helping your baby to talk, read and count:
getting the abcs and 123s
There's no age that's too young to start teaching your child how to communicate, and it's all pretty straightforward. In fact, you could even say that it's child's play. From cooing to counting and stories to nursery rhymes, there are lots of simple ways you can get your little one learning.
First things first – get chatting to your child. From the moment they're born, your baby will be soaking up the sights and sounds around them. Help teach them about listening and communication by holding them close, making eye contact and talking – even if you just use made-up baby words. Crying when they're sad about something and cooing when they're happy will be your child's main way of communicating back to you.
pointing and naming
When your child is about four months, start pointing things out and naming them so they can begin to get a grasp of the meanings of various words. It's a good idea to use picture books for this. Don't go for anything too far removed from their everyday experiences, though – the concepts of, for example, a bed or a chair are far easier for a baby to grasp than something like a dinosaur or space rocket. Keep up the baby talk as well, and stay responsive to their own cries or gurgles.
getting ready to read
As well as improving their word-recognition, reading stories to your baby is a great excuse to cuddle up together. Although it may not be the most fun for you when you're reading the same Mr Men story for the thousandth time, repetition is key to their learning how to read for themselves. Nursery rhymes and action songs (such as Heads, Shoulders, Knees and Toes) are also really useful in building their vocabulary.
It's easy to point out letters as you go about your daily lives. There's no set age to begin this, but incorporating it before pre-school will help get your child familiar with letter sounds and shapes. When introducing a letter, don’t use the alphabet name, eg 'ay' for 'a' and 'bee' for 'b'. Rather, use the phonetic 'ah' or 'buh'. Your child’s name is a good place to start with letter recognition, as they're already familiar with it, and practicing drawing letters in sand or with finger paints can be good fun.
There are plenty of opportunities to explore numbers through play – for example, with blocks, ball games, jigsaws and cooking. Keep the focus on fun, and learning the numbers will follow on naturally. Make a habit of saying numbers and counting out loud during everyday tasks, such as getting them dressed ('one button, two buttons') or walking up steps. Entertain your baby by singing songs and rhymes that use numbers, like Five Little Ducks.