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Toddler Analogies

Hazel is fully absorbed in vocabulary building. All day long, she asks, “And that? And that?” And that? is her way of asking what something is called. She points and emphatically asks “and that?”

In our game of naming whatever random things are within view, I’ve started to embed a higher level concept in our naming games, specifically analogies. Analogies are relationships between words. A simple analogy can be cat : kitten :: dog : puppy, which reads cat is to kitten as dog is to puppy. This relationship shows category, such as a baby cat is a kitten and a baby dog is a puppy. When learning how to deconstruct an analogy, creating fill-in-the-blank stems is a good way to determine whether both sides fit the same relationship. A baby ______ is a _______ works for both sides.

At this stage, I don’t show her what an analogy looks like. I know on Bloom’s Taxonomy, she is knee deep in the identification stage and that’s fine. We recite the alphabet daily, but she doesn’t have letter recognition and she doesn’t associate letters with specific sounds, yet. We’ll work on that, but she’s not as interested. What she wants to do is point to things and ask “and that?” I follow her interests because I get higher returns on doing that than trying to follow a prescribed formula on language acquisition. For analogies, I focus on the fundamental skills first, which is the relationship between two things. Relationships that I’ll emphasize at this stage are antonyms/opposites, synonyms/similarities, parts : whole, whole : parts, tool : function, and category : example.

Since we’re naming things, the parts to whole is the most natural one to start with. For example, Hazel will point to her face.

“Face,” I’ll say.

She’ll continue to point, even more emphatically. “Eyes, nose, mouth, cheeks, chin, forehead,” I’ll add. “These are all parts of your face.”

I’ll hold her hands, playing with her fingers while she giggles. “And that?” she’ll ask, meaning my fingers.

“These are my fingers,” I reply. “My nails are part of my fingers.” I stroke her nails and, hand over hand, let her stroke mine. “Nails.” I repeat. My fingers are part of my hand.”

As I play the name game with her, I’ll toggle between merely naming the object and including it in some sort of sentence. Both are beneficial. If I’m more intent on her learning the name of an object, other words could confuse that. If I’m more interested in showing her the relationships between words, I’ll use the word in a sentence that explains its relationship.

In my responses, I always start with the whole, then narrow down. If she points at her chest, I’ll start with “Hazel.” If she continues to point to her chest, I’ll say “chest, belly, shirt. You wear a shirt to cover your chest and belly.” This analogy pertains to function.

It is truly remarkable how children acquire language. Besides repeating back words I’ve named (some of the times. She doesn’t repeat everything), she’ll use two to three word sentences. We read together, listen to audiobooks, and like a long-winded writer, I’ll narrate every single action I do in front of her. “Mommy is picking up the dishes from the table and carrying them to the sink. Mommy is opening the dishwasher and placing the bowl on the top rack. Mommy is pulling out the bottom rack and placing the forks and spoons into the silverware basket. Mommy is wiping the kitchen counter and the high chair. Mommy is wiping your face, which has peanut butter smeared on your cheeks. Food goes in your mouth. You chew food with your teeth. Can you show me your teeth? Very good!”

As I do all of these things with Hazel, I look forward to the day I can have a real conversation with her. I do these things in the hope that it will help her acquire language. If nothing else, it makes the “and that?” refrain less tedious for me.


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