Talk Early and Often with Children
From birth to pre-k, children’s brains develop faster than at any other point in their lives. They yearn to soak up all the information in the world around them. Reading, the foundational skill for learning, begins with vocabulary development. And vocabulary development begins long before children know how to speak. Too few children, however, learn critical language and vocabulary skills at a young age. In fact, research suggests that by the age of 3, children from low-income families encounter 30 million fewer words on average than children from wealthier families. From that point on, they are left trying to play catch-up to an ever-widening gap.
So what can parents and educators do during the earliest years of children’s lives to bridge the gap? The simple answer, talk with them from birth. Engaging with children as conversational partners helps promote vocabulary development and comprehension, and creates a firm foundation for future success.
How do we engage? TALK!
The TALK strategy helps us make conversations with children even more powerful. What are the components of the TALK strategy?
Enter the world of children by tuning in and paying close attention to what they are looking at or doing. Comment on what you observe, giving them an opportunity to respond, even if they can’t yet communicate with words. Respond quickly to their attempts to engage with you to show that you are interested in them.
Asking questions invites children into conversation with you and models turn taking. Ask questions based on what you observed when you tuned into what they were doing. For infants and young toddlers, you can ask closed questions such as “Who is at the door?” or “What color is the ball?” As children get older, engage them with open ended questions that develop their vocabulary by requiring more thoughtful answers. Try questions like, “Why do you like playing with your dog?” or “What do you think will happen next?”
Model the language you want children to use in the future. Narrate everything you or the child is doing and expand on what the child says. Use well-formed sentences with interesting words, gestures, and facial expressions.
Keep it Going.
Once you engage with children, you want to keep the conversation going by continuing to tune in, ask questions, and lift language. Keep the focus on what they are interested in. Each conversation creates more opportunities to use language and expand their vocabulary.
Tips for Parents
By encouraging your child to find his voice and express himself, you set the stage for your child’s success from an early age. Here are some additional tips for developing effective communication with your child:
- Try child-directed speech. Child-directed speech is a style of communication that uses a sing-song, high-pitched voice and exaggerated tones. The variances in the pitch of your voice holds your child’s attention far longer than simply speaking in your normal tone of voice.
- Expose your child to as many words as possible. very time you talk, you give your child priceless exposure to words. Describe where you’re going, what you’re doing and what you see. By exposing your child to more words, you help him develop a strong and diverse vocabulary.
- Respond to your child. Even before children can speak, they communicate in different ways. They smile, kick, cry and babble to express their feelings. By responding to your child’s communication, you acknowledge his voice, even if he has no formal language skills yet.
- Talk with your child rather than at them. Your child can be a conversational partner from a very early age. Encourage him to speak, experience, understand and use new words every day.
Tips for Educators
You can shape a child’s success by engaging in powerful and meaningful conversations with them on a day to day basis. Here are our tips for effective communication between children and early childhood educators:
- Have face-to-face interactions with your students. Get on the children’s level, that way you are talking with them, not at them.
- Support dual language learners. Some children in your classroom may be learning one language at home and another at school. By supporting their home language at school, you establish a strong connection between school and home and show that you honor, respect and celebrate the culture of your students.
- Use those facial expressions. Adding facial expressions helps teach children the meaning of new words. Smile when you say the word “happiness” or use a shocked look to convey a surprising point in a story.
Whether you’re a parent or an early childhood educator, you can use meaningful conversation as a way to help establish the foundation for educational success in the future.
Read Right from the Start provides early childhood educators and parents techniques and resources to bring the power of language to all children and change their lives. For more information about the TALK strategy, start training with Read Right from the Start today.