Have you ever wondered about the importance of language and vocabulary in children? Does reading to our kids really make that much of a difference when it comes to enhancing their communication skills? Is there way too much emphasis placed on early reading? How does reading to my child from the moment they are born affect them later on in their preschool years? Let’s find out, shall we?
Ummm… So, What IS Language?
Language is used to communicate our ideas, intentions, and to describe our feelings to people. It is a skill we adults often take for granted. However, as parents, we stand in this unique position as privileged observers, watching our wee little ones grow in leaps and bounds. It’s stunning, really, to be able to listen to their vocalizations and eventual language development from birth onward.
Early Language Development
Encouraging a child’s vocabulary development is crucial. In doing so, it enables them to develop the necessary language and literacy skills they’ll need to succeed in school. This is where parents, guardians and teachers play a significant role in helping children learn new words. In truth, it’s all quite simple. Caregivers can use unfamiliar words throughout the day, as they interact and converse with a child, and talk about what those new words mean thus expanding a child’s vocabulary. The number of words children are exposed to by caregivers, in fact, relates directly to the size of their vocabulary.
Growing (and Deepening) Your Child’s Vocabulary
Word knowledge involves two key factors: firstly, the growth of vocabulary, and secondly, the ability to “deepen” this vocabulary base. These two aspects of vocabulary development are essential to the ability to use language, act on this communication, and expand a child’s language knowledge base.
Not sure how to help your children’s vocabulary grow? Don’t sweat it! It’s as easy as 1, 2, 3:
1) Begin by increasing exposure and interaction with language.
This point is quite straightforward, though it is often overlooked. You see, the more words a young child hears on a daily basis, the more words they’ll learn, understand, and use. Pretty simple, right? Basically, the key is to have as many conversations as possible throughout the day with children. If you’re not a big “talker” and uncertain where to start, try describing what you’re doing, and why you’re doing it, or even just “thinking aloud.” Any type of talk is good talk! They’ll see it as an invitation to partake of some lovely language-building chats.
2) Try to make it a habit of embedding new words into familiar contexts.
Toddlers, preschoolers and young children, in general, all love patterns and routines, which essentially guarantees a certain amount of predictability and allows them to experiment with variations of things they already know. When a caretaker introduces new words, purposefully injecting additional layers of vocabulary, they can increase a child’s active speaking repertoire. As an example, in the familiar setting of the family kitchen, a parent can “flip” pancakes, “whisk” eggs, use a “strainer” for pasta, and test a meal’s “temperature” with a “thermometer”.
3) Expose children to as many intriguing words as possible.
Little kids adore the sound of long, interesting and seemingly complex words. Remember Mary Poppins’ supercalifragilisticexpialidocious song? It often seems like the stranger the word, the more intriguing it becomes. Children may decide to suddenly blurt out that their baby sibling is acting “ridiculous” or that the over-watered plant in the living room is “drowning.” These are just examples of a child’s attention to, and interest in, the manner in which parents, caregivers, and teachers use various words to express themselves. So, don’t avoid using words you feel may be too advanced for their understanding. Instead, speak as you naturally would, and pepper them into your conversations. Children will eventually hone in on their meaning.
Where Does Reading Fit In?
Reading aloud to children is the best way to help them develop grammatical understanding and widen their word knowledge, eventually forming the basis for learning how to read. The beauty of picture books is that they are much more likely to stimulate a conversation with your child since they often introduce typically “less used” descriptive words.