Why should i read to my little one?

Written by Holly Edlin, Head Teacher, Gymboree Play & Music St Albans

Imagine for a moment you are in a foreign country. You are thirsty and go into a shop to get some water, but no one seems to understand your language, and your attempt at charades isn’t working either. This frustration is how a young child can feel when they are unable to communicate what they need with you. With this in mind, it is vital that we help our children to express themselves in order to fulfil their desires and ensure they grow up happy.

There are an abundance of ways you can help your baby’s language development (including reading from an early age) varying as they grow and need further challenge. Here at Gymboree Play & Music St Albans, our age specific classes help your little one work on just that!

Play and Learn Level One (0-6 months): Baby Play

What is it?

Baby play is where we sing to our little ones using a few simple signs every week. At Gymboree Play & Music St Albans we use BSL (British sign language) to sing and sign to our babies.

How does it help my child learn?

It may seem a little bizarre to sign to your child, especially as they are just learning to use their eyes. This is half the point however, as it will teach baby to learn how to use their eye and neck muscles, by allowing them to visually track your hands. The main aim of signing to babies is to help them develop a system for non-verbal communication. Remember the point about charades I made in the introduction? If the person in the shop had understood your gestures for water- you would have got what you needed. Baby Play lays the foundation for your baby to eventually be able to communicate easily with you before they can speak. It is also much easier to remember a word if you add a sign with it, therefore improving baby’s memory and both their receptive and expressive vocabulary. Your baby has been listening to your voice since before they were born, so singing to them whilst we do this activity is greatly comforting and encourages bonding.

Play and Learn Level Two (6- 10 months): Baby Boogies

What is it?

As a warm up for our Level Two Play & Learn class, we combine popular nursery rhymes and Gymboree Play & Music songs with some simple actions to help with body awareness and memory as well as language.

How does it help my child learn?

Singing to your child is vital for language development. Not only are you showing them example of language by using it towards them, but you are doing it in a way that is varied and interesting for them to listen to. Children learn a lot through absorbing things in the world around them (unlike adults who need to be a bit more active when learning), and just by listening to the rhythm and pitch of a song, they learn how to structure a sentence. The dance moves develop their body awareness as well as socialising them as they look at other babies whilst they dance!

Play and Learn Level Three (10-16 months): Airlog Push

What is it?

Practising their walking skills alongside each other, this activity works on a multitude of things, including language development.

How does it help my child learn?

Children of this age can communicate well with their favourite adults, but need a bit more encouragement to play with and gesture to other children. Partaking in the same activities next to each other (parallel play)- a vital step before they start to play co-operatively, and is vital to help them grow socially. We also sing a specific song as the children do the Airlog Push, which they begin to learn and associate with this activity.

Play and Learn Level 4 (16-22 months): Bilateral Themes

What is it?

We take opposites, and repeat them throughout class whilst doing activities: teaching them the meaning of abstract concepts- but also teaching them how to say the word. For example ‘Fast and Slow’ might be used for several activities such as rolling a ball (fast and slow), walking (fast or slow), and tapping (fast and slow).

How does it help my child learn?

It is very easy to show your child a ball and tell them that it is a ball. But how do you teach them the meaning of and abstract word such as ‘under’? By pairing it with ‘over’ and showing them what both words mean, you make both words clearer to understand by using the obvious contrast. Repetition is key at this age, which is why we do it so much in this level. The more you repeat, the more they will begin to understand and then eventually repeat it back to you. Children need a lot of examples before they are even ready to begin to master anything themselves. We also change our words every two weeks, so they get plenty of time to begin to learn the words.

Play and Learn Level 5 (22-28 months): Rainbow Rope

What is it?

Our Gymboree Play & Music opening ritual each week that takes the children through our movement core, followed by a colour recognition game.

How does it help my child learn?

Colours are very difficult for children to learn! They need lots of practise to tell the difference between shades and remember the words. Every week they will also be forced to recognise and say a different colour (unless of course, they have a favourite!) They are at the age now where they are pretty good at communicating, but they may not be confident in speaking outside of the home. This activity gets the children actively listening to others answers (another important skill) and speaking in front of a group of their peers.

Play and Learn Level 6 (28- 55months): Open Ended Questions

What is it?

What did you do today? What did you eat for lunch? How did you get here? Then you have follow up questions too, all based around their lives and within recent memory so children are able to answer confidently – or make up a hilarious and imaginative answer!

How does it help my child learn?

It makes them think. It makes them use and strengthen their memory. They are now at the point where they can say all of these things and use proper sentences, but they still need loads of practise. This simple activity gives them that, whether they need a little prompting and correcting or not.