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Tips for talking to babies, toddlers

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Research shows that both how much and how well parents talk to babies and toddlers influence development of language and vocabulary skills crucial to later school achievement. Here are some tips:

—The sooner you start talking with babies, the better. Their brains are absorbing vital information well before they're able to respond.

—The high-pitched, sing-song tone that many people take with babies does get their attention. But don't dumb it down: Use rich, varied language and longer sentences, said Erika Hoff of Florida Atlantic University.

—Don't just label things, make connections. "The dog is wagging his tail" isn't as effective as, "Look how fluffy that dog's tail is. It's much fatter than the cat's skinny tail."

—What matters most is speech directed to babies and toddlers, not what they overhear, said Anne Fernald of Stanford University.

—Turn off the TV. "Television does not help the brain learn language," said Dr. Kimberly Noble of Columbia University Medical Center. Babies and toddlers especially require personal interaction to learn.

—Reading a book for 10 minutes a day adds up fast, Fernald noted. If Mom or Dad isn't a good reader, just talk about the pictures.

—Fit conversation into everyday activities. Instead of turning on music while fixing lunch, talk about the bowl of fruit on the table.

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