Expanding our Horizons

Category: language skills

The Daily Vroom App

Parents of kids age five and younger often find themselves juggling work and family, wondering if they’re doing enough of the important stuff kids need to learn and succeed. In our fast paced society, it’s easy to feel rushed, stressed, and overwhelmed. Daily Vroom, a mobile app created to be wherever parents and caregivers are, reminds us that we already have within us what it takes to help kids develop.

Vroom is based on the ideas that brain building moments are all around us and any moment can become a brain building moment. Some parents might benefit from using everyday moments a little differently while others may need new ideas to spark everyday learning.

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In the first five years of life, a child’s brain makes more than 700 neural connections every second. These neural connections form the foundation for future learning. Since each experience and interaction shapes the growing brain, we’re teaching our kids whether we’re trying to or not. Daily Vroom helps parents understand what happens in children’s brains during these experiences and interactions.

Three scientific principles comprise the essence of Vroom. The first principle is that positive relationships with caring adults are essential for brain building. There is no healthy social, emotional, and cognitive development in the absence of relationships.

The second principle is that back and forth interaction between a child and adult—especially pre-language—is the root of relationships. When parents respond to children’s sounds, actions, and expressions, children learn that their sounds, actions, and expressions have meaning. With or without words, kids learn to initiate communication, pay attention, respond, express clarity, and change topics.

The third principle is that children are not born with executive functioning skills, but they are born with the capacity to develop them. Executive functioning skills include working memory, self-control, and mental flexibility. The interactions and experiences children have in early childhood can help them focus, adjust, resist temptations, and manage emotions. These skills are essential in getting along, achieving goals, and becoming part of a civil society.

The Daily Vroom app gives you access to over 1,000 tips appropriate for your child’s age as well as the brainy background (or science) behind the tips. For example, during bath time, give your two year old different size containers to scoop and pour water. Encourage her to explore and compare the containers and talk about what she’s doing. The app will point out that children learn best through hands-on exploration in playful, commonplace ways. When you help your child set up experiments to learn how the world works, she’ll employ math and science concepts and develop critical thinking skills as well.

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You can choose tips related to changing diapers, cleaning up, doing laundry, going to bed, or being in the car, on foot, or at the park. Brushing hair can become math, getting dressed can improve self-control, and eating peas can explain cause and effect. Your child’s development begins and grows with you.

5 Brain Building Basics

  • Look: make eye contact with your child.
  • Chat: talk about things you see, hear, and do. Explain what’s happening around you.
  • Follow: let your child lead. Respond to her sounds and actions. When she starts talking, ask questions like “What do you think caused that?” and “Why do you like that?”
  • Stretch: make interactions last longer by building on your child’s words and actions.
  • Take Turns: use sounds, words, facial expressions, and gestures to go back and forth to create games or conversations.
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Be a Brain Builder

The first three years of life boast the most rapid and robust brain growth, when 85% of the physical brain develops. At birth, the brain has about all of the neurons it will ever have and can create synapses faster than it will ever be able to. Synapses between neurons are strengthened by use. Rarely used synapses become weak before being eliminated.

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Synapse density over time.

Every day in the United States, one in 1,000 newborns is born profoundly deaf and another two to three out of 1,000 are born with partial hearing loss. Fluctuating hearing loss due to frequent ear infections could mean a young child is missing vital speech information.

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Dr. Dana Suskind

Dr. Dana Suskind specializes in pediatric hearing loss and cochlea implantation at the University of Chicago and is the founder and director of the Thirty Million Words Initiative. With cochlear implant surgery, Dr. Suskind gave children the gift of sound, changing the trajectory of their lives in one day.

Suskind realized that surgery brought children closer to a new world, but the real change happened after surgery. Regarding development, the ability to hear is trivialized without a language rich environment. Hearing is a way for sounds to get into the brain for processing; we hear with our brains, not with our ears. Children’s brains need words to grow.

The Thirty Million Words Initiative refers to a 1990 study citing how many more words children from higher socioeconomic households were exposed to by age three compared to children from lower socioeconomic households. Those who grew up in word poor homes had smaller vocabularies, poorer grades, and lower IQs.

Thirty Million Words promotes baby talk (using rhythm, melodic pitch, and positive tone not fabricated words) and reading to babies. It encourages bilingual families to use mostly their native language and advocates for increased language exposure using the mantra, “Don’t just do it, talk them through it.” It promotes the Three T’s:

  • Tune in: notice what a child is focused on and talk about it. Respond when a child communicates in any way.
  • Talk more: narrate daily routines such as getting dressed and eating meals. Use description, detail, and variety.
  • Take turns: keep the conversation going. Respond to a child’s sounds, gestures, and words and allow plenty of time for the child to respond. Ask questions that compel more than yes or no answers.

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Teri Kite, Teacher of Deaf and Hard of Hearing for Northwest Colorado BOCES and Horizons Specialized Services, says: “Anything we recommend to increase language acquisition for a child with hearing impairment is also good for a child with normal hearing. Enriching language is a universal need in our world that is increasingly electronic.” Teri has seen how making communication fun can ultimately make for families of good communicators. “It’s never too early to begin purposeful communication with your child. Babies’ minds are little sponges.”

In collaboration with Colorado Hands and Voices, Colorado School for the Deaf and the Blind, and The Listen Foundation, Horizons and BOCES are hosting three presentations on March 11th for Early Childhood professionals, families of children with hearing loss, older children with hearing loss, and families and children of all hearing abilities interested in language acquisition (with Thirty Million Words). For more information, contact Susan Mizen (smizen@horizonsnwc.org) or Teri Kite (teri.kite@nwboces.org).