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There is nothing more exciting for parents than hearing their little ones as they begin to speak. First words are recorded in baby books or on video, and remembered forever.
The development of language in young children is a magnificent and complex process. Language development is closely connected to later development of literacy skills, and is a key to opening up the world of social experiences for kids.
The good news for parents, however, is that children’s brains are wired and ready to tackle the amazing challenge of acquiring language.
A young child’s world is full of language. Making eye contact, using short sentences, and gesturing are ways that adults instinctively encourage language development in small children. There are other techniques that adults can also use to help children better learn and understand language.
Playing with language is a great way to further a child’s language skills. Adults are usually good at making up silly rhymes (“my dog ate a frog”). If your child is old enough, ask them to add on to the phrase (“he was sitting on a log”). Playing games with words is an incredible way for a child to expand how he or she thinks about language.
Songs are another wonderful way to expand your child’s language. Even very young children (18 months) can learn the words to basic songs. Almost all children love music, and there are great children’s CDs available. However, you probably have most of the best ones in your memory from when you were a little one. “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star,” “Hush Little Baby” and “Old MacDonald” are well known for a reason.
One of the most important things you can do to help your child learn language is something that takes little effort and very little thought. Just talk to your kids. While we typically hang on every sound that comes out of a baby’s mouth, as children begin to master language, we often begin to take their words for granted. This stage of development is still very important and adults play a key role in helping a child’s language become more complex and meaningful.
I regularly see adults engaged in what I call “talking at” a small child. You know how this works, the adult is barking commands at the child, or maybe even giving praise, but the child is not really listening to a word the adult says. The grown-up never makes eye contact and often doesn’t even notice that the child is not paying attention. It works the opposite way too. A child may be trying to communicate with an adult, but the adult is watching television, surfing the web or doing something else. In this case, an adult may nod or say uh-uh, but no true communication happened.
It’s understandable that the demands of a chatty 3-year-old can make even the most patient parent tune out at times, but the gift of your time will eventually pay off in wonderful ways as your child grows and develops language skills.
For more information on child development, please join us for the Children’s Health Fair in Rangely on March 2-3 and in Meeker on March 9-10. Call 675-2064 for your appointment.
Clatterbaugh is a speech language pathologist for Horizons Child and Family Services.