10 things I learned at my first Talk to Your Baby conference

21 Feb 2019

This year’s Talk To Your Baby conference was our seventeeth – but our Home Learning Environment Project Manager, Sarah’s, first! Here she explains what she learnt…

First things first, when I attended the conference on the 21 January, I had been in my role as Project Manager for the National Literacy Trust for eight days! That said, this was a wonderful opportunity to really get stuck into the brilliant early years work we do and particularly the Home Learning Environment project.

  1. Manchester had the first public library

Thanks to the wonderful opening keynote by Lucy Powell MP, I learned that Manchester is the city of firsts. First steamboats (1773), first waterproof fabric (1825), first professional football league (1888); but most importantly, the first free public library (1653). This led me down a Wikipedia rabbit hole and I have since learned that it has been open for 350 years and holds a collection of Edwardian Christmas Cards… because why not?

2. Handing an object back and forth a hundred times is a useful process and helps your baby learn

If you’re able to engage when a child hands you an object, then demands it back, then hands it to you again over and over, the outcome is more likely to be a positive attitude in your child and fewer attempts to get attention later on. Engaging with only the child or only the object resulted in more negative attitudes and attention-seeking behaviour. So basically, even if you don’t know why they want to hand the toy to you over and over and over again, do it

3. Smartphones are not going anywhere …

And pregnancy/young-mum-hood is prime time for app developers. There are currently over 165,000 medical and health related apps on the app store. 73% of women say they often use apps during their pregnancy and 74% do not check the validity of the information they’re getting.

4. There’s a lot more to the BBC than Dr Who and Call the Midwife.

BBC - TTYB

And they’re doing some amazing new work on the home learning environment to tackle the gap between disadvantaged and advantaged kids.

5. TTYB welcomed its youngest ever participant this year, Rio

Rio - TTYB

6. Helping Early Language and Literacy Outcomes is the best acronym ever

Sometimes, you have to take a step back and review your own work before you can try to help anybody else. The National Literacy Trust’s HELLO project asks professionals to do just that.

Using a self-evaluation tool, professionals review their practice and identify key areas they want to improve on. They build an action plan and then use that to re-evaluate later down the line.

I’m pretty sure this is a good tool for life as well!

7. I wish I was a bilingual baby

In the UK, 999,843 primary school children and 540,902 secondary school ones are bilingual. But, you need experiences in your home language and the one in your environment regularly and the exposure needs to be of a good quality in both. So if I speak to a baby in my dodgy high-school French, that won’t make it a bilingual baby. It will just confuse everybody (…similar to the French adults when I attempt to speak to them).

8. Chat, play, read

Okay I’m cheating on this one. But, while it wasn’t new information for me, it could be for you!

Susie Owen outlined the joint DfE/National Literacy Trust programme which will be working with businesses to nudge parents to chat, play and read with their child in a way that improves their early language and communication skills.

We’re working with loads of businesses, early years settings and other groups to make sure we reach the most disadvantaged kids. For more information link to Kirsty’s blog.

9. It’s possible to read your baby’s mind!

Mind-mindedness is the ability to ‘tune in’ to what your baby might be thinking, kind of like finding the right radio station. Those parents who are good at this have a more secure attachment to their child, which results in better language and play abilities - and then their child is also better at mind-reading themselves.

Good mind-reading abilities also protect kids from the effects of environmental disadvantage! Elizabeth Meins, the creator of the term, has written a much better explanation of this in her blog for the conference.

10. I work with the most enthusiastic and passionate professionals around

Each and every presenter, delegate and staff member was thrilled to be there. They were excited to share their experiences, their stories and their research. As somebody who was new to the field and the organisation, this was a great way to meet everybody and to walk away buzzing, ready to get to work.


We are already getting excited about Talk To Your Baby 2020. Be the first to hear about developments, speakers and sale of tickets.

[1] This may say more about how I spend my weekends than I thought …