Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Talking With Toddlers

Alright folks, it is another gem of knowledge I found in Malcolm Gladwell's "The Tipping Point". In one chapter he is speaking of the success of Sesame Street and Blue's Clues. Gladwell writes about how literal toddlers are, which I think we all realize. A toddler does not understand puns, sarcasm, or word play.

Gladwell then goes on to talk about the way toddlers understand language. He calls it "exclusivity". This means that while toddlers are still learning to speak and learning a lot of the basics, they don't understand how something can have two names. Gladwell uses the example of trees. Your toddler can identify a tree, but if you then tell your toddler that this tree is an oak, they will be lost.

This exclusivity actually works really well when trying to learn language. If your toddler knows what an apple is, and then hears you also refer to it as red, the child will realize that this must be in reference to some other quality of the apple. You may later refer to the apple as round, and your child will realize that this word means something other than the item, or the color.

I have been trying to keep these thoughts in mind when I speak to my children, who are still in the exclusivity phase. When we go to the aquarium, instead of trying to name all the different types of fish, I just point to the fish and call them by their colors. "Red fish, orange fish" etc. I do the same with the bears, "white bear", "black bear". Once we get the hang of colors, we will move on to other adjectives and learn those. Perhaps you can use this idea to teach opposites, sizes, shapes, whatever you want!

Soon, your toddlers will be able to understand that sometimes there can be two different names for things (like understanding that mom has a name, or that there are certain species of bears). I don't know when this change usually happens, but as mothers we are pretty in tune with our children, and they will probably let us know when they are ready to talk about the different species of penguin!

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