As part of my brand ambassadorship with Better Beginnings, I was recently invited to attend part of the conference of the Arkansas Early Childhood Association, a group of educators and parents whose focus is giving kids the best start possible.
It was wonderful in a lot of ways — and I’ll be writing a lot more about it — but I particularly enjoyed the keynote at lunch, which was given by Comer Yates, executive director of the Atlanta Speech School and a passionate advocate for raising children in language-rich environments.
One of the school’s many initiatives is the Rollins Center for Language and Literacy, which produces Read Right from the Start, a free web-based curriculum that helps teachers and parents to effectively build children’s vocabulary and encourage language in the classroom and at home.
Why Is Language So Important?
I love this because it completely justifies my post the other day about raising a smart kid by talking a lot. When I wrote it I just felt like us communicating with each other was important, and the girl seems to have a bigger vocabulary, ask more questions and be more engaged with adults than other kids her age. Which to me makes her seem smarter.
But it turns out that spoken language, particularly the variety of words a child hears early in life, can make a big difference in future academic success. About 90 percent of the brain’s capacity for learning develops in the first five years of life, and the more language kids hear in that time the better they will be at reading, learning and communicating throughout their lives.
“Educators need to find a way into childs’ brains and make them light up,” Yates said.
One way to do that is to talk to them, to listen to them, to let them know what they have to say is important.
And to not tell them to be quiet.
That’s a tough one. I totally get it. Especially if you have multiple kids who like to talk all at once.
The solution was to teach them to “make a bubble” with their mouths (kind of like holding your breath with your cheeks puffed out) when you really need them to listen or it’s someone else’s turn to talk.
I know the idea is that if you don’t try to stop them from talking it makes them see that their words and their contribution are valuable. And of course it gives them space to practice all those beautiful words we’ve been teaching them.
But it can be hard.
I’d love to hear if you try it! (I never said those words much and haven’t since I got back. She certainly is talking a lot, but I don’t know if it’s more than she was before.)
Creating a Language Rich Environment at Home
Yates says that people should consider the quality and quantity of language kids hear at school when picking a preschool, and that how much language you hear on your tour is as important as any other standard you might just a school by.
But there are also things we can do at home to promote language development and literacy.
- Read at home every day.
- Have lots of books, magazines and other reading material available and accessible. (Paper and pens, too.)
- Talk to your kids about reading.
- Ask them open ended questions. About books, their day, what they’re doing, whatever.
- Try not to tell them to be quiet when you just need a moment’s peace.
- Use your big words. The teachers in the group kept talking about “level two” words. I don’t really know what that means but the point is not to use smaller words because that’s all you think your child can understand.
What do you do to reinforce language in your house? I’d love to hear more ideas.