Words are one of the important ways we teach our children. They are also easily forgotten. For example, when you read 20 minutes a day to your child, you give them a million words a year. That is a really important way to learn.
Our words become important very early. They are the foundation for reading, writing, and spelling. Words have been called the “engine” of learning and thinking.
Infants listen and become aware of sounds and even begin to communicate their own needs through sounds and gestures.
Toddlers use words to express feelings and ideas more than infants. They even ask question, talk in sentences, and tell you what they like and what they don’t like.
Ready-for-preschoolers build larger vocabularies from the words and ideas they hear from others and things they read in books. They tell make-believe stories and talk about that that are right in the here and now.
Your growing child will continue to change in the way he uses words. Watch your child grow but also watch his vocabulary grow too.
Take time to listen
As you recognize the importance of words, make sure you set aside time to talk with your child. When you truly have a conversation with your child, she should be doing half the talking. Ask her a question but then give her time to think about what she wants to say. Keep the conversation going by asking her questions and making comments. She really learns from these conversations.
During these conversations, listen closely. Find a few times each day when you can listen and talk together. Put everything else you are doing away. Your child needs to hear himself speaking and to see you listening.
Make eye contact. Watch closely. Share your interest in what he is saying by smiling, nodding, and giving him a hug.
Most of the words in a child’s vocabulary come from hearing words spoken every day. Your child learns words from books, television, listening and conversations with the people around her. The words you say around her help make her smarter.
When you are reading with your child, pause to ask him questions or comment on the story. Ask, “Why do you think he did that?” or “What do you think is going to happen next?” This way of reading helps him understand what you are reading together and encourages his use of words.
Remember to use books to give you a chance to talk with your child about problems. If your child is having a difficult day, read “Alexander and the No Good, Very Bad Day.” If you have a child who has food issues, read “The Very Hungry Caterpillar.” A great book for children who are a little late in doing things and whose self-esteem may be suffering is “Leo the Late Bloomer.”
Read books about spending the night at a friend’s house before she goes to her first sleepover. Read books about going to the dentist or the doctor.
When you read with your child or when you are just talking together, try to extend the length of time you keep him interested. This even helps him learn to stick with a task.
Your child learns about life while he learns about words. This is another kind of learning you have a chance to do with your child. Enjoy it.
Cynthia Martin is the founder of the First Teacher program and former executive director of Parenting Matters Foundation, which publishes newsletters for parents, caregivers and grandparents. To reach interim First Teacher Executive Director Patty Waite, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 360-681-2250.