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Language Development and Art History

Mary Cassatt, 1897, Breakfast in Bed

Mary Cassatt, 1897, Breakfast in Bed

In celebration of what this blog is all about, our first month centers around mother and child. Even more relevant to our purposes, this painting demonstrates the work of a hard-working, talented woman. Mary Cassatt painted hundreds of works, most of which honor the simple, yet beautiful, everyday acts of motherhood. Not too shabby for a woman born in Pennsylvania in 1844!

For Baby…

Show your infant or toddler a print out of this beautiful work of art (check out the archives for a bigger picture). The painting sets a cozy mood so try to introduce the activity during a calm time of the day, perhaps right before a nap or bedtime. Introduce or reinforce vocabulary slowly, enunciating the beginning consonant sounds. For example, point to the baby in the painting and say “/b/ /b/ baby, the baby is in the bed with the mama.” Breaking down the individual sounds in words will help your baby approximate new vocabulary. Encourage your baby to use these approximations as he or she is learning new words. If he or she points to the baby and says “/b/,” clap and say, “Yes! That’s the baby!” With that type of encouragement, he or she will be saying the whole word in no time!

For younger babies, you may want to incorporate a sign while introducing new vocabulary. The ASL sign for “baby” is made by cradling your arms together as though you are rocking a baby. It’s alright if the sign isn’t perfect, as long as your baby has a way to communicate the word to you!

For older babies, you can extend the activity to include more of a question/answer format. For example, “What is the baby doing?” You could also introduce more descriptive vocabulary (ex. “the pillow looks soft”).

For Mommy…

Take a few moments to do a quick internet biography search about Mary Cassatt. An American woman artist in the nineteenth century, she was quite an anomaly for her time. Most biographies describe her as a privileged youth with connections in the art world. How do we compare her with other woman of her era? Did she have an unfair advantage or should she be hailed as breaking the mold of her time? Why do you think she chose to devote most of her work to the subtleties of female life?


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