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Language Modeling

I told you I was back from having my sweet baby but it seems that’s turned into a little lie, hasn’t it? I was missing Little Stories and interacting with all of you, feeling well and overflowing with thoughts and ideas, when all of the sudden my thyroid went whacky and it forced me to come to a screeching halt. I’m not all of the way better yet, but it appears things are on the upswing. In the meantime, while I work on being able to formulate a complete thought and articulate a clear sentence, I will be taking you back to some of our foundational concepts with the series ‘Little Stories Classics’. It will be great for our new Little Storiesers who may have missed these posts or for those of you OLS (Original Little Storiesers) who would appreciate a refresher. These ideas are simple, but can take some practice to make a new habit and a revisit and a reminder can help.Before we get to our refresher course, I want to make sure you know where we are. Even with whacky thyroidatosis we’re always sharing great stuff on Facebook. With the new Facebook hashtags it’ll be even easier to see what’s going on and get awesome ideas for your summer of fun. You can search for everything Little Stories with the hashtag #fillthepage. We encourage you to use it too! Whenever YOU post to your personal feed or a website page about good toys, toy rotation, toy organization, real play, meaningful interactions, language development, speech development, storytelling or books, tag it with#fillthepageso that everyone can find information on real interactions that fill pages and encourage children to tell their stories!Besides Facebook, you can stay on top of the Little Stories Classics and new posts with Bloglovin’. You know how Google Reader’s out? Well Bloglovin’ is in! I’d love if you’d follow me there. They send you ONE daily e-mail to your inbox with any updates from all of the blogs you follow. It makes it easy to keep your inbox manageable. Please feel free to share my posts directly from your Bloglovin’ feed and let us know what you like by <3ing useful information.

And! Here’s the first Little Stories Classic and how the term Milk Mommy came to be. Read it to see if you’re a Milk Mommy (or Daddy).

Language Model

Although we need to talk to our children to allow them to HEAR language, we must focus on what we say very carefully so that it is salient and meaningful. To children, adult chatter can sound like a whole lot of NOTHING.  Remember the adults in Charlie Brown? When we talk a lot and say too much, we end up saying nothing at all.

But what SHOULD I say?

First, let’s laugh at an example that none of us would EVER do! Let’s say someone else picked the page for “milk” for her son who is not yet saying any words.  Milk is her son’s favorite and she knows she can work on it throughout his day. So far she’s picked a great page. Good for her! Now, let’s see how she does putting marks on that page.

Yesterday, when she went to start putting marks on the page, she said something like this, “Oh, you’re ready for some milk now? I know. You love your milk. Ok, wait a second and mommy will go get it. I have to find your cup. Here it is. Let’s go to the fridge and fill it up. There you go. Isn’t that yummy?”.

Hmm. Let’s think. How’d she do?

You probably noticed she actually only said the word “milk” two times in almost 50 words. You can imagine how “milk” would get lost in of all that chatter. It turns out that she put different marks on a whole bunch of different pages instead of many marks on the page for “milk.” In this interaction no pages got filled, especially not “milk”, and her child probably ignored most of what she said.

But, we would never do that. At least not today, because today we will get focused.  We will say less, but end up really saying more because what we say will be meaningful. To do that we are going to zoom in to our child’s Zone of Proximal Development.

What’s the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD)?

This is it…

It may have a big fancy name, but it’s actually very simple. The green circle is what your child can do or say on their own. The purple circle around it is what they are able to do or say with just a little help.  In language, the part of the purple circle comes in the form of a great parent model – a parent who knows just what to say to help their child be able to say a little more himself.

The woman talking about “milk” in 49 words other than “milk”, was not being a great model according to ZPD.  She was all the way out in the white space, outside of the circles, talking to herself.

But if YOU can stay in the purple circle, and you can stay just one level above what your child can naturally do on his own, your child is going to be able to join you more easily and expand the inside circle to do more each day. In the purple circle you are in the zone and being a great language model.

But how do I know what is the ZPD for MY child?

Well you tell me. What can your child do on her own? That helps you determine how you should be talking to her and how you can stay in the ZPD.

If your child is not yet using words on her own, you should only be using one-word sentences to talk to her. If your child is using single words, you should be using two-word sentences to talk to her.

It doesn’t mean that your child can’t UNDERSTAND longer sentences.  Instead, it means that you are focusing your efforts, putting more marks on fewer pages, and filling those pages so your child can SAY more. It also doesn’t mean that you’re never going to use longer sentences, it just means that when you get focused on what you’re saying during your interactions with your child they are probably going to be more meaningful interactions. Those more meaningful interactions will then help your child fill pages more quickly.


If you want your child to say more, talk less and talk smart. Make what you say more meaningful by staying in your child’s ZPD and filling up the pages you’ve chosen more quickly.

Can you think of how that example with the “milk” could play out better, including the ideas of talking less, talking smart, and ZPD? How could that mom be a great language model for her child? Thinking about the ZPD, what’s your child’s green circle? What should you be saying to stay in the purple circle? Are you a Milk Mommy?Email this article »

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