Using Language with Children
Explore children’s literature together. Sit close enough together so all can see the pictures and words. Point to things on the page. Repeated often, a child will recognize that reading together opens a door to beauty and adventure. This is not a small thing. Indeed, it lays a foundation for a love of the pursuit of knowledge and wisdom.
Children need to hear you talk. Children learn words, and how to use words, by listening to you. Talk to children about everything. It’s raining outside. What’s for dinner? Where did we leave your shoes? Call objects by their real names. Children need to hear you talk.
The number of words an infant hears each day may be the single most important predictor of later intelligence and economic and social success. “The average child in a welfare home heard about 600 words an hour while a child in a professional home heard 2,100. Children in professional families are talked to three times as much as the average child in a welfare family.”
Research tells us the human brain grows most quickly in the first 3 years of life. Nerve cells develop when they are used, and idle nerve cells wither away, like a plant without water. As parents and teachers, our greatest window of opportunity to help develop capabilities of a child’s brain is from newborn to 3 years old.
Children need to become aware of different sounds in words. Children who develop “phonemic awareness” become better readers. They are able to break down words into individual sounds, syllables or beats. You can:
- Clap out the syllables (beats) in words.
- Play word games, for example, “What sound do you hear at the beginning of the word CAT? at the end? in the middle?”
- Write down words the child says to you.
- Make a file of pictures and take turns describing them.
Children need to know you listen. Your tone of voice, body language, and choice of words tell them whether or not you value and respect their thoughts and feelings. Make eye contact and use encouraging postures and gestures to invite children to continue conversations. When children feel safe talking to you, and taking risks with sharing their ideas, they begin to use higher-level thinking skills. Children need to know you listen.
Allow autonomy. Allow time for the child’s own growth process. Children can learn language without direct instruction. Gestures, drawing, and writing are stages in the process. When children work together and question each other’s work, independent action and critical thinking occur. Constant adult correction teaches dependence on others. Children need time to experience their own growth.
Sing! “Children expect from adults the capacity to offer joy. They expect everybody to be the bearers of joy!” Loris Malaguzzi, former Reggio Emilia Education Director So what if you can’t remember the tune? Sing anyway. Ask friends and family to help you remember songs and rhymes from your own childhood. Make up your own songs with the children. Enjoy!
Tell family and classroom stories. Encourage children to tell stories. Research shows that children must experience many types of dramatic play and storytelling to reach their highest language and literacy development. The child’s active involvement is critical. Provide them with props and costume pieces to use in acting out favorite stories.