Language is an amazingly powerful thing. As a Reading Specialist and teacher, I’ve read tons of research and know how it can impact kids but to see it firsthand with the boys has been phenomenal. I think I didn’t pay attention as closely as I do now that I have kids but I’m obsessed with listening to how people talk to children. Do they talk like babies to them? Do they brush off their questions? What types of language do they use with them….sophisticated vocabulary or simple words? Do the children respond with similar vocabulary and language patterns? Yes….I’m obsessed!
Jon and I try to be careful about what we say to the boys and how we answer their questions. When I’m out and about I often hear things like:
-Don’t ask me questions!
-You are bad!
-That was dumb!
Those kinds of comments absolutely break my heart. Ok, I might sound a little judgmental right now and maybe I am. But it is my blog so I’m allowed!
I just don’t think that people realize how impactful language is on kids…or on everyone for that matter. We can all think of a time when someone has totally demoralized us with their words. And maybe people think that kids won’t remember or they don’t understand but they do!
One day I was driving and someone wouldn’t let me merge on the freeway so I said, quite frustrated, “Thanks for nothing, lady!” Well, G was all over that! He asked why I said that and what happened. I guess I could have said worse things….sworn, flipped them off, etc. but I still have to remember that I’m a role model for him and whatever language I use is the language he’ll use.
That’s a big reason why we don’t often allow the TV to be on during the day when the kids are awake. Don’t get me wrong, we have football and baseball games on occasionally and occasional shows a couple times a week. I also have several Sesame Street and Thomas the Train videos of songs on my iPhone, which they occasionally ask to watch, but that is the only real media viewing the boys do. I think their free time should be spent reading, talking, singing, or playing. Kids should be encouraged to think and use their imagination and most TV shows don’t allow for a lot of that.
Language is also so important to lay the foundation for kids becoming proficient readers. People mistakenly think reading for young kids is about phonics or about knowing or “reading” the words correctly. It’s not! It’s about language, which leads to understanding of text or comprehension. If kids don’t have the necessary foundation of words and language structure, then reading will be more difficult for them. Think about learning another language. Think Spanish. You could learn the sounds quickly, but understanding the vocabulary and how their sentences are organized would take more time. And you would even have the benefit of knowing English to reference.
So what can you do to help your kids?
Read to them! Talk about what you read. Have real conversations with your kids using sophisticated language and expect that they mirror that language. For example, we make the boys ask us to be excused from the table after every meal. We make him use the phrase, “May I please…” when asking for permission. We use words every day like: damaged, injured, cooperate, examine, delicate, fragile, properly, unacceptable. They know what those words mean and they use them as well.
Most of all, allow them be curious and encourage them to ask questions. Then be patient and willing to answer their questions! You will be shocked at how quickly their language improves when you put an emphasis on talking and reading.