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Baby Genius...

These are not my words. We do not personally call our daughter a "Baby Genius." To us, she is just our spunky one and a half year old that has brightened up this journey we call life. She is awesome, and we feel so blessed to be her parents. Other people. Other people have called her a "Baby Genius," and have asked what we've done to make her so smart. We are happy to share our daily routines and habits with you, but let's be real, each one of us is "fearfully and wonderfully made" (Psalm 139:14), and that looks so different in each of our lives. Some of us are verbal communicators, some of us are physical communicators, some of us just plain don't like to communicate, and that goes for babies too. So, I will share with you what our life looks like right now, but please hear that I am not saying this is the perfect way, the best way, or the only way. We don't have any special credentials or degrees.What I am saying, is that this is our first attempt at this whole parenting thing, and we some how stumbled into habits that have worked in our favor (and some that have not).  I'm sharing this for anyone that is curious, and because we're all in this life thing together. Whether you are a parent, aunt, uncle, brother, sister, friend, stranger... It takes a village. Seriously. If you have any awesome tidbits that you've used with children, feel free to leave them in the comments!

Before Sweet Miss P was born, we only took two of the classes that the hospital offered. We took a new parent class together (think diapering & burping a stuffed doll), and I took a nursing class. We did not take a childbirth class at our local hospital, because the idea of a birth plan not going "as planned" was just a bad idea for my Type A personality. Plus, children have been birthed for how many years??? The baby will come. I did not need to fill my mind with the "what ifs." I gladly accepted an epidural when it was time, and after 36 hours in the hospital, we packed up all of our things (why do babies require so many things!?!) and headed home with this new little person.

I don't know if you know this, but newborn babies don't talk. They notify you when they are in need of something, but they don't converse with you. I remember getting this update from my Baby Center app about how your child needs to hear tens of thousands of words before they will develop speech, and that they love to hear your voice. I realized that I really wasn't talking to my baby that much, because have you tried carrying on a conversation with someone that doesn't talk back, or even really acknowledge that you're talking to them? It's hard. But after I read that, I decided that I needed to step up my parenting game. I am a stay at home mom, so my main job is to teach my child, and I take that seriously. In the article, it also mentioned that when you sang to them, even though you might not sing well, they learn from the cadence of your voice. So, I sang the same 10 songs, in the same order, over and over. I sang them when I fed her. I sang them when she was sad. I sang them when she was doing tummy time. Every. Day. For months. I chose the songs, because they are the ones that I remembered, and because I thought, if I'm singing for cadence, I might as well sing some educational songs too. These are the 10 songs that I sang on repeat (and still do sometimes! Ha!)... "ABC's", Count to 10 in English, Count to 10 in Spanish, Count to 12 in French (counting to 12 went with the rhythm better ;)), Count to 10 in Japanese, "Jesus Loves Me", "You Are My Sunshine", New Testament Books of the Bible Song, "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star", and a song we made up with Sweet Miss P's name in it and the word Momma (because I obviously wanted her to say my name first! :)).

Another way for babies to hear cadence and learn words, is by you telling them your everyday routine. So we would tell her what we were doing, when we were doing it. For example, "I'm hungry." "I'm going to go to the kitchen and make a piece of toast." Then I would say the steps of making the toast, while I did it. We would also carry her around the house and point to things, and tell her what they were, or what room we were in.

Books. We are huge on books. Can I be honest? Neither of us are really readers. We can both read, but we don't leisurely read books all of the time. I take books on vacation, and read books for small groups that I'm in, but other than that, not so much. But, reading for your kiddo is important. My mother-in-law did the whole "Bring a Book Instead of a Card" thing for my family shower, so we started out with lots of good books. I picked 10 books and read them to her every day for at least a month. We started reading books to her at maybe 1 month old? But we started the 10 book rotation at 2 months old. Some of the books we read were "Brown Bear, Brown Bear," "Chicka Chicka Boom Boom," "Barnyard Dance," "Pajama Time," "B for Bear," "Rainbow Colors, Peekaboo," and a number of other books that had letters and numbers in them. We would just sit her in our laps and read the books excitedly, (who wants to hear the "dry eyes" commercial guy all day long??), and point to the pictures that the words were talking about. If the picture had an animal in it, we would ask what sound the animal made, and say the sound. She copied the cadence of the phrase "I love you" at 3 months old, said, "Momma" at 6 months old (I won!) and "Dada" at 9 months old. She said "hi," "Ger" (for Sugar, our dog), "whoo" (for the owl sound), "blue," "book," "purple" (seriously!), and "rawr" (what does a lion say?) at the age of 9 months as well.

Sweet Miss P has not, and does not watch TV. We didn't have cable TV until just recently (read between the lines, because it's football season, we MUST have cable), so we never had the TV on during the day. Now, the only thing she thinks is on TV, is the Seahawks. Have you ever tried focusing on something when you're super interested with what's on TV? It's super hard. Imagine how hard it is for an infant. Her pediatrician told us that it was good that she didn't watch TV, because babies and toddlers often get confused between what is real and what isn't. Because they are just learning about all of these things, to them, a TV is similar to a window. When we watch TV, we've already learned the difference between looking out a window, and watching TV, but they haven't. That made sense to us! So, we have let her look at a show on our iPad on the airplane, she has seen TV when we are at restaurants, and when we are at other people's homes. But, we have never sat down and watched a show or movie with her on the TV. I do think that children can learn things from watching TV, but I personally do best with interactive learning, so we try to do interactive learning with her. Since the time she was born, I have said that the coolest thing to me is that every moment is teachable. She is learning every moment of every day. I want to take full advantage of that!

I completely believe in learning by submersion and never go by the age suggested on the box (accept when it comes to tiny toys :)). We have foam bath tub letters, a magnet board with letters, an alphabet play-mat, toys that have letters, lots of books with the alphabet, and we started flashcards when she was around the age of 1. She is literally surrounded by letters all of the time, and we talk about them all of the time. This probably sounds super intense (especially the flashcards), but we do it all in a fun environment with playfulness in mind, and just chat about what is part of our day. The only reason I even bought flashcards originally, was because we were headed on a trip and she loves books and loves emptying things, so I thought flashcards hit both of those points, and they were educational. Win. Win. Win. She is currently 19 months old, and can do alphabet recognition (upper case only), and can sing the "ABC's."

We did start using baby sign language around 5 months old. She LOVED using the sign for "more." But we stopped using the signs, when she was saying the words more quickly than getting the sign down. I will say, that doing an action while trying to memorize something helps us all remember. So, I think that's great for babies too. Whenever we would say, "Hi," or "Bye," we would always wave. She waved "Hi" and "Bye" for the first time when she was 8 months old.

Repetition. Repetition has been what it's all about. We tap on the pictures in the book when we read the stories the same way every time. We make the sound an animal makes anytime we see one in a book, on a flashcard, on a toy, or in person. I try to phrase things the same way. For example, I'll ask her how many blueberries are on her tray, and then every time, I will say, "Let's count." And then I'll start counting. We say, "Let's count," before we count anything. She can currently count to 10. Although a lot of times it sounds like, "one, two, eight, nine, ten, eleven." We also say the color that's attributed to an item. For example, "Are you sitting in the red chair?" Or, when we're reading a book, we will say the color that is attributed to each item. She can name all the colors of the rainbow, but sometimes gets different blue and purple hues confused between each other.

Another thing that we do repetitively is sing and listen to children's music. For example, when there is a sunshine in a book, I will point to it and say, "Sun" and then I will sing, "Sun, Sun, Mr. Golden Sun, Please Shine Down On Me." I was reminded of this, because as I'm sitting here typing this, she just grabbed a barn puzzle piece and sang, "Farmer in the Dell." I don't even sing that song! But, we do have an iHome located in her playroom, and we turn on her downloaded children's music whenever we are playing down there. We mostly started this, because before she started talking, it was eerily quiet playing in there without any noise.

As I mentioned earlier, we do not purchase "age appropriate" toys (except when it comes to hazards.) For her first Christmas and birthday, we asked for toys that we're for kiddos 2-3 years old. Why waste money on small toys that play songs, when they'll only be interested in them for a few months? Don't get me wrong, she has toys that are "age appropriate," we just purchased or requested them for gifts, long before the manufacturer recommended it. We feel that kiddos understand WAY more than we often give them credit for, and the more you treat them like they comprehend, the more quickly they will learn.

Swim lessons have actually been a great place to not only learn how to swim, but to learn lots of other fun things too. We started Sweet Miss P with swim lessons at our local YMCA when she was 8.5 months old. When we first started parent-child swim lessons, I equated them to a swim class musical, because you sing A LOT. If you think about it, that makes perfect sense though, because that's what kiddos like to do, and the class is about them having fun learning. We have truly had a wonderful experience with this class, and have been doing the program for about a year now. She loves to sing the songs that she's learned in the class, and I credit the class for her learning how to say her name at such a young age.

We listen when she talks. I don't think this happens often enough. There have been countless times, when a stranger will ask Sweet Miss P a question, and she will answer it, but they are too busy thinking she won't be able to, that they baby babble back to her. It drives me nuts! My hubby has been so much better at this than I have though. He's caught the words she's trying to say way more often than I have. It's really important to catch what they're saying, because they need the encouragement. When you light up with excitement, because you understand what they're saying, they want nothing more than to do it again.

We let Sweet Miss P discover the world, and be independent as much as possible. When we go to a
store during a non-peak hour, we let her walk along with us, instead of strapping her in a cart or stroller. We point to things and ask her what they are, or now, she'll walk and tell us what they are without even asking. We go on walks when the weather is decent. We encourage her to say, "Hi" to friendly strangers. We encourage her to say, "please" and "thank you," which she now will sometimes do without being asked. That's what makes my heart soar as a Momma. We are grateful with the life we've been given, and she is grateful too.

This definitely is not an exhaustive list of what we do as a family, but it highlights some of the activities we do and have done with Sweet Miss P. One thing that is not listed is that she has a very involved Daddy. He has a wonderful work schedule that allows him to have more family time than the average working parent. He plays with her, reads with her, sings with her, and was the main reason we started swim lessons so young. I don't think any amount of educational activities can replace the one on one time that we invest into our children. Please use this blog post for ideas, but don't compare where your kiddo is at with where our kiddo is at. Comparison is the worst. Every kiddo is unique. They find interest in different things, they have strengths in different areas, and at the end of the day, if they are happy and healthy, what more can we really ask for?

A special thank you to all of the people that have invested in us as parents, and that have invested in Sweet Miss P. Thank you to our church for having an awesome children's program and to our church family for always being so encouraging and welcoming. We love doing life with you! Thank you to anyone that has ever spoken Sweet Miss P's love language by reading her a book. Thank you God for gifting us with such a wonderful little human. I couldn't imagine life without her.


Wendi said…
Girl, being a mommy researcher and lover of science and childhood development myself, I can say you are truly on the right path!! Nicely done!!
Tara said…
Thank you friend!!! That means a lot!

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