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Small Talk

"Wrong" words are kind of right

English is a notoriously tough language to learn. "Children sometimes use the incorrect form of a word even after they've used it correctly," Paul says. "For example, they may say 'goed' and 'wented,' rather than 'went.' This shows they have internalized the rule for past tense, so it's actually a good sign."

Mary VanClay's preschool daughter, Emily, had learned that five comes after four. So when counting by tens she'd go from forty to, naturally, "fivety." "I'm still not sure how she managed to get twenty and thirty correct most of the time!" VanClay says.

Your role: Be properly impressed that they're trying. After all, many adults still flub the fine points of grammar. Repeat the correct word but don't make a big deal out of it.

Two languages is easy
Parents sometimes worry about their little one spending time with a caregiver or family member who either doesn't speak English or is bilingual: Will it slow the child's own English? In fact, young brains are remarkably flexible and most receptive during early childhood to learning more than one language.

If you acquire a second language before age 3, it's not even considered "second"; it's simultaneous, says Masterson, who asked her own Spanish-speaking nanny not to use English around her two children.

But don't bother with Japanese tapes and Italian Made Easy computer games. Infants pick up another language more easily from human beings than from audiovisual exposure to the same material.

Your role: To avoid confusing your child, stick to certain boundaries about when each language is used. Masterson's kids spoke Spanish to the nanny but English to her. Another family she knows uses French upstairs but English downstairs.

Funny sayings belie serious thinking
Olivia Saber of Orinda, California, proudly told her first joke recently: "Knock, knock." Her surprised mom, Janine, dutifully answered, "Who's there?" "Me!" grinned Olivia, 22 months. As toddlers and preschoolers advance from first nouns to strings of sentences, you gain a picture window into their growing brains  -- and you see that the wheels are indeed turning  -- fast!

Eventually your child will use language to draw connections between what he knows already and his new insights. While my youngest, Page, was just figuring out the ABCs, her older siblings were wrestling with arithmetic. So she asked, "What is P plus P?"

Preschoolers, who have more words at their disposal (up to 800 by age 4), can make amazing  -- even perfectly logical  -- associations. When Henry, at 4, was given half a cracker, he told me, "I want one that's full grown." And Eleanor, at 3, asked, "If I eat all these carrots, will my eyes be sharp as pencils?"

And then there's this favorite, which happened when we were driving in the country. It's also an accurate description of how I feel about parenting sometimes  -- that is, that there are two ways to look at it:

Henry, almost 5: "Are we in the middle of nowhere?"
Eleanor, almost 3: "We are in the middle of yes-where."

Your role: Write it down! Who'd want to forget these?