Friday, December 30, 2011

Rousseau's "Natural Education" Method

    In yesterday's post, I mentioned and quoted Rousseau and his belief in a child-centered education, but I realized that many, even those who have studied educational philosophies and educational psychology may not realize Rousseau's influence in this field.  (I say this as he was not mentioned in my initial educational psych courses, but he did play a prominent role in my political thought courses.)  Given that I have not discussed a philosopher or researcher in some time, I will devote this Science Friday to Rousseau's work and subsequent development of his beliefs toward education.  
    Much of Jean-Jacques Rousseau's work was focused on the "natural man."  He believed that man, left to his own devices, is good but is corrupted by society, as he more eloquently states in his famous beginning line to The Social Contract, "Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains."  With this idea in mind, it makes sense that Rousseau's work on child development and education would focus on natural education, free from societal influences.
   In Emile, written in 1762,Rousseau describes a fictional boy (Emile) whom he raises and tutors according to what he believes is nature's plan for child development.  Rousseau believed that education happens naturally, through everyday experiences, as Rousseau stated, "We begin to learn when we first begin to live; our education begins with ourselves, our first teacher is our nurse."
    According to this theory, it not is necessarily to teach towards an ultimate goal of being "a magistrate, a soldier, nor a priest." Indeed, nature alone allows children to develop in their own time without the outside assistance of adults. Rousseau identified four stages (from infancy to adolescence) of child development and the natural urges that ultimately lead to mastery of skills associated with each stage.  Rousseau argued that education must be individualized, meeting the developmental level and natural curiosities of each person. Thus, constant observation of the individual's abilities and interests is essential. 
     Here, I will explain Rousseau's beliefs about infancy, as Q-ball (9 months yesterday!) is in this stage. 
  1. Infancy (birth to 2): 
  • Importance of Breastfeeding:  Before I reviewed Emile for this post, I had never heard about Rousseau's stance on breastfeeding, but I found it very interesting, and will make a special point of discussing it here.  Rousseau strongly believed that there is "no substitute for a mother's love," and writes what I consider to be an angry rant towards mothers to refuse to nurse their babies and, instead, intrust them to midwives.  In fact, he argues that when mothers begin to breastfeed their own children "mutual affection" will be restored to society and a "natural feeling will be restored to every heart."  
  • Sensory Exploration: Babies expereince the world through their senses.  They want to touch everything, which allows them to learn about the temperatures, weights, and textures of objects.  Rousseau removed all unsafe objects from his house, allowing Emile to touch anything he wanted, even bringing Emile objects that he desired but were out of reach.  However, he did not allow Emile to rule over him- Rousseau only granted Emile's wishes when they furthered his learning.
  •  Language Development: The first signs of learning to speak occur during this stage.  Rousseau did not think it was necessary to force or teach language- it is a natural occurrence.  In fact, he believed that lessons would backfire as the grammar infants develop is often better than that of adults.  Additionally, by intervening, adults do not allow the inevitable self-correction of the student.
   Rousseau's goal in education, then, is for children to draw their own conclusions from their personal experiences in their own time.  He believed this is nature's intent.  As Emile was a fictional boy, there was no actual demonstration of how natural education would work. However, his ideas are put in practice in the Montessori Method.  Dr. Montessori strongly supported Rousseau's goals and educational philosophies.  It should be noted, however, that her on methods are not entirely derived from Rousseau, but they share the same underlying educational goals. 
    In our household, we share Rousseau's and Montessori beliefs toward child-centered education, although we would not go as far as to say that society will corrupt Q-ball.  We have worked hard to created a "prepared environment" in our home and largely allow Q-ball to go for whatever she wants to explore.  We work to allow her to discover an object's characteristics and purposes on her own. We certainly are not perfect in our attempts, but we hope that our efforts increase her own desires for self-exploration and love of learning as time goes on.    

Crain, W. (2011). Theories of development: Concepts and applications. NY: Prentice Hall.
Roehrs, H. (2000). Maria Montessori. PROSPECTS: The quarterly review of comparative
Retrieved from
Rousseau, J. (1762). Emile. (B. Foxley, trans.) London: J.M. Dent and Sons, 1948.

    Thursday, December 29, 2011

    Watching Her Grow...

        As I have discussed before, we are integrating some aspects of Montessori's philosophy in our home.  It should be noted that our home does not follow the Montessori approach or any other educational or parenting approach other than our own 100%, nor do I have experience as a Montessori educator.  One of the primary reasons we are integrating Montessori's philosophy into our household is to encourage unrestricted exploration in Q-ball as a means to encourage a love of learning and self-discovery as well as respecting her as a person (albeit a little person) with her own interests, abilities, and work towards independent mastery.
       According to Montessori, Rousseau, countless other educational philosophers and psychologists, and a bit of common sense, in order for me to meet her current needs, I must observe Q-ball's daily explorations. Montessori believed that parents and teachers should maintain a rather "passive" role in their children's routines.  In lieu of guiding their play, the adults should be observing in order to provide the correct materials for the children's current interests and abilities.  Rousseau would agree with this child-centered educational approach, especially in regards to the focus on offering developmentally appropriate materials.  He said, "Treat your scholar according to his age."
         Given how quickly Q-ball is developing, and with the new influx of Christmas toys, in the New Year, I will begin more formal observations of her activities throughout the day.  My observations will include, but not be limited to, the following:
    Q-ball making her way through bookshelves.
    • To what toys/objects is she drawn?
    • How does she use this objects?  Has she mastered the object?
    • How long does an object keep her attention? 
    • What distracts her?
    • How does she move around the house?  
    • Where does she go? Are there certain areas that attract her?
    • What foods does she like?
    • How is she eating her food?
    • What is her attitude during various activities (mealtimes, bathtime, travel, outdoors, etc.)?
    • How does she interact with other people?
      Beginning next week, I will include an overview of my observations in my new Thursday posts.  My hope is that these posts meet a few goals:
    1. Distant relatives and friends can track Q-ball's development.
    2. It's encouragement for me to do the observations (and fill in empty questions in her baby book...)
    3. Beyond monitoring and adjusting the materials I provide for her, I want to pay closer attention to her eating and sleeping routines, and any meltdowns to note where I might need to make changes.  
    4. I (hopefully) will get feedback from parents and educators out there who know more about Montessori than I do, and I can adjust accordingly!  I love and deeply appreciate advice, recommendations, and any suggested resources!

    Wednesday, December 28, 2011

    Wordless Wednesday: Bundled Up

    Santa brought a cold front!  It's (almost) freezing here, so I found it necessary to wrap Q-ball in her new Christmas attire, A Christmas Story style for our morning jogs. 
    (To toot my own horn- it is actually Mama that takes Q-ball on jogs, not Daddy as these pictures would have you believe...) 
    Anyone have hints for getting a baby to keep her gloves on???

    Friday, December 23, 2011

    A Baby's First Teeth

    Are my two front (bottom) teeth! That's right!  Q-ball's bottom front teeth emerged simultaneously about 10 days ago.  So, I wanted to share some fun or interesting facts about infants' teeth.  Also, it's the holidays, so I'm taking a little bit of a break with this Science Friday post. :) 

    • The technical term for baby teeth is deciduous teeth (just like the trees that loose their leaves.)
    • Streptococcus sanguis (a.k.a. the bacteria that causes dental plaque and, sometimes cavities)  is only found in the human mouth after the first teeth appear.  In the infants studied, the bacteria was found in 100% of infants by 3 months after their first teeth appeared. 
    • The vast majortiy of infants get the bacteria from their mamas.  This is especially true for daughters (88%  of girls share the identical bacterium as their mamas, while 53% of boys do.)  There is no evidence that infants receive the bacterium from their fathers.
    • Some babies are born with teeth (these are called natal teeth), while others develop teeth within the first month of life (called neonatal.)  Natal and neonatal teeth are more common in babies with cleft palate or other syndromes that are present at birth.  But, the teeth are not always a cause for alarm.  It is not necessary to remove natal or neonatal teeth, but they may be removed if they disrupt feedings. 
    • Low-birth weight babies appear to have increased problems with their baby teeth, to include being more porous and containing more "subsurface lesions."
    • There is no evidence that breastfeeding causes an increase in cavities, and some studies have found that breast milk can help prevent cavities.  But, nighttime snacking can be a cause of cavities.
    No, this isn't Q-ball- my teeth picture attempts were a fail!
    Q-ball only exhibited minor pain with the emergence of these first two teeth.  However, I suspect that her one or both of her top teeth are now coming in, and she does appear to be exhibiting some discomfort.  I am currently giving her a wet washcloth that has been frozen for comfort, but I have also been debating purchasing a baltic amber necklace.  However, I can't find any hard research to support their pain relief claim. But, it seems lots of mothers have had success.

    Have you used a baltic amber necklace? Do you think they work?  Do you have any other recommendations for teething pain?

    Carlsson, J., Grahnén, H., Jonsson, G., & Wikner S. (1970). Establishment of Streptococcus sanguis in the mouths of infants. Archives of oral biology, 15(12). Retrieved from
    Caufield, P.W. & Yi, L. (1995). The fidelity of initial acquisition of mutans Streptococci by infants from their mothers. Journal of Dental Research, 74(2). Retrieved from
    Le Leche League International. (2010). The womanly art of breastfeeding. Ballantine Books: NY.
    Noren, J. (1983).  Enamel structure in deciduous teeth from low-birth-weight infants. Acta Odontologica Scandinavica. Retrieved from

    Wednesday, December 21, 2011

    Wordless Wednesday: Ready for Christmas

    Q-ball is getting ready for her first Christmas! She's loved getting to see all of her relatives!  How could Santa pass up this baby???


    Tuesday, December 20, 2011

    Baby Approved Recipe!

    I enjoyed sharing one of my most successful baby-led solids recipes last week, so I thought I would share one more that would be perfect for a holiday (or any other) party- a baby-led solids version of spinach and artichoke dip. I made it for a recent (and disappointing) football party.  I served it to Q-ball with whole wheat pita, and she loved it! 

    Here's what made this meal good for BLS:
    1) Spinach is full of vitamin A, a nutrient that is deficient in breast-milk fed babies after 6 months.
    2) White beans and artichokes are full of fiber, which many babies need to help with the constipation that is normally associated with introducing solids. 
    3) White beans are also a pretty good source of iron, which is very important for babies as breast milk provides very little iron and most babies have exhausted the iron reserves with which they are born after 6 months.

    From the WHO Guide to Complementary Feeding
    Some notes specific to cooking for babies:
    • I try to use organic ingredients (whether fresh, canned, or frozen) whenever possible for BLS recipes.
    • We do not have any history of allergies. Of these ingredients, Q-ball had previously eaten cheese and whole wheat pita.

    1/2 cup fresh Romano or Parmesan cheese
    1/4 cup yoghurt
    1 tsp fresh lemon juice
    1/4 tsp black pepper
    1/8 tsp red pepper
    15 oz. white beans (canned, rinsed and drained or prepared dried)
    6-8 cooked artichoke hearts, quartered (or 14 oz can)
    9 oz. chopped frozen spinach (thawed, drained, and squeezed dry)
    1/2 cup mozzarella cheese

    Preheat oven to 350.  Place all ingredients expect mozzarella, artichoke and spinach in food processor and process until smooth.  Spoon into bowl and add artichokes and spinach.  Place in 1-quart cooking dish, sprinkle with mozzarella and bake for 20 minutes or until browned.

    Department of Nutrition for Health and Development, World Health Organization. (2000). Complementary Feeding: Family

    Friday, December 16, 2011

    The Importance of Family Traditions

           This is Q-ball's first Christmas.  I have always loved the holidays, but it is especially exciting to imagine seeing it all for the first time through my child's eyes.  Additionally, it is my husband's and mine first Christmas in our own home, so we are excited to establish our own family traditions.  Which leads to the question- how will Q-ball view the traditions we choose to establish?  What will they mean to her in future years?
    Q-ball wants to be like her big cousin!!
          Well, in truth, due to infantile amnesia- the phenomenon that prevents humans from remembering pretty much everything that take place in the first 3.5 years of life and most of what takes place until age 5 or 6- she won't remember this holiday season.  Still, many child psychologists and others who study infants and children believe that these early years are some of the most important in shaping an individual's entire life. 
           The holidays are prime time to pass along cultural and familial traditions to future generations.  Indeed, it has been found that families who participate in regular routines and rituals (to include daily activities like family dinners and bedtime routines) have stronger relationships than those who do not.  These predictable activities create a safe environment for growing babies and children which fosters social and emotional development. While an occasional tantrum is no stranger to holiday activities, children are generally excited to copy their older friends' and relatives' activities, thus learning the familial and cultural traditions that shape this time of year. In fact, some psychologists believe that humans' innate ability of imitation is a means to ensure social interaction and "the proliferation of human culture." 
        Imitation serves two roles in child development- firstly, to develop new skills, but overtime, imitation also evolves to foster social interactions. As imitation and, consequently, social interactions become more complex, humans not only copy the actions of another, they also become the model for an action, an expereince known as synchronic imitation.  In one experiment, researchers attempted to see when this level of social interaction begins to occur. Researchers demonstrated tapping the hammer on the ground and then offered an identical hammer to toddlers ranging from 12 to 24 months.  At 18 months, toddlers began to copy the researcher's actions for a set period of time and continue to make eye contact with him, thus demonstrating the beginning of synchronic imitation, and by 24 months, most toddlers seemed to have mastered this concept.  
         This finding, paired with others like it, lead many psychologists to believe that by the middle of the second year, children are able to and want to maintain social interactions with others through shared actions.  Around this age then, it can be assumed, children will be actively engaged in watching and copying holiday traditions. They will likely want to help their parents, older siblings and cousins, or friends when decorate the tree, sing carols, hang the lights, frost the cookies, and, of course, open presents.  
          So, as far as establishing traditions for our first family Christmas, it seems the research indicates that greater emphasis should be placed on "Baby's Second Christmas."

    Eliot, L. (1999). What’s going on in there? How the brain and mind develop in the first five years of life. Bantam Books: USA.
    HIll, M. (2000). Family Traditions. Family Life Month Packet 2000. Retrieved from
    Nielson, M. (2006). The imitative behaviour of children and chimpanzees: A window on the transmission of cultural traditions.  Retrieved from

    Wednesday, December 14, 2011

    Wordless Wednesday: What's Going on in There?

    Q-ball has spent the last few days exploring this cat tent.  She has gotten herself quite stuck!  We've enjoyed sitting back and watching how she'll handle the situation on her own.  So far, she's remained calm and determined to figure it out on her own.  Hopefully, we are able to continue to foster this spirit of independent problem solving and exploration!

    Tuesday, December 13, 2011

    Baby Approved Recipe!

       Before starting baby-led solids, I spent quite a bit of time looking for information as I did not know anyone else who was choosing to go down this path or anyone else who had done it. For an explanation of why I chose BLS, see this previous post I especially liked reading about other recipes or foods that families were using as I found this was the best way for me to visualize and later employ BLS in my own house.  So, I am sharing last night's dinner recipe- Mediterranean-Inspired Butternut Squash with a side of hummus- as it was our most successful so far.
    Here's what made this a good meal for BLS:
    1) Every member of the family loved it (even meat-eating Daddy), especially Q-ball.  I've rarely seen her so excited to eat. 
    2) The main ingredient- butternut squash- has super high levels of Vitamin A- which is one of the nutrient gaps in babies as breast milk no longer supplies adequate amounts as in babies beyond 6 months.
    3) Hummus (I made a basic homemade hummus)- provides both a low fat (chickpea) and high fat (tahini) source of protein
    4) Easy to serve with couscous or whole wheat pita to provide additional energy for baby.
    5) Lots of exciting new flavors for baby.


    Some notes specific to cooking for babies:
    • I try to use organic ingredients (whether fresh, canned, or frozen) whenever possible for BLS recipes. But, I, admittedly, do not use organic onions or butternut squash as they have been identified as "clean"er by the EWG. It saves a few dollars on groceries.
    • We do not have any history of allergies. I did introduce tahini to Q-ball on its own a few times as nuts are high on the potential allergy list. Whole wheat was also introduced on its own several times before serving with other foods.
    1 butternut squash (2 lbs)
    2 Tbsp olive oil
    1 large yellow onion
    2 cloves garlic, minced
    1/4 tsp cayenne ( I was a little more heavy handed than this, and I think Q-ball needed the hummus to cool off at times...)
    1/8 tsp ground cinnamon
    1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
    1/2 tsp cumin
    1 cup diced tomatoes (fresh)
    1/3 cup raisins
    1 1/2 cups water or reduced sodium veggie broth (I used the later)

    Peel squash and remove seeds. Heat oil in heavy saucepan over medium heat.  Add onion and cook until golden.  Add garlic, cayenne, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cumin.  Cook for one minute.  Add squash, tomatoes, raisins, and water/broth.  Bring to a boil.  Reduce heat, cover and simmer for 10 minutes.  Uncover and simmer until squash is as tender as desired.  

    Adapted from a recipe from Real Simple magazine.

    Department of Nutrition for Health and Development, World Health Organization. (2000). Complementary Feeding: Family foods for breastfed children. Retrieved from
    Nutrition facts and analysis for squash.

    Friday, December 9, 2011

    Pet Week 4: Pets and Human Attachment

    Lorenz and his geese.

                If you’ve followed this blog for any length of time, hopefully, you have learned a little about the attachment relationship between mother and child.  Bowlby’sand Ainsworth’s now famous studies on maternal attachment have their roots in studies that had previously been completed through animal observations.  In animals, as with humans, the newborn’s instinctual ability to keep close proximity to its mother is a very necessary tool for survival.  While this is typically referred to as attachment in humans, in animals it is known as imprinting.    
                Konard Lorenz’s work with birds, especially ducks and goslings, shaped much of what we know about imprinting today.  He discovered that imprinting must take place during a critical period.  An animal will not be able to attach before this critical period, and, if after this critical period an attachment has not been formed, it will never be able to form an attachment to another being.  Later researchers determined that the critical period ends when the animals starts to exhibit signs of fear. 
                This idea of a critical period of attachment has also been found in human infants.  Bowlby’s work discovered that between birth and three months, babies will interact with anyone.  Between three and six months, they begin to favor individuals with whom they are familiar.  By 6 months, human infants show a clear preference for their primary caregiver, most often the mother, and will likely exhibit separation anxiety and a fear of strangers at 8 or 9 months.  Beyond this, research shows that babies who have started to emotionally attach with their mothers at 3 months are more likely to be securely attached at 12 months and demonstrate less behavior problems at 24 months.  Given these findings, it appears that the critical period of human infant attachment is within the first three months of life.  However, research certainly doesn’t show that this period is as critical as it is in some animals.  That is, babies who do not attach within the first three months of life certainly are not doomed to never attach to a human!
                During Lorenz’s research, he raised orphan goslings.  As he attended to them during their critical period, they actually imprinted on him!  They would follow him in a single line, paying no attention to other geese. 
    So, back to the topic of pet week, can our pet dogs and cats attach to humans?  According to at least one study, dogs and their owners experience physical changes as a result of contact with each other.  The study measured levels of oxytocin, cortisol, and insulin in both the dogs and their owners before they were exposed to each other and after exposure after 3, 15, and 30 minute intervals.  These are hormones that measure levels of stress and increase feelings of love and belonging; oxytocin, specifically, is related to maternal attachment in humans as there are increases in oxytocin after childbirth and while breastfeeding.  The researchers discovered after the interaction between human and pet, stress levels and heart rate were reduced.   These are similar to the physical reactions that occur during interactions between a human mother and her infant.  So, it appears that humans may be able to serve as a secure base for their pets! 

    Crain, W. (2001). Theories of development: Concepts and applications. Prentice Hall: Boston.
    Handlin, L.,  Hydbring-Sandberg, E. Nilsson, A., Ejdebäck, M.,  Jansson, A. Uvnäs-Moberg, K. (2011). Short-term interaction between dogs and their owners: Effects on oxytocin, cortisol, insulin and heart rate—An exploratory study. Anthrozoos: A Multidisciplinary Journal of The Interactions of People & Animal, 24(3), 301-315.

    Thursday, December 8, 2011

    Pet Week 3: The Benefits of Pets on Kids

         As I stated in my introduction post, my husband and I were a little concerned about bringing a baby home to our two cats.  They had never had any contact with children, so we really did not know how they would react. I certainly wanted to raise Q-ball with pets.  As such, we always take the necessary safety precautions: never leaving her alone with the cats, ensuring cats cannot come near her while she is sleeping, and vaccinating the cats. 
      Science has shown there are lots of benefits for kids who have pets.  Read on!
    1. A Detroit Childhood Allergy study showed that children who were exposed to pets in their first year of life typically had half the sensitivity to dogs and cats as children without exposure to pets.  (One difference was girls with dogs- they actually showed an increase to later sensitivity.  The researchers could not explain this difference...)
    2. A study published by the American Medical Association found that exposure to pets early in life can actually decrease the risk of allergies to dust mites, grass, ragweed, and Alternaria (a fungus found in air.)
    3. A University of Virginia in Charlottesville study found that teenagers with family dogs were more likely to be in shape and less likely to be overweight than their pet-less counterparts.  
    4. Pets provide companionship for children.  As children age, they become increasingly attached to their pets- providing more care and increasingly playing with the pet.  
    5. In the case of working mothers, children are even more attached to their pets. Children with working mothers, stated pets served as a "special friend."  This relationship between child and pet may provide another consistent attachment figure for the child whose mother works outside the home, leading to increased separation from the primary attachment figure.
    6. In younger children (kindergarten age), greater levels of empathy and fewer behavioral issues were found in children with pets.
    Grano, A. (2011, July 20). The benefits of pet ownership from babies to teens. [Web log comment]. Retrieved from

    Melville, K. (2002. August 20). Dogs, cats reduce risk of allergies in kids. Retrieved from

    Melson, G., Peet, S., Sparks, C. (1991).  Children's attachment to their pets: Links to socio-development. Children's Environments Quarterly, (8)2, 55-65. Retrieved from

    Wednesday, December 7, 2011

    Wordless Wednesday: Pets!

    Well, the title should more accurately state "Barnum and Q-ball"- as was stated yesterday, Bailey is more interested in being a trophy cat.

    Tuesday, December 6, 2011

    Pet Week! Introduction

    Barnum and Bailey
       It goes without saying that this blog spends a lot of time focusing on my wonderful baby, Q-ball.  But, this week I want to spend some time honoring my husband's and my first babies- our kitties, Barnum and Bailey!  And, don't worry, Grandparents, Q-ball will still be adequately represented. 
        Pets have been a part of my life for as long as I can remember.  Many of my happy family memories include our first pets- Precious (our very cat-like Persian) and Mister Mister (our happy Toto dog.)  During the summers, I was also able to spend time with my extended family's cats and dogs.  However, having pets is not without risks.  My brother, sister, and I each had an ER trip as a result of a pet incident (two for me, actually...)
       So, husband and I were worried about bringing a baby into a household with two spoiled cats. But, we, fortunately, have not had any problems.  It has been fun to watch the relationships between the kitties and Q-ball change over the past 8 months. Barnum, our dog-like cat, was not interested in Q-ball until recently.  On the other hand, Bailey, our cat-like cat, used Q-ball to get extra attention for herself.  She would use Q-ball as her pillow during early breastfeeding sessions, so that I could more easily show Bailey affection.  
       Q-ball started to notice Barnum and Bailey's existence when she was around 3.5 months.  At about tail pull number 20, Bailey stopped joined us for feedings and has pretty much avoided Q-ball since. When Q-ball started crawling, she started fruitlessly chasing the kitties. And, to my disappointment, trying to jump off of furniture like they do, a habit that has yet to stop.  
       But, Q-ball and Barnum have started to become good friends.  For about the past month, Barnum has started rubbing against Q-ball and letting her pet him.  This week, Barnum has been especially patient and loving of his newest sister. Q-ball has taken to punching him in the stomach, aggressively pulling his tail and whiskers, and wrestling with him.  But, he seems to enjoy it, or at least put up with it because he knows he'll get extra affection from me, and Q-ball will share her toys with him.

       So, this week is dedicated to the following:
    Utz, Stella, and Bella
    • Barnum's patience with Q-ball 
    • Mr. Utz, my family's dog who recently passed away  
    • Dr. L-E, a newly appointed veterinarian and wonderful family friend

    Come back to read about to to safely have kids and pets, the benefits of pets, attachment theory and animals, and lots of pictures!

    Do you have pet memories from your childhood?  How do your pets interact with your children?  I'd love to hear your stories!

    Friday, December 2, 2011

    The Science of Baby-Sign Language

        Increasingly, parents are using sign language to communicate with their infants, allowing them active communication with their pre-speaking babies (researchers refer to them as pre-lexical).  Numerous benefits have been tied to using sign language, including help in building language skills, increased IQ, and increased literacy skills. While these are obviously desirable results, my husband and I were drawn to the idea of signing with Q-ball as a way to increase our bond with her as we are better able to meet her needs through increased communication.  Not to mention the idea that we could have an earlier peak into her thoughts and personality. Super neat!
         At 8 months, Q-ball is now at the tail end of what is considered the optimal age for introducing sign language, according to Baby Sign Language Basics: Early Communication for Hearing Babies and Toddlers by Monta Briant, which we have been using as our guide.  We started using 7 signs (milk, diaper change, cat, book, rattle, mirror, and we later added eat) with her at about 5 months and have tried to practice them on a daily basis (although I must admit to took me awhile to make it a habit, and sometimes signing is the last thing that crosses my mind when trying to change a fussy, squirmy baby's diaper!) So far, we have not noticed her making any signs, but I can tell she is focusing on the signs when we make them, and she appears to get excited at the sign for "milk".
          Briant's book provides some great information as do other baby-signing resources.  But, they tend to focus on the benefits and how-tos, and do not necessarily describe how signing leads to these amazing results, so I did some research.  The study I found focused on "maternal multimodal communication"- basically using multiple methods to communicate with your infant.  Throughout the study, as with sign language, the two methods used are voice and movement or touch. 
         I found the results fascinating and another amazing example of the strong biological attachment between mother and infant (for those of are regular follows of my blog, this shouldn't come as a surprise...)  The researchers, as well as many other findings from previous studies, found that "motherese," defined as the way that mothers (and people in general) often talk to infants which includes increased changes in tone and a slower rate of speech, has evolved to meet the changing needs of infants as they develop.  In other words, mothers unconsciously provide the necessary level of support to allow their babies to learn language. 
          This is where sign language comes in.  The major way to assist infants is to communicate with them using "temporal synchrony" or visual motions and voice simultaneously. Researchers suspect that temporal synchrony serves as a way of grabbing the infant's attention. Additionally, it helps infants find word-object relations. According to the ecological perspective of development, infants use their increased senses to take in the language cues the mother provides. Likewise, according to the dynamic systems theory, the development of language is a symbiotic relationship in which the mother senses the infant's perceptual abilities and matches her style of communication accordingly.  
           The results of the study support both of these theories.  The researchers found that mothers decreased the amount of motion cues as infants aged and gained increased language abilities.  Additionally throughout all age groups studied, mothers used more hand motions with verbs than with nouns (so, within the context of the study, they were more likely to demonstrate a jump than to point to the hand puppet jumped).  This supports the fact that infants vocabularies contain more nouns than verbs.  
          So, how can you be a secure base for your baby as he learns language?  Use sign language!  Or, at the very least use lots of demonstrating actions and pointing to help your little along his path of cognitive development. 

    Have you signed with your baby? What did you like most about the experience? Do you have any tips to share?

    Briant, M. (2004). Baby sign language basics: early communication for hearing babies and toddlers. Hay House: NYC.
    Gogate, L., Bahrick,L., & Watson, J. (2000). A study of multimodal motherese: The role of temporal synchrony between verbal labels and gestures. Child Development, 71,(4), 878-894.
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