This entry, all about how parents can help young children build early learning and language skills, is brought to you by Jenny Tropia, Coordinator for the Derby Early Childhood Council and former teacher.
There is a lot of research that backs up the claim that that the key to early learning is talking, particularly on the effect the number of words a child hears from parents and guardians during their early years has on their later learning.
Those children who hear more spoken words in their early years are better prepared for school and do better in school than their classmates who hear less words in the home growing up. It is clear from the research, however, that words from the TV do not count. This is another reason to limit screen time for children and get talking!
If your child is six months old then it’s pretty obvious they won’t be answering back but that doesn’t matter. What is important is the interaction between you and your child and the number of words they hear. So talk, a lot.
But what do you say? When do you say it? That doesn’t matter either! It can be anything and anytime, just do it a lot. Even if you are busy out and about it can still be a great opportunity to talk. Here are just a few ideas of how to increase your child’s language skills.
Describe what you or they are doing: “The water is nice and warm. Here is your yellow duck. Now Mommy is going to get the shampoo and wash your hair. Let’s get nice and dry with this warm, fluffy towel.” With very young children you can just describe everyday activities as you are doing them. Even doing this is exposing your child to new words and experiences. You might feel a bit silly as you’re doing it but don’t worry about that!
Model and Repeat: With really young children who are unable to answer even some of your questions you can ask and then model the answer. You can also repeat their answer and gently correct any grammar mistakes at the same time. So for “I done it Mom” you can say “Great! You did it” or if they mispronounce words such as “I see a tat” you can say “I see the cat too.” It is a simple and easy way of doing it without criticizing them and making them feel self-conscious.
Be interested and make eye contact: this shows children that you are really listening to them and that what they have to say is important, even if they are just babbling. You will often see babies and toddlers watching their parent’s mouths as they speak. This helps them learn how words are formed. You can even have your toddler sit in front of a mirror with you as you sing songs together so they can see their own mouths moving. Practicing this and copying their parents will also help them build the muscles they need to say words clearly.
Play: This is a natural time to just talk about what you and your children are doing “Is that a tower you are building with those blocks? I can see you used red, blue, green and yellow blocks. What bright colors… this block is shaped like a cube…”
Read books and Sing Songs: You don’t have to just stick to the words on the page, take the time to look at the pictures together and describe what you are seeing or what might happen next. Let your baby turn the pages and engage in the story. If your child is older, ask questions as you read.
Talking to your baby will help them develop a love of language and encourage them to interact with you and their surroundings. It will develop their vocabulary to help get them ready for school and beyond.
Enjoy talking to your baby and your baby will enjoy it too.