I recently received a question from a fellow mom who ordered some flash cards I recommended and just asked “What’s next?” She wants to teach her a little over one year old baby how to read and work on early reading/language development and sign. So, I decided to do a blog post to answer the question. And while I am not an expert, I can share with you what we have done for Julian – resulting in him being able to sight read at 20 months old:
Start slow – it is EASY to get really OVERWHELMED!
First and foremost, there is no “right” way to do this. You don’t have to have an entire plan mapped out. Just go with it and adjust along the way. My approach was “do what you can, when you can.” I work a full time office job and so does my husband – Julian is in daycare 3 days a week and home with his grandma two days a week. So we do flash cards here and there with Julian in the evenings after work M-F before bed. And he probably watches about one signing time or other education video (see list of resources below) per day. We keep the weekends for play and unstructured time mostly…and that is the key word – PLAY! HAVE FUN!
What Materials Do I Need to Get Started?
Read this post ‘Julian Early Language Development and Signing at 15 months” - which lists resources that I found when I was first starting to educate myself about early language development for babies. From what I gathered, here is a summary of the essential key steps:
1) Start with laying a basic sign language foundation. Please note that if your baby is a bit older, it is never too late to introduce sign to your child (in my humble opinion) – I say why not introduce words, baby sign and flash cards at the same time!? Your child’s growing brain is made to absorb information like a sponge and this is the prime time to take advantage. For where to order Baby Sign Language resources read this previous post. I recommend getting the Baby Signing Time Bundle Full Collection with Videos 1-4 and the board books and flash cards that accompany them. Sometimes BabySteals will do deals with Signing Time so I’d recommend signing up for their newsletter.
2) What if my child doesn’t know any sign language and/or is not talking yet? I am not an expert but I don’t think your baby needs to be signing or saying any words to absorb and learn information! Especially for babies with known language delays or very young babies who haven’t gotten their first words – they are still UNDERSTANDING and ABSORBING what you teach them! With Julian, we were fortunate to connect with the Down syndrome clinic at Boston Children’s Hospital right after he was born (shout out to Angela and Sarah and Dr. Emily!) and they gave us the “It’s Baby Signing Time” video from the Baby Signing Time Bundle to start. We mostly watched it to educate ourselves when Julian was a tiny baby – and did the sign for “milk” in person with Julian from 0 – around 6 months. Another great resource is SigningSavvy.com We then introduced the signs “more” and “eat” in person with Julian when we started him on solids. At around one year, Julian showed us his first sign “more” and then by 15 months he had a handful of signs in sign language. But if your baby doesn’t know any sign yet – don’t let that stop you – they key is that your baby engaging and listening and interacting with you. Also even though we started an early reading program around 15 months – there was no specific reason why we chose that age – it just so happened that was when I got around to researching it. Just do what works for you on your own timetable.
3) What flash cards and/or reading/early language resource(s) should I get? What we decided to get for flash cards were these “Picture Words” flash cards from Amazon – 96 cards about 3 by 6 inches each with the word and picture on one side, and just the word on the other. I also found that some folks choose to print and laminate their own cards at home – using some great free downloads from the DownsEd See and Learn program here. You can also order all of the See and Learn materials already printed for $100. The See and Learn program has a good iPad app called Special Words which is basically all of the See and Learn materials electronically for $14 – we decided to go this route with Julian. Also I have seen some people choose to make their own really big flash cards with large red letters (called “bit cards”) recommended by the Glen Doman Teach Your Baby to Read book. If making your own cards, use words that are of interest to your baby and that you use often with them in person. As a guide you can use the Dolch Common Noun Word list of the most common nouns written in the English Language. Finally, we got the BrillKids Little Reader program through their special needs discount. Here is the link with more about the discount. Julian LOVES watching BrillKids and also it comes with a few books that we have recently started to read to him now that he has been exposed to the program for a few months. He is starting to recognize the words and identify parts of his body and other words like “hair” “shoulders” “eyes” “ears” and “body”. Some people also swear by the Love and Learning early reading program. We haven’t gotten this for Julian yet – have decided to stick with BrillKids for now. I am also considering getting some materials from PreSchool Prep. My library has some of the videos so I am going to see if I like them and then consider ordering some additional materials. We also have the LeapFrog Letter Factory DVD which Julian likes a lot as well. It introduces the letters (and sounds) of the alphabet. We bought some letters for the bathtub and this fridge alphabet to expose him to letters in person. We do the sign language alphabet with him when watching ABC Signs (a Signing Time video). Julian can do some letter signs (“C” and “O” and “A”) which are relatively easy to form with your hands. The others are pretty complicated. =) And lastly, Julian has really been liking the Baby Babble videos lately. I got these from my local library as well. Another tip is to get involved with your town parents’ organization if you have one and join their listserv. I sent a note to the list to see if anyone had a Magnadoodle lying around that they were done with – and someone did! So we started using that to write out words out for Julian and one day he just started signing the words before we said them out loud – and that is how we knew he could sight read at 20 months!
4) And if you have an iPad:
If you don’t have an iPad, don’t worry – you aren’t missing out on anything. The above resources are PLENTY!! But if you are looking for iPad apps, PreSchool prep has a bunch of iPad apps – so far we have only downloaded the free “Meet the Vowels” one. And recently after reading this awesome post from Ellie Bellie Bear’s blog we got the Starfall ABCs app which Julian LOVES and the Itsy Bitsy Spider app (one of Julian’s favorite songs – he does some of the basic hand motions to it). Might order Wheels on the Bus next because he has started to do “shhh” with his finger to his mouth for the mamas on the bus and “beep beep beep” for the horn and swish swish swish for the wipers…so cute. We also have SmallTalk Phonemes which shows a mouth sounding out different sounds – but don’t use it much. Also as I mentioned above we have the Special Words app which we use with Julian which is basically all of the DownsEd See and Learn materials for $14.
5) What other materials do YOU use?
Do you have additional materials or resources that you have found that work for you and your child? Do tell! I would love to hear about free flash card downloads, books, dvds, programs, etc. that you recommend.
How Should I Introduce Early Sign and Reading Materials to My Child?
First and foremost, remember to HAVE FUN! There is no “schedule” that we followed with Julian. I think the key is exposure and practice and always engaging with the flash cards or videos or books that you are exposing to your baby. Don’t stress about any sort of schedule or order to the cards or if you miss a day or whatever.
I found that I was hesitant to start if I thought I had to stick to a specific method or schedule – like starting a diet – I was scared to start because I felt like I would break it eventually and feel like failure….So I just said to myself, I am going to do my best and just start SOMEWHERE. You will find what works for you and modify based on your baby’s interests.
Here is How We Decided to Introduce Flash Cards:
- Take whatever flash cards you have decided to get or make – I chose to get Picture Words from Amazon – and pick out the more common words to start…(for example, I chose words that I thought Julian would recognize like socks, shoes, cat, dog, etc.– because we use them a lot in our daily lives and they are also in the Baby signing times videos, books, flash cards so he was exposed to them already).
-Show your baby the cards and read them out loud at the same time – you can do the fast flashing method – Here is an example of a video of the fast flashing method (recommended by Glen Doman) from Down syndrome Up Up and Away Blog. Laura’s daughter has been reading since she was two years old and also has Down syndrome. For some reason I didn’t do the fast flashing method much. I did it a little bit at first but then I just found that by showing Julian the words AND the picture at the same time that was more engaging to him. What we do is show the card and say WHAT is this Julian? This is a CAT (do the sign for cat and say the word out loud at the same time). Cat! What does a cat say? MEOOOOW. Remember to always be engaged and if your baby shows lack of interest – stop and come back to the activity at another time. You never want this to be a chore or to force your baby to do it.
- We also have lots of board books at home that have basic baby first words in them – with basic BIG pictures along with the word written very large. We would read those at night too before bed with Julian and point to the pictures (we didn’t do the sign much when reading at night because he is in our laps and it is hard for him to see our hands). Use hand over hand to encourage your baby to point to the pictures as well. Encourage your baby to turn the page (use hand over hand to teach them). Do not worry if your baby is not pointing yet – that is something that especially children with special needs must work hard at acquiring this skill (thinking I might do another separate post on this, like the aforementioned post from Ellie Bellie Bear’s blog). Marshalls and TJ Maxx are good places to find baby books or kids consignment sales.
- I highly recommend also involving ALL of your child’s caregivers in what you are teaching your child and what s/he knows. I communicate regularly with Julian’s daycare teachers and his grandparents about exactly what signs he knows, so they can practice with him, and his daycare even ordered a bunch of materials from the Signing Time series to use with ALL of their infant and toddler classrooms! How cool is that?
How Do I know What Signing Time videos I should get?
Definitely get the Baby Signing Times 1-4 videos. And I think the Baby Signing Time Bundle Full Collection is worth it because it also comes with the flash cards and board books. Also below I have listed other Signing Time videos we own that I think are helpful for teaching young babies “high interest” words. Others we have for example one about “Days of the Week” we figure will come later….he has no idea what day it is right now. =)
- Signing Time Resources– Good for Babies
- Baby Signing Times Series – DVDs 1-4
- Baby Signing Times Flash Cards
- Baby Signing Time Board Books
- My First Signs
- Playtime Signs
- Everyday Signs
- Family, Feelings & Fun
- ABC Signs
- My Favorite Things
- Nice to Meet You
- Happy Birthday To You
- Move and Groove
- Going Outside
I Can’t Afford All of These Materials!! What Should I Do?
Remember that most of us probably grew up and learned words and to read without any special “programs” or materials, right? Use your local library (that one’s for you mom! – she’s a librarian). Most libraries have access to the internet and to learn basic sign language just type into Google “What is the Signing Savvy ASL Sign for [INSERT WORD YOU ARE LOOKING FOR]” and the video should come up right away. Teach yourself a few basic signs – milk, more, all done, etc. and high interest words to your baby. Sometimes local adult education programs will teach sign language, or even local universities or schools.
For books, check out local kids consignment stores or sales for used books or ask neighbors if they have any hand me downs. Sometimes there are funds available through local organizations for children with special needs. Also ask your pediatrician – see if they know of any places that can supply you with any materials or let you borrow some.
If your child has special needs, most states offer services to children with special needs ages 0-3 through programs called early intervention (EI). Ask your EI therapists to help you get or borrow some materials. Contact companies that offer these products, tell them about your situation and ask them if there is “anything they can do”. For example, BrillKids offers a great special needs discount for their program. Note that this is not based on financial need per se, but it is designed to help with costs. Here is the link to read about how to get the discount.
Above all, the best resource for your child is YOU!! Talk, sing and play.
As a first time parent (and parent to a child with special needs) I am just navigating this territory and doing the best I know how….so please – experienced parents lend me your ear! Post or comment here please with any tricks of the trade for encouraging early reading and language with your child.
One common universal parental theme is that I think it is so so so natural to always think “am I doing enough”? It is a never ending battle. This does go through my mind – so what I try to do is take time to “worry” and “research” and then allow time to just live life day to day and enjoy every moment and every stage Julian goes through….and accept all of his abilities for what they are RIGHT NOW.
Yes, I have expectations that he will start reading out out loud and start to talk with spoken language and I can not WAIT for that to happen – but for now I am living in the moment – just doing what I can to help him reach his maximum potential.
So that’s it – thanks for reading this LOOOONG post!
I would love to hear what your child is learning or doing right now that is exciting?