An important developmental milestone of the first 5 years of a child’s life is the progress of language. A child’s language ability affects all areas of his or her development. In fact, the quality of verbal language skills strongly predicts success in learning to read and write later in life. Whether or not your home language is the same as the majority language used at your child’s school, you can help build your child’s language skills with just a few easy activities.
What did you like best at school today?
Take advantage of the time when you and your child are together after school. Whether driving home or getting dinner ready, talk about your child’s day. Make your conversation meaningful and fun with your child by considering the following points:
- Never ask questions that can be answered with a “yes” or “no.” These types of questions stop the conversation before it starts.
- Always give your child the opportunity to choose what to talk about. “What did you like best at school today?” allows him or her to talk about recess, lunch, or snack time, as well as reading circle, a science walk, or an exercise of counting bright red apples.
- Make a positive comment, and ask a followup question. For example: “I love going for walks, too. What was the favorite thing you saw on your science walk?”
- Repeat and add vocabulary. For example: “The caterpillar I saw outside was yellow with a big black stripe. Tell me what your caterpillar looked like.”
- Make your “What did you like best at school today?” conversation a daily habit. Your child will be excited knowing that you will always set aside time to find out about his or her day, and you will build a language bridge between school and home.
The “Teachable Moment”
Take advantage of anything that can spark your child’s interest. You don’t have to make a special trip or do a special activity to find excitement, learning, and new vocabulary. For example:
- In the produce department at the grocery store, have your child find all the fruits and vegetables that are red. Then talk about the name of each, whether they’re red on the inside and the outside, or which is your child’s favorite.
- While preparing dinner, get out the measuring spoons. Have your child talk about which spoon is the biggest and which is the smallest. Have your child compare the sizes in between. Then give him or her a small bowl of sugar, salt, or flour to find out how many of the smallest spoonfuls it takes to fill the largest spoon, etc.
- While waiting in traffic, play a game of “On the way to ______.” For example: Your child says, “On the way to Grandma’s house, I see a tall building with lots of windows.” Then you say, “On the way to Grandma’s house, I see a tall building with lots of windows and a fire station with two big red trucks.” Continue playing the game and adding items that you see from the car. Help your child with the repetitions.
Building Our Special Book
Reading to children enhances their language development, especially vocabulary, because the structures and words used in books are more varied than those in speech. Knowing more words, in turn, helps children make sense of print and find what they read more meaningful and interesting. And talking with children about what you read together further boosts both vocabulary and comprehension.
Your child brings home pictures from school all the time. Show him or her how much you value them by saying more than, “Oh, that’s beautiful!” and sticking them on the refrigerator. After you make a positive comment about the picture, write down the answers to the following questions on a separate piece of paper:
- Ask your child to tell you about the colors, and write down the name of each color.
- Ask him or her to tell you about the picture. Write these words in a sentence to let the picture tell its own story.
- Get out markers and/or crayons and paper, and ask your child to draw a picture that shows what happens next in the story or that shows a different time of day, a different kind of tree, or another person in the family.
- Put a date on the picture (Thursday, August 30, 2012), and attach it to the refrigerator or pin it to the family bulletin board.
- Once your child brings home new pictures from school, take the old ones down and place them in a special book. You can have your child make the cover for this book using a large piece of folded construction paper or poster board and markers or crayons. You and your child can “read” this book together anytime—sharing memories, repeating and/or adding vocabulary, and showing your child just how much you value what he or she does in school.
Have fun building words!
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Institutes of Health
“Focus on Language Development: Reports” provides a list of selected resources and effective practices for families and educators to gain knowledge that is culturally and linguistically responsive to the needs of dual language learners’ children.
National Clearinghouse for English Language Acquisition
Dual Language Learning: What Does It Take? Head Start Dual Language Report is a study that assesses program needs, opportunities, and barriers as well as provides recommendations that effectively work with young dual language learners.
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