Parenting In Focus: Talking makes a difference

Your child’s language development begins before he can even talk. He has been listening and watching you speak to him and to others since the day he was born.

When your 8-month-old begins to make signals or sounds to you, he may not be speaking, but usually you know what he needs by identifying his clues. How you react to these signals from him is important in how he begins to develop his language. It also increases your close feelings toward him.

Talking to him or slightly above his level of understanding is the way he begins to learn language. If he comes to you with something that interests him, talk to him about the color, the shape, the smell and feel of the object. This talking about something of interest to him will hold meaning for him.

One effective way to talk together is to talk about the pictures in the books the two of you read together. He is drawn to the bright art more than the story itself, particularly when he is young.

Ask him questions about the pictures. Younger children usually do best with questions that have brief answers such as “What color is the bird?” With older children (3-5 years old), you can ask questions that need longer answers. When you simply point to a picture and say, “What is this?” or “What’s going on here?,” you can get your child to talk and talk until he’s made up a story all his own.

When you are with your child, find ways to include him in conversations. From these conversations, no matter how brief, he learns numbers, colors, letters and more. This kind of early learning gives an advantage to your child when he enters preschool or kindergarten. When your child has not been exposed to this kind of talking with you, he is at a distinct disadvantage.

Young children are hands on learners. Materials like tactile letters, marker boards, bathtub crayons, alphabet puzzles and beautiful books can all create a pleasant learning environment that excites your child’s curiosity. Singing, telling stories, reading and rhyming all help him hear the sounds of how language is put together.

By the time your child is three he can say what he wants to say and he know how he feels. He can argue and bargain with you. He knows when you really mean what you say so say what you want from him in simple words. Be sure to tell him what he can do, not just what he can’t do. Use your time to include discussions of all the things he is learning.

Helping your child be ready to become a reader is not an easy or fast thing to do. It takes a real commitment from parents to help this happen. Educators alone fail. It takes parents to help with this task. Educators estimate it takes 1,000 literacy hours with a caring adult before a child is ready to read (“Wow! I’m Reading!,” J. Frankel Hauser).

That is a lot of reading together. Have you begun this process? Are you making progress? Remember, you are an important part of your child’s learning progress. You are your child’s first teacher.

Cynthia Martin is the founder of the First Teacher program and former executive director of Parenting Matters Foundation, which published newsletters for parents, caregivers and grandparents.