Parents play a pivotal role in developing young children’s oral language.
By pre-school, hours and hours of chat will have been exchanged between a child and their parents. These natural and joyful experiences will underpin the development their child’s oral language; their knowledge of words; ability to communicate their needs; and lay the foundation for successful literacy learning.
It’s a memorable experience dealing with the terrible twos when the child is developing strong desires for independence and yet still growing their ability to verbally express their needs. Few parents escape this frustrating period. Then suddenly the toddler has moved on – hopefully!
It’s universally acknowledged that a child’s well developed oral language is an essential basis on which to develop early literacy skills – both reading and writing. You will have found this mentioned many times in our articles in Acing School.
There are many obvious and not so obvious ways for parent to enhance their pre-schooler’s oral language. Let’s look at some.
Since your child was first born you will have been talking to them. Hopefully, after a few months you will be reading to them some of the wonderful simple picture books which are now so available. You have been pointing out pictures and giving the names for them. As your child started to talk, you will have had them repeat your words and then you will have repeated what they say, sometimes with corrections (but no judgement!).
Young children are very good at answering questions and communicating using one, two or three words but there comes a time when you want to help them to extend their conversation.
Continuing to build vocabulary is important. Describing household objects and things seen when walking to the park/beach. Building their number of words is powerful for a toddler. They love to sing simple repetitive rhymes such as counting and alphabet songs. Both children and parents love these and we show how proud we are when they can master them.
Importantly, building vocabulary words which underpin different concepts will greatly help extend their communication, understanding and reading.
Using words such as associated with: size (big, little, round, long); their pet (furry, black, brown); time (before, after, soon); place (under, over, on) is to be encouraged.
Encourage the child to use words associated with their feelings: sad, happy, frightened, surprised, puzzled. Making faces and taking turns to play a guessing game can be fun. “Are you happy. Is that your happy face?”
Communicating their feelings to you will greatly enhance their ability to tell you what they want and to minimize the frustration that comes for the two and three year olds as they strive for independence.
Using the concept of the five senses can enliven conversation and, by describing things, extend a conversation. There are many words associated with sight, sound, touch, smell and feel which will enrich their vocabulary. “This leaf feels smooth. Tell my what your leaf feels like”.
Making your conversation personal for the child will best attract their interest and connect them to their world. Talk about an event – “So you went to the park. When I went to the park I sat on the swing. What did you do?”
Take turns to talk about the park and make sure you pause long enough for them to gather their thoughts.
Build on what the child says rather than change topic. Be careful not to overuse questioning but alternate with “Tell me more”, “That sounds interesting, what else”.
Showing that you are interested in what they have to say by smiling, nodding, gestures will encourage further conversation.
A child who can respond to a conversation with more than one word answers certainly shows a rich vocabulary and excellent foundation for their literacy learning. They are a delight to talk to and certainly will, in turn, gain pleasure from speaking with other people.