Working together through continuous learning to improve the quality of life for all in DeKalb County, Indiana
An education initiative of the Community Foundation of DeKalb County

Parents can help children learn language skills

Written July 20th, 2010 by
Categories: Early Childhood Learning - Publications

The Star

by Lindsay W. Brown

July 20, 2010

You might not realize it, but learning language and learning to read are two skills that are closely linked. This is why a well developed vocabulary and speaking in complete sentences are crucial skills for young children, for school readiness and for continued success in school.

Children entering school with weak language skills risk experiencing reading difficulties by the time they reach third grade compared to those entering school with strong language backgrounds. Pam Fleetwood, Speech-Language Pathologist for J.E. Ober Elementary, states “think about it . . . we read our language. Learning our language requires human to human, face to face interaction. This means it’s important not only to talk to your child but to listen to him as he responds to you.” Children engaged in daily conversations develop strong language skills.

Another piece of Learning Link’s five-year early childhood vision is that DeKalb County children enter school able to speak in complete sentences. Young children copy the language they hear in their daily environment. Fleetwood emphasizes “it’s important for parents and caregivers to be good language models. As adults we need to think about our everyday language and make sure we give more than just ‘yes/no’ answers. The more we talk or elaborate, the more language our children hear and the better language skills they develop.”

A simple way to do this is by re-stating what our language-learning children say using correct, adult-like sentences. For instance, if your child asks, “Her goed store?” You could reply, “Yes, she went to the store to buy some milk for breakfast. She will be back soon.” This response does two things: (1) it models correct and complete sentences and (2) it elaborates on the topic, providing the child with an excellent language model.

A child entering kindergarten should be correctly using past tense words (“she went” vs. “she goed”) and pronouns (“she plays” vs. “her plays”; “his dog” vs. “hims dog”). A child who can clearly express his thoughts, feelings, and ideas through speaking is a child who will most likely be successful in developing effective reading and writing skills. This also contributes to his social and emotional well being. Children who have difficulty expressing themselves verbally often become frustrated and tend to act out as a way of self-expression.

There are many everyday practices parents and caregivers can do to help their children develop the strong language foundation needed for school success:

  1. Provide a good model by speaking in complete and correct sentences.
  2. Take the time to elaborate or explain when your child asks a question or doesn’t understand.
  3. Have daily conversations with your child.
  4. Read with your child every day and have conversations about the books you read; children’s books provide excellent language patterns and introduce age-appropriate vocabulary.
  5. Take your child to the grocery store, post office, bank, etc. While you’re there, talk about what you’re doing and why you are doing it; ask your children questions.
  6. Provide your child with a wide variety of life experiences. Visit the zoo, walk through a park, woods, or even your own neighborhood, cook or bake cookies, talk about things you see in the city and things you see in the country. These are just a few suggestions.

Learning songs and rhymes, and reading books with repetitive texts are also excellent ways for children to learn language patterns. Remember that learning to speak in complete sentences requires lots of practice, but be patient, make the learning fun and know that your child will reap the benefits for the rest of her life.

For more information about Learning Link, an initiative of the DeKalb County Community Foundation, or a four-page booklet of low- and no-cost learning resources available in DeKalb County, go to www.dekalblearninglink.org and click on ‘Community and Parent Resources’, then ‘Early Childhood’, or call Judy Sorg at the DeKalb County Community Foundation, 260-925-0311 or e-mail Jsorg@dekalbfoundation.org.