classroom read-alouds are a tradition, but they’re changing with the times.

Educators, including the team that drew up the Common Core Standards, are realizing that a focus solely on fiction doesn’t serve children well. Stories are wonderful, of course, and serve an important purpose. But most upper-level reading material is expository, and students often struggle when they haven’t had much experience with informational text.

There is evidence that hearing non-fiction texts in the early grades helps prepare children for the time when they will switch from “learning to read” to “reading to learn.” Expository texts also build kids’ background knowledge, helping them to make more sense of both texts they read themselves and the world around them. In short, kids need more exposure to non-fiction texts, and many teachers are beginning to add them to the read-aloud repertoire.

Knowing what one should do and knowing how to do it are not the same thing, however. Where do teachers, whose expertise often lies in fictional storybooks, begin when looking for non-fiction texts to read to classes? And how can parents find engaging, factual texts to read at home? Here are some ideas for teachers; parents should look for *s that indicate which ideas will work at home, too:

*Ask the librarian where to begin. They’re experts on texts of all kinds and will be overflowing with ideas.

*Look for a hook. Non-fiction texts are often fascinating and enjoyable, but there are some dry ones out there. Look for texts that begin with an exciting proposition or describe a situation to which your students can relate (or one that is exciting to imagine).

*Go beyond books. Magazines and websites are great sources for articles about all sorts of topics and the only good sources for current events. We like Time for Kids (3rd grade+), National Geographic for Kids (2nd+), Muse (4th+), and Ranger Rick (2nd+). (Note: grade levels correspond to the age at which kids can comprehend orally presented text, not the age at which they can read from these sources independently.) Additionally, educators can choose a level of complexity for news articles from Newsela so that content is available at just the right reading level for nearly any age.
Read non-fiction during your usual literature block. Ask students to treat these texts the way they would novels or stories: They should make predictions, visualize what they are hearing, and pay attention to the way the author uses language.

Keep a log of what you read aloud. List the name of the book or article, the source, and your students’ response. This will be a great personal resource to turn to year after year, and may help other teachers come up with ideas for their own classrooms, too.

Make listening less passive by getting kids thinking before you begin reading. Quiz students about their prior knowledge first or list facts they “know” about the topic. After reading, ask the class whether the text confirmed those facts.

Non-fiction texts are wonderful models for writing because students are assigned more and more expository pieces as they move through the grades. Exposure to explanatory language, which students use to display their understanding of what they learn, will make it easier for them to generate similar sentences themselves. Teachers might try using promotional texts, like destination campaign pieces from a travel agency, as models for writing persuasive essays.

*Remember that it is fine to read only parts of nonfiction texts. Since there’s no need to see a story to its conclusion, teachers should feel free to pick and choose sections of longer texts that seem most appropriate. You may want to have a few extra copies of a text on hand, though; curious students may want to learn more on their own!

This post contains our own ideas, with inspiration from veteran teacher Tony Snead.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Fun Ways to Build Numeracy with Number Lines

A recently published study has got us thinking about number lines. German researchers taught first graders to walk along an unmarked number line on the floor to show where certain numbers (78, 15, etc.) would be. Compared with a group that learned simply to point to the right place on a smaller number line, the group that used gross motor movements performed better on various addition tasks afterward.

Used creatively, number lines certainly have a lot of potential.

Number lines are often used in classrooms, particularly with young children learning early math skills or middle school students working on negative numbers for the first time. But number lines’ potential for helping students develop numeracy skills (sometimes called “number sense”) is vast, and we think they deserve to be a bigger part of math education for learners of all ages. Here are some fresh ideas that will help unleash the power of number lines:

  • Want a simple way to make number line use more tactile? Draw a number line in permanent marker just under the closure of a slider Ziplock bag. Students can move the slider from one number to another as they use the line to help them solve problems. Sandwich bags work well for lines showing 0-10, and gallon-sized bags can be used for longer lines with more numbers.

  • Help a younger child draw a number line on the sidewalk using chalk, or on a big whiteboard or butcher paper with markers. Show him how to make the distance between numbers uniform by using the length of his foot or the width of his hand to measure.

As the study above shows, movement can help lots of young children grasp concepts. Engage an energetic child by making a giant number line to use on the floor. Write the numbers with sidewalk chalk or write on separate pieces of paper that can be taped down. (Plan to use this a lot? Get a scrap of carpet or an inexpensive carpet runner and make the number line with duct tape or paint, then roll up your reusable number line between uses.) There are almost endless ways to use this; here are a few ideas:

  • Ask the child to hop along the line in a pattern: land on odd numbers with one foot and land with two feet on even numbers.

  • Show/say a simple number sentence (e.g. 5+2 or 7-4) and ask her to “jump it out” or “stomp it out” by starting on the correct number and hopping or stepping to the next number in the equation. She should count aloud as she moves along the line to find the answer. Note that this will require some pre-teaching.

  • Ask student to jump along the line while counting by 1’s, 3’s, etc. Help her to recognize that she has to make bigger and bigger jumps as she counts by bigger and bigger numbers. 

A tailor’s measuring tape makes a great number line. Unroll it and ask the student to place paper clips along it at intervals as he skip counts. Colored paper clips can be used for different skip counting intervals (e.g. 2’s vs. 4’s). Ask the child to remark on how the different intervals look and, through questioning, try to help him make generalizations. For example, he might notice that the spaces between the paper clips are larger when he skip counts by bigger numbers. Or he might see that the space between clips when he counts by 4’s is twice as wide as the spaces when he counts by 2’s, and 4 is twice as big as 2. Keep a record of these observations. There are also commercially available number lines.

Give a student a blank number line with only the first and last numbers labeled. The scale can be varied according to the student’s experience with number lines. Ask her to estimate the placement of various numbers by drawing a dot and labeling it. She can check her own work with a master number line drawn or printed on a transparency that she can lay over her work; punch and label holes in the transparency so that she can mark the correct placement on her paper.

Help a student see the relationship between a pictorial fraction (e.g. a “pie” with some of the slices shaded in) and a fraction on a number line. Present a student with a shape shaded to show the fraction 1/2 and a number line that goes from 0 to 1, and ask him to estimate where to place the fraction on the line. Help him to understand that half of the shape means he should move halfway along the line. Try the same exercise with other pictorial representations of different fractions.

Students often understand fractions more readily than decimals. A number line can be used to harness a child’s understanding of fractional quantities to help her grasp the correlation between fractions and decimals. Help her construct a number line that goes from 0 to 1 with important benchmarks written as fractions above the line, like 1/3, 1/2, 3/4, etc. Underneath each benchmark, ask her to write the corresponding decimal (0.33, 0.5, .75, etc.). Help her to notice trends; for example, the number closest to the decimal point gets larger as the decimal gets closer to 1. Keep the number line to use as a tool for homework assignments.

Number line at top from Wikkispaces Classroom

Friday, March 4, 2016

Teaching Children Mindfulness

At The Yellin Center we often work with students who struggle with attention and self-regulation. There is a large body of research to underpin the value of systematically teaching mindfulness to children. Not only can mindfulness training help children learn to self-soothe and monitor their behavior, but it also can develop intrinsic qualities like compassion, kindness, thoughtfulness, and caring.

There are several thoughtful, structured approaches to help develop a child’s awareness of the world around them and grow their emotional intelligence. Taking part in activities that promote mind-body awareness, such as martial arts, yoga, or dance, can be valuable for students who struggle to regulate their impulses. Mindfulness exercises are another great way for children to improve their ability to sustain focus, regulate their emotional responses, and make better decisions.

Some of our favorite resources are:

I am Yoga  by  Susan Verde and Peter H. Reynolds

We have written in previous blogs about children’s author and illustrator Peter H. Reynolds. This time he has teamed up with certified yoga instructor Susan Verde to create a book that encourages children to explore the relaxing world of yoga. The intention of the book is to foster creativity and self-expression in young people in a playful, engaging manner. The narration of the book encourages students to get moving as they are read to, and the back of the book houses a detailed explanation of all 16 poses they will be guided through.

A Handful of Quiet: Happiness in Four Pebbles by Thich Nhat Hanh and Wietske Vriezen

A Handful of Quiet
describes Pebble Meditation as a “unique technique to introduce children to the calming practice of meditation.” Pebble Meditation was developed by author Thich Nhat Hanh, who is a Buddhist monk and poet. He was nominated  for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1967 by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for his work in mindful living. The book guides students through a hands-on mindfulness practice that helps relieve stress, increase concentration, and develop gratitude.

Planting Seeds: Practicing Mindfulness with Children  by Thich Nhat Hanh, Chan Chau Nghiem and Wietske Vriezen

Mr. Thich Nhat Hanh and Ms. Wietske Vriezen bring forth another exceptional resource for developing mindfulness in children. Planting Seeds offers concrete activities and a detailed curriculum for parents and teachers to help children improve communication, grow confidence, and deal with difficult emotions. Techniques in the book and the accompanying CD include deep relaxation, conflict resolution, ethical guidelines for children, and mindful breathing.

I wonder…  by Annaka Harris and John Rowe

I Wonder... 
is a beautifully illustrated picture book written for children age one and above. The story follows a little girl as she confronts several questions about the world around her. Through the process she learns that it is okay to not know all the answers but rather that curiosity and awareness of the world is what matters. The story offers lessons in emotional intelligence and aims to build children’s confidence in themselves.

What Does It Mean to be Present? By Rana DiOrio and Eliza Wheeler

The award winning children’s book What Does it Mean to be Present? encourages students to be mindful by equipping them with practical ways to be present. It teaches students how to listen to themselves and others, as well has how to slow down and focus on what is going on in the world around them. This book is one of several in the What Does It Mean To Be …? series. So if you like this story, you may also enjoy author Rana DiOrio's books on developing kindness or a global mindset.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Encouraging Young Children’s Speech

Speech delays can be scary for the parents of young children, but a toddler whose language lags behind his or her peers is not necessarily a cause for panic. Although guidelines for young children’s speech development exist, the range that is considered normal is wide. Furthermore, some very young children who exhibit speech delays catch up with their peers and have no difficulty learning when they begin school. (Since speech delays can be an indicator of some serious problems, however, concerned parents should still speak to their pediatrician about how to obtain a formal evaluation if a child over 24 months old seems to be having an unusually difficult time understanding language or using and pronouncing words.)

No matter the cause of a speech delay, everyday interactions with toddlers are critical opportunities for learning. Even children who receive formal intervention will learn best if they have frequent, high quality linguistic interactions with people they love inserted into their daily routines.

We’ve compiled some tips from the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, Reading Rockets, and our own experience and knowledge for parents of young children who seem to exhibit speech delays.

What you’ll see below are suggestions for ways to encourage very young children to understand and use language and to model language in helpful ways. What you won’t see are suggestions about correcting children. The reason? Children struggling to use language can become frustrated when they are unable to make themselves understood, especially when it seems so easy for everyone else. Correcting a young child can cause negative associations with speech and language use. Modeling, on the other hand, provides a positive example instead of a rebuke.

Tips for Encouraging Early Speech

Even if you don’t understand what your child is saying, acknowledge the attempt to communicate. Smile and make eye contact with your child. This will encourage him to keep trying. If you need clarification, commend the child for trying and then ask for a gesture by saying, “I’m so glad you’re using your words! Can you help more? Show me what you want.”

If you can understand, repeat what your child says so that she’ll know you understood her. Even better, show your child how she can add more words to her sentence by expanding it for her. If your child points and says, “juice,” say, “Would you like some juice? I hear Lucy saying, ‘I want some juice, please!’”

All people learn new words best when they’re presented repeatedly in context. To help your child learn a word, use it frequently in sentences. For example, if it is clear that your child doesn’t know the word toast at breakfast, say, “Here is a piece of toast for you. I’ll have some toast, too! I put some butter on your toast. I’ll have some butter on my toast, too. My toast is still warm. Is your toast warm? Toast is great with eggs!”

Repeating a child’s utterance will help her to feel validated, and it may even help prevent tantrums! Some children melt down when they’re told “no” because they’re frustrated that their desire hasn’t been understood. If your child wriggles and exclaims “Up!” on an airplane, say, “I know. You want to get up. I understand. I’m sorry, but we can’t get up. We have to sit. The rules are we have to sit for now. It will keep us safe. We can get up soon. For now, let’s look at this book.”

Avoid speaking in the third person (e.g. saying “Mommy is here!” if you are Mommy). Pronouns like I and me are difficult for young children to grasp, and they need to hear as many examples of correct use as possible. Speak to your child as you would to an adult, albeit with clearer, short sentences.

To help children understand pronouns, incorporate them into play. Using two dolls or figurines, act out interactions. This is especially helpful when talking about possessions; very young children have a tough time with mine versus yours. For example, you might show one dinosaur “saying,” while nudging a crayon to a Lego man, “This blue crayon is yours.” The Lego man can then ask, “Really? It is mine? It is for me? It’s mine?” The dinosaur can reply, “Yes, it is yours,” and the Lego man can reply, “Hooray, it’s mine! Thank you!” Invite children to participate in the dialogue if they are able.

Demonstrate the right word if your child uses the wrong one. If your child points to a piece of ribbon and says, “Rope,” say, “Look at the ribbon! It looks like the ribbon your sister wears in her hair. That ribbon is red, just like your sister’s ribbon. Sometimes people use ribbons on birthday presents.”

As much as possible, avoid questions that can be answered with yes and no to give your child the opportunity to practice using other words. Provide multiple choices so that your child has language to imitate; this gives him the chance to use words without having to generate them himself. Ask, “Do you want to wear the red shirt, or the blue shirt?” or “What do you see the other kids doing? Are they swinging or running or sliding?”

Pairing words with actions will help children to remember them. This works best with verbs; demonstrate the actions when you say, “clap your hands,” “jump,” or “nod your head.” Encourage kids to do the same.

Songs’ rhythms, rhymes, and melodies make them excellent for cementing language in memory. Children’s songs, like the ones sung by the legendary Raffi, are great for building language. Worried you’ll lose your mind? Play albums by The Beatles, Cat Stevens or any other band that writes catchy, short songs sung with clear diction.

Reading is a wonderful way to introduce language to kids. (Talking to your child is no substitute for reading, by the way; studies show that books expose children to a wider variety of words than those used in everyday speech, and the pictures help them make meaning from the new vocabulary.) After you’ve read a book a few times to your child, ask them to tell you what is happening on a particular page, using the picture as a scaffold. Follow the tips above to show your child that you understand them and model some expanded sentences. As your child’s language develops, ask her to retell story as you turn the pages, using the pictures to help her structure her narrative.