As you have most likely noticed in your son or daughter, young children love words. The sensitive period for language development is strong throughout the birth to six year period. The natural ability for children to absorb the totality of language is observed in the child’s correct use of grammar, syntax and vocabulary. Children also have a tendency for exploration and the discovery of the unknown motivates them to strive for more information and knowledge. Children explore with their senses as well as with language. The interaction between sensorial exploration and language acquisition forms a strong foundation for intellectual growth.
The following activities require little preparation and are those that you can enjoy doing with your children.
Auditory Discrimination is very important for listening, following directions and preparation for reading.
· With eyes closed, the child listens and identifies various sounds in the environment, such as running water, feet crunching in the snow, egg beater, ringing bells, clapping, singing, knocking. Ask questions about the sounds, such as level of loudness or softness.
· Matching sounds of such things as rhythm instruments; identifying those that are the same, different, louder or softer.
· Identifying beginning sounds of words by playing I Spy with my eyes something that starts with the sound of ‘c’ and child points or names ‘cup’.
Listening / Direction Games helps children remember and process auditory directions or instructions. This skill is very essential for many academic lessons throughout the school years.
· Give the child a simple one or two step command such as open the cabinet and select a glass. Before child moves, ask, “What are you going to do?” When child finishes the task, ask, “What did you do? What did you do first? What did you do next?”
· Gradually add steps for practice with three or four steps as appropriate for the age of child.
· Tell a story by making a statement and asking questions to form the story. For example, “Grandma is baking a cake”; “why is she baking a cake?” Add the child’s answer to the story, “Grandma is baking a cake for my birthday.” Other questions are “when did she bake the cake?” “How did she bake the cake” “where did she bake the cake?” With each response add to the story to form a simple story.
· Describe a sequence of actions such as the process for brushing teeth, getting dressed, making a sandwich or similar actions that are familiar to the child. Ask the child a series of questions about the order or sequence of events, such as “What did you do first when you made the sandwich?” Continue asking the ‘next step’ in the process, helping the child describe the sequence of actions.
Reading and Telling Stories Interactive story telling even when ‘reading’ the book helps the child focus on details, gain expressive language that adds to the meaning of the story, and encourages a love of reading and a foundation for reading comprehension skills.
· Identify the title, author and illustrator for each book.
· Spend time looking at the pictures and noticing details of expression, action and other clues that reveal something about the content or characteristics of the characters.
· Read the story with expression which helps the child understand the meaning of the story, sequence of events, cause and effect, and the personality of the characters.
· As often as possible ‘tell’ the story even if you don’t remember all the words in the sentence. By telling, you can make eye contact with the child or watch expressions or reactions to the story.
· Talk about the story – point out relationships between the story and the pictures and discuss the story, particularly giving the child time to reflect and share ideas.
Naming, Matching and Grading The skill for identifying similarities, differences, gradations and matching is a basic pre-reading skill.
· Memory-picture type games can be modified for different ages and improves memory and recognition of like identities.
· Use pictures of peoples of all ages to discuss emotions and gain the language for self-expression and needs. Move beyond the basic sad and happy to such words as excited, concentrating, thoughtful, and contemplative. Children easily grasp the meanings for emotional language when words and pictures are combined.
· Comparing size, shape, colors such as grading crayons by shades, grading silverware by size or finding shapes in common items, such as rectangles in doorways, cylinders in cans are means to focus attention on details and build analytical skills.
· Sense explorations – Make food tasting an adventure with small samples which compare sweet, sour, salty, bitter tastes. Explore smells with teas, herbs, seasonings, fruits by using a blindfold and describing the smells. Tactile explorations also offer opportunities to refine vocabulary in the use of adjectives to describe the experiences.
· Music and art explorations can be combined by playing different types of music and providing a variety of art media for creative self-expression based on the tone and rhythm of the music.
· Music and movement explorations are great opportunities for word games and simple action stories. For example, “We are going on a bear hunt” with descriptions of actions and corresponding movements.
Any of these activities can be improvised and incorporated into many routines such as car travel, getting dressed, before meals and waiting in line. Although many similar activities are presented in videos and on television, the interactions between the adult and child have a stronger impact on the child’s developing brain. There is a personal and natural link between a child and an adult that stimulates the emotional and intellectual learning processes. Young children, especially, gain a deeper understanding of the meaning of words and stories when watching the face and mouth of the adult. Enjoy the discoveries of your son or daughter as you explore language. It is through language that cultures, societies and families are united across the ages; it is through language that humans have always expanded knowledge and it is through language that emotional and personal bonds are formed between peoples.