Now You're Talking!

Reading to your child builds vocabulary and supports early literacy skills.

Article by Leigh Dunlap
Southwest Callaway Early Childhood Learning Center Principal

Do you remember your first teacher? Many of you are trying to think way back to kindergarten or even pre-school, but it was actually your parents.

Although you may not have a degree in education or any training in child development, you are your child’s first teacher. During the first three years of life, a baby’s brain triples in size. They are developing critical pre-literacy skills that will set the foundation for all future reading success.

Research tells us that children who come from talkative families often have a greater vocabulary and score better on cognitive assessments. You may ask what’s the difference between a talkative and a less-talkative house…the answer is about 30 million words! This means children from talkative homes have had about 30 million more words spoken to them. Talking with your child, especially during the first three years when the brain is undergoing exponential growth and development, can help them be more prepared for school and give them the tools needed to become readers.

Verbally communicating with your child becomes even more important in this digital age. The tablet or smartphone has replaced the pacifier. As a society, we have become less chatty and communication is often with emojis and text messages--with little verbal communication, eye contact, or human to human interaction. It is essential that we monitor screen time with our young children and focus on their communication health.

As your child’s first teacher, there are many things you can do to set them up to be lifelong learners. The Thirty Million Word Initiative suggests three simple steps to help engage your young child--Tune in, Talk more, & Take turns.

Tune in by paying attention to what your child is trying to communicate to you….babies, too. Stop what you are doing and give them your attention and make eye contact. Show them that you are interested in what they are saying.

Talk more about everything! Dinner time, bath time, and car rides can be a great time to do this. Discuss daily routines and schedules. For example, if you are going to run errands, tell them where you are going and what you plan to do at all of the stops. Be sure to use specific and descriptive vocabulary--think aloud! Don’t forget to sing and tell stories.

Take turns by listening and responding to your child. Encourage them to engage in a back and forth conversation as you model effective listening skills. Be sure to ask open ended questions and don’t settle for a simple yes or no answer. Reading to your child is another way to build vocabulary and support early literacy skills. Babies benefit greatly from lap time and being read to. Talk about the pictures and don’t be afraid to re-read the same book. Talkative families usually produce talkative children. We are way past the notion that children should be seen and not heard. Continue to be your child’s first and best teacher by talking with and listening to them. All of these powerful tools are easy to do and FREE, so get talking!