As parents we are the main sources that create our childrens’ vocabulary and language skills. Later on daycare, friends, tv etc. all contribute (or hinder which ever the case may be) do their part, but the beginning and base begins with us parents. I read an article this year (in Finnish) that stated that a teenager, that reads, has a vocabulary of approximately 50 000- 70 000 words, while a teenager that doesn’t has a vocabulary of only approximately 15 000 words. That difference is staggering and it boggles the mind to think the difference that has in everyday life in a culture where more and more interaction happens through written text and online. So it’s important. It, however, also takes time, which many parents do not have enough of. So I collected a little list of things a parent can do. Most of them can be done almost everywhere and at any time. So pick one or do all or anything in between. Anything we do on these lines helps and anything that works for ones children is ok.
1. Talking and listening: This is where it all starts. We talk to our kids, with them and around them. This is how they learn to understand and use a language. They listen to us and then start experimenting. The more we talk with them and listen to them, the more they talk and also, hopefully, learn to listen. It shows in a child’s vocabulary and way they use language whether someone has discussions with them, whether things are explained etc. So talk and listen.
2. Use big words: Kids learn what ever words we use. They learn the word cheese, family, gravity and hypothesis with almost the same ease. Abstract concepts of course are a bit more difficult but they are learned none the less.
3. Reading: This cannot be emphasised enough. Reading to kids is important. One can start with newborns and continue from there. One can read board books, kids books, what ever, but just read. One can teach vocabulary through books, teach things about the world and just enjoy quiet times together with a book.
4. Poems: Poems are important in learning a language (in learning the first as well as the consecutive ones). Poems are read differently than other types of text and the rhythm of poetry helps in learning a language. I created a poem pouch for my kid with a lot of poems inside that she could pick up and then we’d read each one. It never did stop at just the one, but it was a very approachable way of using and utilising poems. Making the pouch did take awhile, but reading them since does not. Also many children’s stories are written out as poems. My daughter liked those best when she was younger. See f.ex. Importance of Poetry in children’s learning
5-10. Games: There are many games with words. Here are just a few to get parents started:
- What starts with the letter L ? And either the parent or the child (usually taking turns) answers and lists as many words they think of. It is possible also to think about the words together and maybe pick up the letter from a pouch or something.
- Syllables: This means toying with syllables, trying to break up words to syllables and clapping hands at each syllable.
- Memory-game using letters. This teaches a child to recognise letters as well as improves memory. This can be combined to the first (what starts with…) by thinking about a few words starting with each pair found
- Spelling game: Have a bunch of letters and see what can be written with them
- How many R’s are in Hurry (for example)? teaches a child to listen to the sounds that make up words. This is fairly simple in Finnish, where words are pronounced very similarly to how they are written.
- Can you find the letter N (f.ex)? If you are in an environment with a lot of written words and letters, ask a child to spot a specific letter around her and then they can ask the parent to do the same.
The idea is to sprinkle ideas these around the everyday life we live with our kids. A little bit here and a little bit there teaches the little growing brains that this is valuable and something that they should pay attention to. So pick one and try today. It may take as little as 5 minutes and may even prevent a temper tantrum on the bus or car or even when waiting for food to be ready.
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Copyright text and images: Satu Korhonen. You are free to try these experiments out, use them in your teaching. But instead of copying the text or images, link back to this page.