SOUND it out!

[2 years +]

Most children learn the names of the letters before the sounds that they make.  But is it really that helpful to know the names of letters when learning to read and write?

As a speech pathologist, my role in literacy is to promote pre-literacy skills such as book reading and churning out nursery rhymes but also ‘phonological awareness’, being aware of sounds in words.  Research shows any child with good phonological awareness skills entering school will succeed in learning to read and write.  But this has nothing to do with the names of letters!

When you think about it, knowing the names of the letters doesn’t get you much further than being able to spell out a word aloud to someone else (You spell it ‘A-I-M-E-E’).  This is definitely useful down the track, but not at the start of literacy learning.

What do you need to know to:

  • Sound out words (reading) : A child needs to be able to decode each letter into a sound (eg. ‘hot’ – h= ‘hh’, o=’oh’, t=’tt’) and then put those sounds together and say them into a word.  It’s not simple and the child needs to be good at decoding the letters into sounds and putting sounds together to make a word (either aloud or in their head)
  • Spell a word (writing it down) : Break the word into sounds in their head and translate each to a letter, before writing them (as above. ‘hot’ – ‘hh’=h, ‘oh’=o, ‘tt’=t).  This is not simple either!!!

But one skill you don’t need, is to know the names of the letters…  If you only know the names of the letters, you can only say ‘H-O-T’ when looking at the word, which gets you no closer to decoding what the word actually says.

A teacher I once knew actually only ever talked about the sounds of the letters in the first year of school and then introduced the names of the letters in the second year.  In the real world, most children will learn the names of the letters by osmosis anyway, but it can be helpful to put more of a focus onto the sound each letter makes.  This is particularly so for any child that seems as though they might find literacy a challenge, as learning the name and sound of a letter is just more memorising for them that puts extra load on the brain when it comes time to read and spell.

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There is now lots of evidence to make us aware as ‘Parents’ that smacking or any other form of physical punishment towards children is damaging.

As a teacher I can always pick out the children that are ‘smacked’ at home. These children are the ones that generally ‘smack’ others or are aggressive (verbally and physically) .  They have emotional outburst (anger or severe crying). They can be very secretive around adults and when adults are out of view they can act out with other children.

They are harder to ‘defuse’, this means that when they ‘explode’ or hit they seem to not be able to reach a calmer state unless they have some physical outlet. Some children become reliant on that physical ‘hit’ to be able to calm themselves down. That physical pain becomes their focus not the emotion. As you can probably start to see these are not the sort of behaviours you want your child to exhibit. A smack is only an immediate stop to a behaviour but the lasting affect it has far out ways any immediate ‘fix’.

This is what the experts say:

It has been found that children who were spanked are more aggressive then the ones that are not. They are sometimes explained as tightly coiled springs. The effects are that it leads to loss of self-confidence and low self-esteem. It increases cortisol levels in the brain which can have a damaging affect on brain development (I will post a study on high levels of cortisol and brain development). It effects the way they handle their emotions. You are teaching your child to use physical control to stop a situation. I have heard many parents say “You deserved that, you asked for that”, what worries me about these statements is that I have also heard abusive partners say this to the abused.

Oh YES we were all smacked as kids and we all turned out fine!!! But did we?? Could we have learnt better ways of managing situations? Could we have become more emotionally intelligent about how things effect us? Would we have been calmer or less of a push over? Just because it was the way we were brought up doesn’t mean that it was the ‘best’ way. And now we now better!!

Have I smacked my children??? Yes I have!! And everytime I have I realised it was not something that can ever be done ‘calmly’.  As I do it I hear myself say “Now that’s because you hurt your sister”? (WHAT, that totally doesn’t make sense). If I believe that I am the best teacher for my child I have just taught them that I can hit but your sister can’t. Tell me how that makes sense????

So I ask us to all understand that we aren’t going to be perfect but we are going to try and understand the damage that ‘smacking and physical punishment’ does to our children. It is ‘personality’ changing. Discipline provides appropriate expectations and consequences for the child, it teaches self-control and how to behave, smacking does none of this!!!

I send this with LOVE and no judgement, just to inform…

🙂 Kara

Please share if you would like to see a world where smacking is seen for what it really is. Pointless and damaging.

The snowball effect of communication development

[6 months on]

The first time a child points or says a word (or signs one), what parent doesn’t get a flutter in their heart from the excitement that their child has something to say?  Have you ever thought about how a baby learns to communicate?

Whilst early communication such as smiling, pushing food away and waving are all signs of language development, think about how much attention your child gets when they communicate through a formal means (as mentioned above, pointing, talking, signing).  This attention from (usually) an adult, helps to develop their language further by:

  • the adult confirming their communication attempt is what they should be doing
  • giving the baby positive attention (what baby wouldn’t want that?)
  •  the adult repeating their attempt ( for example, pointing to the item or saying the word again)

These all encourage the baby to try it again!  So, the more the baby communicates TO others, the more they get attention and interaction.  And this interaction develops their language further, which gives them more opportunities to receive further attention and interaction from both familiar and unfamiliar adults.  The snowball effect!!!

So whilst we can sit back and wait for the baby to develop language by picking it up themselves, there are two things to remember!

  1. Learning a new language is MUCH easier when someone is pointing out the words for you, instead of having to work it out yourself.  See post ‘Getting thrown into a new language is not easy‘  
  2. Time is neural pathways – that is, the sooner your child gets communicating, the more neural pathways they will develop in their brain for communicating to others/getting information from others and the more their learning is able to develop, again the snowball effect.

AND, language brings so many benefits, to name a few:

  • being able to distract your child from tantrums or just rolling over on the change table more easily (hey, look! bird! – as opposed to nothing around that your child understands the words for)
  • entertaining them more easily (waiting in line – ‘next, go swimming, then home, then daddy home – as opposed to wrestling a bored baby)
  • teaching them about new concepts more easily (having defined ‘potty’, ‘nappy’, ‘undies’, ‘wee’ and ‘poo’, you can then talk about toilet training to your little one well before they start – ‘soon Jill go nappy… Jill use undies…Jill do poo in potty…Jill do wee in potty!!‘)

As soon as your child starts taking notice of people or things around the house, usually around six months (but give or take a bit), you can start helping to develop their language!  It is particularly good to help those babies that aren’t so communicative, in order for them to experience the snowball effect too.

** Stay tuned for an upcoming list of the first words/concepts that are ideal to point out to your baby**

We planted a tree – book review


[2 years +] We Planted a Tree – by Diane Muldrow and illustrated by Bob Staake.

This book will warm your heart and is full of talking points and great information about the benefits of trees, that is easy enough for young children to understand.  I could read it over and over!


Different cultures are featured throughout the book as well as how they are all similar, sharing family time and growing up together, as the trees and gardens do too.


The illustrations are beautiful and have plenty to look at.  There are also features indicating a certain country on each page, that can be discussed with your little one.


You will need to read this book several times just to be able to track the different families featured and to take in all that is has to offer.



Why not get online and reserve this at your library in light of National Tree Day, or buy a beautiful present for someone?  Enjoy!

Kids have a lot to learn before manners

So when do you spend the energy enforcing ‘please’ and ‘thank you’?  Did you know it is average for a child to say ‘thank you’, when appropriate, between 3 years and 4 months and 4 years and 4 months?  And ‘please’ with a reminder between these ages…

That’s much later than when most parents start modelling (or expecting) these words and yes, of course your child needs to hear these words in context long before they will understand and then use them.

But consider this, when your child is two years of age, they are still using their brain power to get a few words together.  Sure, you can enforce that ‘please’ or ‘thankyou’ or you could model an extra word in their sentence that they will be able to understand at that time.  Or just not worry about ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ for awhile.  Kids have a lot to learn before manners!

Being polite

You see, the only reason we actually use ‘please’ and ‘thankyou’ is to be polite to the other person.  This involves understanding the people and scenarios in which we need to be polite and understanding why we need to be polite.  Being polite involves taking the other person’s viewpoint – that they will feel ‘better’ and be more willing to help us if we use a nice word.

So if you can explain the above paragraph to your two-year-old and they get it………. Well I can safely say they won’t!  But not to say you can’t start modelling it here and there, for them to see how you use it.

it's okay for no 'thanks'!

it’s okay for no ‘thanks’!

Let’s look at both words.

Please – “I am asking you to do something and realise it’s a bit of an ask (but hang on the world revolves around yourself when you are a toddler, so they are not actually thinking of you!), so therefore I’ll remember to tack on that word”.

Thank you – “You have just done something for me which is out of the ordinary..” (but hang on, what is out of the ordinary?).  Something to think about – how does a young child decide when you need to be thanked.  Yes for giving them their lunch, but not for running the bath or flushing the toilet for them?

It’s a funny concept, the more you think about it!

Here is an example of replacing expecting ‘please’ with modelling a different word:

2yo Child: ‘biscuits’

Mum: ‘biscuits please

Child: repeats ‘biscuits please’ – what Mum has said, but doesn’t really know what on earth ‘please’ means and therefore is very unlikely to use it themselves next time!

What about..

2yo Child: ‘biscuits’

Mum: ‘Max want biscuits’ or just ‘want biscuits’ or ‘biscuits Mummy’ (still using a social word, but one that will relate more to them)

Child: will repeat when their brain has the language skills to use the words you have modelled.  If they don’t repeat it, don’t worry, they are still learning to understand your model.  That is OKAY!!

So PLEEEEEASE do yourself and your child a favour and give them a bit of a break on the manners – let us inspire you with other ways to engage your child until they are more ready to understand the concept!

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Sibling Squabbles

Who doesn’t fight with their sisters or brothers?? It is a normal part of growing up!!! But when does it become not acceptable!!!
Hitting or hurting each other is a ‘non negotiable’ in our house!!! It is not allowed and not accepted. I do not hit my children and I expect them to be able to manage their arguments and emotions without the use of ‘physical violence’!!!
From this
So how do you teach a 4 year old and a 2 year old how to resolve conflict when most adults struggle to do this???
Here are some beginning points:
1. Role model appropriate behaviour in any argument. You must understand that everything you say or do is direct lesson to how your children will behave!!!
We cant be perfect all the time and that is absolutely fine. In any argument it is really hard to keep rational but try and label your emotions to your children. “Mummy is feeling really sad and frustrated”.
To this
2. Get involved and be the person to help bridge the gap. Mediate until they are able to find their own resolution. For example: when they have a ‘disagreement’ give them the words to help them solve it. “You are feeling frustrated and angry that your sister isn’t listening to you”….. Ok, lets have turns talking and listening.
and ends in this
3. Understand that part of learning is to have the opportunity to work through problems in a caring, supportive environment. Sharing is a hard concept to learn. Why should I share this toy?? What internally makes us share with our siblings, parents, friends….really only the understanding that this is a social rule (I will explain about social rules in another post).
Ok so the points above are a few brief points on what to do when the ‘fight’ breaks out. But like everything Heidi and I talk about, it is more about the before!!! You need to teach your children how to interact with each other. If your children fight all the time then that is how they will learn to interact with others. If you teach them to interact to each other in a caring, supportive, empathetic and loving ways they will be able to make great friendships and choose to not be involved in the ‘not so good’ friendships.
As a family we do lots of ‘building’ of relationships and I offer ways for the girls to express their love for each other. Here are some pointers:
Find time in our busy lives to express our love to each other. Through touch, words and drawings.
After bath time we play ‘Incy Wincy Spider’.
One girl sits in front of the other and the girl at the back runs her fingers up and down her back.
It goes “Incy wincy spider, climbed up the water spout”. The fingers go all the way to the top of the head. “Down came the rain”, fingers run down the back “and washed poor Incy Out!” fingers run up and down back. “Out came the sun” Fingers creep up the back to head and make a sun. “and dried up all the rain” fingers down the back “So Incy wincy spider went up the spout again” fingers back up the back.
Then we swap. You can also teach your children some massage techniques, we also do ‘squeezing shoulders and tickling backs’.
“Goodnight, what did you love about “Miss 2″ ?” “What actions of friendship did you do today?”
DRAWINGS: We have a love wall, it has photos, letters and drawings to each other. This is what Miss 2 likes to have a look at before she goes to bed. We are about to make a book.
love wall
I would love to hear about how you and your family express love to each other!! These are just a few things we do but sometimes the ‘unsaid’ needs to be said ‘daily’!!!
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🙂 Kara

Gearing up for National Tree Day!

our tree

our tree

A few years ago, we planted a tree for shade and it has really become a part of our family!

To inspire you to celebrate National Tree Day this Sunday, the 28th July, I thought I’d write down a few of the benefits of having and caring for our tree:

  • Shade – which has been great for the kids to play under, and also to teach about ‘shade’ itself!
  • Something to talk about! Whether it’s about what colour the leaves are to what birds are sitting in it, to whether the branch will make it over the fence
  • Something to care for – it is like an extra pet! Master 3 has enjoyed watering it since he was 2
  • A place to play – with a big, open backyard, it has provided a destination for Master 3 to hang at and play with his imaginary friends!
  • A sensory experience – both boys are always keen to pat the leaves and feel the trunk.  It has been a great way to teach ‘gentle hands’ and also to help ‘calm us down’
  • An opportunity to talk about the benefits of trees – providing us clean air (‘let’s go outside and breathe the fresh air our tree gives us’)
  • A good chatting spot, while digging in the bark or pulling out the weeds

What will you do for National Tree Day this weekend?  We will probably put more love into our veggie garden and think about the day we’ll have some spare cash to plant some more special trees!

In case you missed Kara’s post, here is the link to National Tree Day – Planet Ark

the veggies need some love

the veggies need some love

Do you remember to remember?

[Birth onwards]  A child’s memory starts from birth however, at this time, the brain can only take in sensations.  These might be sounds, smells, touch or even movement.  Gradually, as a child’s brain develops and starts to think in ‘language’, it becomes easier for your baby to have and remember ‘memories’!

I have so many good memories from my childhood, even the sensations like super-cold milk at kindy and stinky sewerage smell in Spain.  Going with the notion, ‘use it or lose it’, I am always encouraging Master 3 and Master 1 to remember good times!  Otherwise, the many wonderful moments can be lost to ‘pruning’ (where the brain literally lets go of neural pathways that are not used) and filled with episodes of Peppa Pig or hours sitting at the dinner table!

At this point, Master 3 can easily remember the day Master 1 was born and the highlights of a trip to Seaworld and the day Granny came and we made a special balloon for her.  Be it a big or small memory, the more you talk about them and remember them, the more your child will build up a ‘bank’ of special memories.

How do we remember?

If there is anything that reminds us of a good memory, we stop and have a talk about it.  Whether it’s:

  • playing with a toy icecream ‘you had a strawberry icecream like that at Seaworld didn’t you?’
  • reading a Spot book ‘that’s like the balloon we made Granny for her birthday’
  • talking about when Master 1 came along ‘how did you feel when you first saw him?’
  • remembering special people, particularly those we don’t see often
the highlight of Seaworld!

the highlight of Seaworld!

It might seem unnecessary but talking about an event helps make it a conscious memory.  Kids love to remember!

I have made ‘memory’ books for Master 3.  This involves remembering to have your camera out at special times then later printing a mini-book with a photo to each page.  It might be about a particular holiday or even just the Christmas holiday period or a birthday.

memory book

memory book



We also spend a lot of time just sitting with my phone and looking back at the photos and videos.  We talk about what life was like back then – ‘look we were at a different house’, ‘look how Master 1 has grown’, ‘wow look at your hair’ and have a good laugh at many memories!

Master 3 was quite attached to a goose at the park we visit.  But one day it died and the people that took care of it left a little photo and message at the park.  So we have had a brief talk about death and explained that what we have left is the memories.  Each time we go there, we remember something about the goose and again consolidate the memories in Master 3’s brain.

the goose

the goose

Making memories

I mostly enjoy creating memories by breaking up the routine.  If we lived our life the same way every day, getting caught in the routine of everyday life, we wouldn’t have much to remember but a blur!  So I break the routines up by doing something ‘memorable’ here and there, such as:

  • dancing while waiting for them to finish eating, instead of just standing there.  They laugh!
  • letting them go outside and play in the rain
  • tango-ing Master 1 to the change table instead of just picking him up
  • getting the boys to ‘reach for the moon…’ to dry under their arms after a bath.  Strange but they love it and I’m sure they won’t forget it easily

This is a good opportunity to remind you, as a parent to have FUN in your day.  See Outrageous is the key word! for more information on why and how you should make sure you find fun everyday!

But sometimes, the routines ARE the memories, such as:

  • the daily push on the swingset with Daddy
  • making up a ridiculous song that includes the boys’ names whilst they are eating
  • helping Mummy pick her yoga poses whilst they are in the bath (yes my way to fill in the time!)
  • our BBQ breakfast at the beach each weekend in summer

I also encourage Master 3 AND Master 1 to take in sensations like:

  • playing music (nursery rhymes to classical to Brazilian) and commenting on it to help their brain take ‘conscious’ notice of it
  • stopping to look at details of things like the feel of the leaves on our tree or the rain falling from the sky
  • massage on the head when washing their hair
  • holding them upside down/piggy back rides
  • giving them a sniff of cinnamon or the essential oils I use in their room

Many of these things, can obviously be done from birth, whilst your baby is living in a world of ‘sensations’.  Even if they don’t consciously remember it later, it will certainly develop neural pathways in their brain.

My husband and I also enjoy planning activities that the boys will have as memories, mostly just involving family time which is obviously a good foundation for creating memories!  And these memories strengthen our family unit.  Our aim is to have fun while we can, as you never know what might happen.  Being involved in these activities with the children makes the memories more special to them as all they want is for Mummy and Daddy to join in too 🙂  Here are just a few examples:

  • Australia Zoo and Underwater World – although not cheap, they are priceless for the excitement and therefore memories they keep
  • making mud, playdough and cooking
  • planting a vege garden
  • holidays
  • beach trips
  • all of us playing hide and seek

All of these experiences add up to, ‘remember when we…’.  And hopefully with a smile on our faces!

Please share any memories you create with your family, as I am always up for inspiration and probably other parents too!

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Heuristic Play!! What????

HEURISTIC  PLAY, What a mouthful! This ‘play’ is about giving children everyday items and allowing them to discover the properties.

How does it feel? Sound? Smell? Taste? Under 2’s are still very much in ‘discovery’ play mode. They are working out how the world works by using their ‘exploring and discovering’ skills. To help them further discover these skills offer a ‘treasure basket’ full of wonder!!!

Did you know that babies tongues are one of their best sense. This sense become less sensitive as our other senses take over but this is why babies put everything in their mouths.

How to make a Heuristic Play Basket:

photo 3Step 1: Find a natural basket! (I am  a little bit addicted to baskets). But it can be a box but remember we can stimulate the sense of touch by adding natural materials. We also dont want to add a brightly coloured box because we want the wonder to be of other senses not just ‘what you see’.

photo 1Step 2: Gather everyday items from around the house or garden. (I have added some foil into an orange bag, great to ‘scrunch’)

photo 4Step 3: Put them into the basket.

Now that you have all seen how hard it is to create a ‘Heuristic Play basket’, you can make them for your friends and use the ‘fancy words’ to impress! 😉

I would love to hear what you have as natural play baskets. I am sure you have all been doing this and didn’t realise you are offering ‘Heuristic Play’ to your little ones.


Waiting for the words to come…

Joint attention...tick!

Joint attention…tick!

Most parents have two big milestones in mind – first steps and first words.  Being a speech pathologist, I feel like I can comment on the latter!

The thing about first words, is that there is a wide range of ‘normal’.  Some children come out with a word well before 12 months, whilst others take a fair bit longer.  Really, before two years of age, anything goes……

Differences in development

  • Children’s brains can only focus on developing so many things at once.  Some children head straight to the gross motor development, getting crawling, whilst others focus on communication and are very vocal and social, whilst others focus more on cognitive skills, sitting back and working out how the world works.  And some do a bit of each at the same time!  Have a think about your child’s strengths – are they simply developing another area of their brain?
  • Children have personalities from the very beginning.  The extrovert baby will most likely ‘show’ their communication skills more than an introvert, who might understand everything and be taking it all in, but may not be as vocal.  Where does your baby fit?

Early skills

  • Babbling is a good indicator of future speech, particularly using different sounds – mama, baba, dada.  Is your little one babbling and are they making consonant sounds?  (ie baba, mama, dada not just
  • There are some important early communication skills that come before speech – eye contact, motor imitation (copying actions such as banging, throwing, waving), pointing and joint attention.  Joint attention is when your child focuses their attention on something (say a toy or book) but acknowledges that you are there too by looking back at you as if to say ‘this is fun’ or ‘wow did you see that’ or even ‘hey I need some help with this’.  If your child has any difficulty with any of these by 12 months, it is definitely time to start thinking about a visit to the paediatrician, even just to monitor them.
  • How much does your child understand?  Language doesn’t just involve talking but primarily understanding words, before using them.  Before words, children start taking in their surroundings and learning about the routines that happen each day.  Does your child understand what is happening in their day?  For example, after dinner they have a bath; when Mummy picks up the keys, they are about to go in the car.  Does your child understand a simple question, for example, ‘where’s Daddy?’, ‘where’s ball?’, ‘where’s dog?’.

The sign test

  • Start teaching your little one a couple of signs, for things that THEY might want or find fun to communicate back to you.  This might be ‘more’, ‘bath’, ‘drink’ or a word that relates to their interests, such as ‘ball’, ‘book’, ‘bird’, ‘dog’, or ‘music’.  Most children don’t need to sign the word ‘eat’, as generally their parents are offering them food before they would really need to ask for it.  You can find signs (in Australia) at  Here is an I raise my kids post with far more detail about getting started with signing.  Do I get on this baby sign bandwagon or not?…  And have a look at our sign of the week each Friday!
  • After 12 months of age, a child shouldn’t take more than a month or two to understand the sign and start signing back to you.  If they can learn to sign back to you, it will show you that they can and want to communicate.  This may hint at a speech problem, which means their brain is having trouble getting their mouth to make sounds and words (particularly if they haven’t babbled too much).  This is where signing becomes important to help your child communicate whilst they are learning to use speech.  If your child is using several signs really well and still no speech, this would be a good time to start looking into finding a speech pathologist. See another I raise my kids post, ‘We’re off to a Speechie – Finding a Brilliant One’.

Personally, I have worked with a good few children who have not been saying much at around 15-18 months, but then have developed on quite normally after that.  I have also had several parents that have said they were a ‘late talker’, not saying much at two but have ‘turned out fine’!  Ask around for how you developed, as late talkers do seem to run in families.

In the coming posts, I will give many tips to consider trying with your child to ensure they are being given the best ‘language environment’ to help them to learn to communicate.  Firstly, have a look at my post ‘You’re off to Brazil’ to have a think about what it is like to learn another language.  Your child is going through a similar experience and so it helps to take that into consideration when communicating with them (husbands and other family members too!).

If you have tried the strategies (that I will post about soon) and signing and there is still little speech by 18 months, I would start thinking about contacting a speech pathologist (there can be waiting lists) and also maybe a paediatrician, so that you can be on top of things by the time they are two.  Early intervention is the best thing that you can do!

Please comment if you have any other questions or would like more information on anything here.  🙂 Heidi