Do you ever wonder why some babies are rattling off words by 14 months and others are mostly silent until 18 months or even closer to 24 months old? As a mom of an early talker, I have had a lot of parents comment on my son’s budding vocabulary. I have heard other moms respond “don’t worry, mine’s not taking either yet” or joke that before they know it they wont be able to get them to stop. This article isn’t to say that you should worry, as most children do eventually begin talking, but to offer detailed suggestions that could give them a head start and better prepare them for social interaction, formal education, and my favorite, to communicate wants and needs rather than throwing fits!
As a social worker, I studied child development for years. In practice, I watched speech and language pathologists from Early Supports and Services work with children who were behind and I was amazed by the improvement that was made with just one to two hours per week. It wasn’t until I became a stay at home mom for my own child that I fully understood the huge impact that these simple things could have on a child’s language.
At 14 months old, my son does not yet have a word for everything. He says about 20 words (hi, buh bye, that, bat, baseball, ball, Batman, mermaid, hat, yes, no, Mama, Dada, Nana, Papa, more, moon, bubble, baby, diaper, bum, butt, nuh night), signs another 20’ish words (eat, milk, more, all done, poop, banana, star, tree, bird, dog, book, up, open, water, clock, light, fan, bath, please, thank you, nap, hear), and makes animal noises to identify animals. Everything else is currently “that” or a sound (such as “chhh” for cheese) and pointing.
He is adding new words every week and just yesterday I was able to redirect a budding meltdown using language. My husband was attempting to redirect him from the wagon wheel on our neighbor’s lawn by telling him no and pulling him away. Our son was saying “that that that” (pointing). I saw it coming. The stomping of the feet. The fussing in frustration. The throwing his head back in despair. All the signs were pointing toward Meltdown Ave. I reminded my husband to use his words and explain that we know he wants the wagon wheel, but it is not ours and then redirect his attention to something else. He did and our family walk continued without issue.
Communication is the secret to any good relationship.
You need to give your child the words. In order for your child to be able to identify things by name, you need to identify them for him over and over again. The more times a child hears a word in connection with an object, the more comfortable the child is going to be with the word. This is part of why child development experts recommend reading to children and why many children’s books have a lot of repetition, such as I Went Walking or Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? Books are a great way to expose children to new words and objects they may not see on a daily basis (I mean, how many brown bears do you see walking around your yard?). So how to do that:
- Start reading early. We started reading to our baby the moment he was born. At that time, he was mostly interested in looking at the pictures so we would point and describe the pictures to him.
- Make books available. There are always board books on the floor for him to look at on his own in addition to the books we read to him before every nap and bedtime. Most times, he will head straight for his books instead of his toys and often brings books to us to read together.
- Read, read, and then read some more!
- Around five months we really started to get into the board books. The best ones for that age are the ones with different textures and simple images. A favorite for us at that stage was Curious George At The Zoo, but we rented numerous other books from the library. Again, as I read the words I pointed to the object the word referred to, so for example, “The man” (point to man) “in the yellow hat” (point to hat) “is taking George” (point to monkey) “to the zoo today.” The touch and feel books are also fantastic because they encourage the child to interact by touching the different textures of the book. We also encouraged our son to turn the pages. These interactions begin to prepare him for the next stage of reading.
- Once our son began pointing out objects on the page for us to name, we were able to move up to books with more imagery such as I Love Animals. With this book, I rarely read the text, and instead just name the animal and sound the animal makes as he points to the different ones. Sometimes he will point over and over again to the same animal. That is okay, I keep saying the name and making the sound. If you can’t stand to read a book without any kid of story, Goodnight Moon is an oldie but goodie that identifies a lot of common first words.
- Once our son could follow direction such as, “where’s George?” in Curious George At The Zoo, we progressed to find and seek books such as Find The Puppy and picture readers such as Fozzie’s Bubble Bath. The find and seek books provide great opportunities to ask questions, such as: where is the puppy? What does the puppy say? Can you show me where the bowl is? Can you say bowl? Picture readers are also great because the child can follow along with the text and match the image in the picture with the image in the text. The fun part about this stage is seeing all the words your child knows, but doesn’t have the confidence to say quite yet.
- Get comfortable with your local library! There are two major reasons for this. The first is that with so much reading, you will quickly get tired of the books you own. We have over 60 board books, but we read about ten books every day, leaving us only enough to get through six days without reading the same books over again. The library will become your key to sanity! Secondly, the library often hosts events such as story time, which are great opportunities for your child to socialize and learn from others.
- If you want your baby to talk then you need to show your baby how. It can feel a little odd at first. Pushing a new baby around the grocery store, asking the baby, “do you see the bananas? Those bananas look nice and ripe. Let’s buy some bananas. Mommy is going to put these bananas in the cart.” As they get older, this dialog starts to get a little more natural as it progresses to, “oooh that is a pretty blue ball. Do you want to roll the ball? See how Mommy rolls the ball. Can you do it like Mommy?” By the time they are toddling around, you will forget that people without kids are probably giving you strange looks as you follow your child around narrating his actions like, “Wow, what a big boy! You climbed all the way up there. You want to go back down the stairs? Okay. Sit on your butt! Sit on your butt!” This one-sided dialog can sometimes feel unnatural, but it definitely helps your child to put words to the things he sees and does. Before you know it, it starts to become more of a basic conversation where they can begin to add a word or two in response.
- As with any good conversation, you need to spend some time listening. When my son starts to babble, I listen closely to the sound he is making. I will often repeat the sound back to him and show him how that sound can make up words. i.e. “ba, ba, ba, bat.” This becomes even more important when he is pointing to a bat and saying “ba”, I will repeat and encourage, “bat, yes, very good, you said bat!” With this encouragement, he gains confidence in his ability to say the word and confidence in my support, which inspires him to continue practicing.
- Kids love to sing. Oh my gosh, do kids love to sing! Singing and dancing must come pre-programmed because even babies start doing those pulsing squats the minute a good song comes on. Use this to your advantage by using familiar words in a song. Children’s nursery rhymes that identify body parts or demand an action are fantastic because they help the children put the words of the song into context and further develop their language. Some of our favorites have been If You’re Happy And You Know It, Head Shoulders Knees And Toes, 5 Little Monkeys Jumping On The Bed, and Old MacDonald Had A Farm which helps with animal sounds. Once we realized the power of the song, we immediately put it to work for us, creating our own masterpieces such as the changing table song to get our little guy to lay still. We kept a stuffed animal monkey on the changing table and every time we brought him to change we would sing, “Changing table monkey says hello! Changing table monkey says hello! He wants to change your bum, not matter where it’s from, changing table monkey says hello!” Worked like a charm.
PUT IT ALL TOGETHER WITH PLAY:
- Children learn through playing. Many times we have taught our son by just acting silly. I taught my son to say Batman by telling him, “say bat” then “say man” and screaming “BATMAN!” in a silly voice once he said man. Then of course we could sing “na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na BATMAN!” This is the secret to unlocking communication; bringing the different techniques together through play to reinforce the words they are learning. So, for example, first I have him hold up a bat while I pitch to him, narrating, “hold up your bat, Mama throw the ball, hold up the bat, yaaaay you hit the ball! Where did the ball go? Do you see the ball? Get it. Ball! You have the ball.” Then maybe a round of take me out to the ball game followed by Pete The Cat: Play Ball!
So that’s really it. If you build these three things (reading, talking, and song) into your daily routine through play then you can help your child to develop his vocabulary more quickly.
So here we are. My baby is becoming a toddler and we are fully emerged in the war on cups! I have taken on eleven cups over the past eight months and have come out with a few really decent cups and a few not so good cups. ELEVEN CUPS! Eleven cups sounds like a lot until you realize that there are SO many cups. There are armies of cups just waiting for their opportunity to prove themselves in battle against my toddlersaurus-rex!
Still, eleven cups sounds insane! Is there anyone out there who is actually winning this battle against sub-par sippy cups? Maybe just the manufacturers who are making bank while we search for a suitable mate. In any case, here I will summarize battles won, battles lost, and surrenders in this ongoing war of toddler vs. cups.
- Contigo 14oz Water Bottle – We purchased ours for $9.99 at Target when my son was about ten months old because he was proficiently drinking from my 24oz Contigo. These can also be purchased on Amazon.
- Spillage: I love these because my son can drop them on the floor and they will not dump water out or leak. He also uses them in the car. They are a snug fit in his cup holder so he usually puts it next to him in the car seat. To make sure they do not leak, you just need to make sure the straw and lid are on tight.
- Ease of use: My son holds from the top handle (pictured) or with two hands. The spout is very easy to suck from and does not require/teach them to bite it. One great feature of this bottle is the angled straw, which allows my son to get all of the water trapped in the bottom of the cup! The spout pops up by pushing the button on the front, which my son figured out how to do for himself by 14 months. This is the bottle we use for water all day long!
- Cleanliness: There are several parts to take apart and clean. I found that a small nipple brush or straw brush is great for cleaning out the spout (which you need to do or mold builds). We only use this bottle for water (never milk) because there are some hard to reach areas in the spout that could make it harder to get completely clean. They are top rack dishwasher safe, but I am just not a dishwasher kind of gal.
- Avent 12oz Straw Cup – We purchased two for $9.99 on Amazon when my son was 12 months old after reading numerous positive reviews.
- Spillage: So, when I turn the cup upside-down with the straw exposed and shake the cup, nothing comes out. If the lid is turned to cover the straw and the cup is laying on its side, nothing comes out. But leaving this cup laying on it’s side with the straw exposed results in a steady drip (pictured below).
- Ease of use: My son does need two hands for this cup, so it is best at lunch or when he is sitting. This cup is very easy to drink from the straw. The challenge is getting the lid off to refill it. You have to have it lined up so that the straw is exposed and then squeeze and twist, otherwise the top just turns to hide and expose the straw or the outer shell that covers the straw pops off. Both my husband and I initially had difficulties getting the top off, but have become old pros with a bit of practice.
- Cleanliness: This is the cup I use for milk. This cup breaks down into five parts (straw, straw top/spill tight seal, cup, lid, and outer shell/cover). Because of this, I am able to pull it apart to soak and wash thoroughly. Love it!
- Bonus feature: Avent labeled the side with the ounces so you can tell exactly how much your child is getting! Now if only the straws were angled to the bottom so there wasn’t a bit of leftover liquid at the end.
- Gerber sippy cup – We have this same cup listed here on Amazon, except with an outer space design that we received as a gift (pictured above).
- Spillage: So these cups leave a pretty good splat when my son drops it off his high chair and a small puddle when left laying on it’s side or shaken upside down, but my son loves the quick flow of this cup. He is able to suck 6 oz of milk down in about a minute from this cup. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing, but my son thinks so.
- Ease of use: This cup was the easiest for my son to drink from when transitioning from bottle to cup. The handles make it easy to hold. He can drink this sitting, standing, or laying down. The top has a valve to let air out so that he does not have to stop drinking to relieve the pressure. However, the clear top is not attached to the ring/ handles so it is a royal pain to line up the spout and keep it from turning to the side while twisting the top onto the cup. Because of this, this cup drives me F*#$%!& nuts! I would huck it out the window if my son didn’t get so excited to see it.
- Cleanliness: It is just three pieces and they all separate for easy cleaning.
- The First Years Take & Toss – These are by far the most economical option at just $2.38 for four on Amazon.
- Spillage: They call these “spill-proof,” but I would describe these as spill resistant rather than spill proof. The top fits snugly over the cup and does not leak, but some liquid will come out through the straw when turned upside down and shaken or laying on it’s side. These cups also lose their lid completely when dropped off a high chair, causing a huge mess. For that reason, my son cannot be left unsupervised with these!
- Ease of use: I use this cup at meals where I can supervise and assist with getting the last of the liquid left on the bottom. My son is able to drink the water or milk out of these cups very quickly since there is no resistance and therefore he ends up drinking more overall when using these cups. I consider this a good thing, especially in the summer when I want to ensure he is staying hydrated. An important thing to note when preparing these cups is that the straw needs to be inserted last to avoid a straw fountain.
- Cleanliness: Of course this cup is easy to clean because there is nothing to it. It’s basically a smaller and sturdier version of a to go cup like you get at a fast food joint. Because it is simple, easy to clean, and quick to put together, I find myself using these more than any other cup during meal times.
- Bottle to straw conversion kit such as this one from ThinkBaby – This was one of the first straw options we got at just six months old as we were able to continue using the hundreds of small baby bottles we already had on hand!
- Spillage: These tops will spill a few drops out of the straw when dropped, but they do not seem to leak or drain out.
- Ease of use: These tops are very simple and straightforward. You flip the top up and water sucks out. The one I got has handles as well so it is very easy to hold. This is a great transition cup from the baby bottle they are already used to.
- Cleanliness: The top is very simple and I found it no problem to clean with a straw cleaner.
- The First Years simply spoutless cup – We picked one of these up for about $5 at Walmart. Unfortunately, these cups leave a pretty good splatter when they are dropped on the floor. The design is basically a rubber lip that covers the tiny holes along the top rim of the cup. This cup is harder to clean because the rubber is unable to be removed from the cover. Also, sucking the liquid out from the small space between the rubber and the cup means a slow, air filled flow, which leaves my son frustrated with trying to drink from it.
- Nuby grow with me cup – These cups are available on Amazon for just $4.70. They are a cute little cup with handles, fairly spill proof, and come with a cover for travel. My son does not prefer these because the liquid comes out too slow.
- Circo Straw Cup – These are cups available at Target for $3.99. They are not spill proof. They are not extremely durable. They should not go in the dish washer. What they are is cute. They are better for proficient drinkers or direct supervision. They are also available on Amazon.
- Munchkin click lock straw cup – Available at Amazon for $5.82 for two. I like that they click so that you know they are on tight and straight. However, the pressure that makes them spill proof also requires an immense amount of sucking to drink from. My son prefers not to exert that much effort and gives up rather quickly.
- Nuby free flow easy grip cup – Available on Amazon for $6.99, these have a solid plastic spout. My son does not prefer this spout and refuses to use these cups.
- Tommee Tippee sippee cup – Okay, my first tip off should have been all the ee’s used. What is up with that name? Anyhow, they are available for just $5.60 on Amazon. My son hated the plastic spout, or maybe he just hated the name, but either way he refused to even give them a shot.
If I could go back in time, I would save myself about $40 by only purchasing the Contigo (1), Avent (2), Gerber (3), a straw conversion kit (5) for the milk that was pumped directly into a bottle, and the take and toss cups (4). Truth be told, I do not believe there is a cup that is both easy to drink from and completely spill-proof, but I think the Contigo and Avent come the closest. After doing a lot more research, if I do buy another cup to try, it will be the ThinkBaby thinkster straw bottle or the Skip Hop straw bottle since they have a similar top as the conversion straw that I liked and they both have favorable reviews on Amazon.
Do you have a cup that you love so much you just want to shout your love from the rooftops? Please feel free to comment!
Note: I started this blog because I found myself pouring over reviews from other parents, racking my brain, trying to figure out the best products (and activities) for my baby. Despite this research, I still found myself with sub-par items and a lot of time and money wasted. It is my hope that by sharing this information in a blog, parents and other well meaning relatives will not blindly purchase 11 different cups that will ultimately start a dusty cup graveyard in your pantry!