Dec 18, Baby sign language: A guide for the science-minded parent

Baby sign language: An evidence-based guide © 2018 Gwen Dewar, Ph.D., all rights reserved What is "baby sign language"? The term is a bit misleading, since it doesn't refer to a genuine language. A true language has syntax, a grammatical structure. It has native speakers who converse fluently with each other. By contrast, baby sign language, also known as baby signing, refers to the act of communicating with babies using a modest number of symbolic gestures. Parents talk to their babies in the usual way – by speaking words – but they also make use of these signs. For instance, a mother might ask, "Do you want something to drink?" while making the sign for "drink." Does baby sign language work? The short answer is yes, it works -- in the sense that babies can learn to interpret and use signs. As I note below, research suggests that many babies can start producing signs by the time they are 8-10 months of age. But the same can be said for spoken words, and, as we'll se..
Read More

Dec 13, Sensitive, responsive parenting: What are the health benefits?

The health effects of sensitive, responsive parenting © 2011-2016 Gwen Dewar, Ph.D., all rights reserved When we hear about the benefits of responsive parenting, it's often in the context of cognitive development. Infants learn language more rapidly when caregivers respond promptly and contingently to what babies do (Tamis-Lamonda et al 2014). Young children develop better problem-solving ability, attention skills, and school readiness when their parents are sensitive and responsive (Landry et al 2003; Landry et al 2006; Yousafzai et al 2016). But there may be powerful health benefits, too, particularly for kids living in neighborhoods blighted by poverty and crime. These kids experience atypical fluctuations of the stress hormone cortisol, putting them at increased risk for a variety of metabolic conditions, including obesity, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes. Elevated cortisol levels may also "turn on" genes that cause inflammation. When University of British Col..
Read More

Dec 6, Dinosaur replay: Getting kids hooked on science

Paleontology and dinosaurs for kids: Tips for getting children hooked on science © 2009 - 2017 Gwen Dewar, Ph.D., all rights reserved Dinosaurs for kids: A gateway for STEM learning Paleontology is a great opportunity to teach kids about biology, evolution, and scientific thinking. Most young children are fascinated by dinosaurs, and studies suggest that curiosity boosts learning. When kids are intrigued -- when they have questions -- their brains are especially primed to learn the answers. But being keen on dinosaurs isn't enough. It doesn't, by itself, doesn't lead kids to a deeper understanding or biology or science. As Kathy Johnson and her colleagues found, young dinosaur experts may know a lot about specific dinosaurs, but their knowledge is usually highly specific and disconnected from larger, biological concepts (Johnson et al 2004). A perfect opportunity is being missed! So we need to help children connect their natural interest in dinosaurs with big (a..
Read More