Let’s Give Them Something to Talk About

At a recent wedding in New York City, I had a conversation with a reading specialist about the different environments kids are raised in and the vocabulary they hear growing up. Not surprisingly, children who hear a variety of words at home learn to read more easily than those who hear less language. And children who hear positive, affirming comments rather than “No” or “don’t do that” build better language skills, sooner. So what is the take away?

If you want your child to succeed in school, give them something to talk about.

As parents, we want our kids to do well in school and we are bombarded with information about the best way to achieve that goal. Barbara Abromitis, a reading specialist, says, “Building a large oral vocabulary will prepare young children for learning to read and write more than any other school readiness exercise.” Oral language skills provide the crucial underpinning for children’s ability to read.

But, don’t start making gigantic vocabulary cards for your three year old. That isn’t what language development is all about.

Do what comes naturally: chat with your child as you move through your daily activities and take them places where they will see, hear and do new things – new things that will provide fodder for discussion in the car, in the bath tub and at the dinner table.

Describe what you are doing, what you are seeing – ask them questions and listen for the answers – and then ask more questions and listen again. Nothing engages a young child more than your rapt attention to their words.

Discovery Center is a fantastic place to start conversations with kids of all ages.

“Wow! That’s a gigantic turtle. What kind is it? Oh– I see- it’s an Alligator Turtle.
I wonder what they eat…” and on and on.

“That is a beautiful old car! What color is it? Where would you like to ride in a car?”
Your great-grandfather had a car like that.”

“Would you like to pet that rabbit? Now you know what a rabbit feel like. Soft!”

“Look at all the fruit at the farmer’s market. Are there any apples? What is your favorite fruit to eat?”

All of this may seem obvious, but it bears repeating. Statistics show that an average three year old will hear 600 words in one household, and over 2000 in another. Children in financially sound families hear and use much more language at an early age. But, this doesn’t have to be the case. The good news is that talk is cheap!

All parents can give their children something to talk about – the more words kids hear, use and understand, the more they’ll be able to read, comprehend- and use in their writing, in years to come. Building a better reader begins the moment you coo and goo back at your baby. There is nothing better we can do for our children than to communicate with them – so get talking, singing, laughing and listening. Then sit back and enjoy the fun!

Billie Bidelman Little is the Founding Director and Creative Advisor at Discovery Center.
January, 2013

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