Enhancing Your Child’s Language Skills
Stacey Wolking, HSLDA Toddlers to Tweens Consultant
How can you help your children develop language skills? One great way is to talk to them using a rich and varied dialogue. A robust vocabulary is one of the most important aspects of reading comprehension and the foundation for strong language skills.
Additionally, the following essential (and fun!) activities will go a long way to improving your child’s language mastery. These pre- and post-reading activities can be practiced anytime, anywhere, and they don’t require expensive curriculum.
Match letters and sounds. This sounds so basic that you may believe your child is past the need for practicing this skill. But reading is a complex process and quickly knowing which letters make which sound is the first step in that process. So make a game of it! Have your child point to the letters as you make the sound. Be silly and have fun. Go faster and faster. Take turns and let your child say the sound while you point. You can play this alphabet game anywhere—even in the car. As you drive along, go sequentially through the alphabet looking for something you see that starts with a specific letter.
Another way to play is to name an animal that starts with each letter of the alphabet. If you want a more challenging game, try this: The first person names something from a specific category. The next player has to name something in that category that starts with the last letter of your word. So if the category was animals and someone said “gorilla,” the next player would have to name an animal that starts with the letter “A” such as “alligator.”
Rhyme words. Read rhyming books and leave off a word and see if your child can come up with an appropriate rhyme. You can also try one of these rhyming games or make up your own.
Retell simple stories. Retelling stories builds comprehension, retention, and imagination. Have your children take turns retelling the afternoon reading to daddy at the dinner table. This is doubly beneficial as it provides an opportunity for a working parent to connect with the children and contributes to family closeness.
Recitation develops your children’s listening skills, auditory memory, vocabulary, and imagination. It also helps your children build confidence in their ability to speak in front of others. Though an oft-neglected area of instruction, strong listening comprehension is the foundation for language success.
Well-known British educator, Charlotte Mason, believes recitation is an essential part of education. "I hope that my readers will train their children in the art of recitation.…The whole parable should be read to them in a way to bring out its beauty and tenderness; and then, day by day, the teacher should recite a short passage, perhaps two or three verses, saying it over some three or four times until the children think they know it. Then, but not before, let them recite the passage. Next day the children will recite what they have already learned, and so on, until they are able to say the whole parable” (emphasis mine).
Although it can be expensive, “Listen My Children and You Shall Hear” is a wonderful resource of recitation passages; you may be able to find it at your library or a used bookstore. Of course, you can recite virtually any passage, famous quote, poetry, scripture, etc. You will find some basic “how-to’s” on recitation here.
Narration is another essential skill according to Charlotte Mason. While recitation is a word-for-word quote, narration is a semi-detailed retelling—not to be confused with giving a summary, which is another skill altogether.
According to Mason, passages for narration “should be consecutive from a well-chosen book. Before the reading for the day begins, the teacher should talk a little (and get the children to talk) about the last lesson, with a few words about what is to be read, in order that the children may be animated by expectation; but she should beware of explanation and, especially, of forestalling the narrative. Then, she may read two or three pages, enough to include an episode; after that, let her call upon the children to narrate,––in turns, if there be several of them. They not only narrate with spirit and accuracy, but succeed in catching the style of their author. It is not wise to tease them with corrections; they may begin with an endless chain of 'ands,' but they soon leave this off, and their narrations become good enough in style and composition to be put in a 'print book!”
Narration helps children learn to express themselves, organize their thoughts, and recollect the information and details they heard. It’s also great practice for future essay questions.
Storytelling is a fun family activity for the car, the living room, or the dinner table. Someone starts a story with a single sentence. Then each person adds a sentence, and the group gets to see where everyone’s imagination takes them! This activity develops imagination and improvisation skills, and is guaranteed to bring much joy—children just love to tell stories!
Practice following instructions. Be sure to start simply and progress to detailed, multi-step instructions. “Would you please take these towels upstairs and put the blue ones in the bathroom and the green ones in the closet?” “Go upstairs, get into your jammies, brush your teeth, and then bring me a book.”
Learn through music. You know that coffee jingle from the 90’s that is still stuck in your head? Well, there is a reason it is still there; music makes things stick!
According to Cheri Lucas at Education.com, you can “use music to help your child retain information and enhance learning.” Chris Brewer, author of Soundtracks for Learning: Using Music in the Classroom, says sounds can help to hold our attention, evoke emotions, and stimulate visual images. “Students of all ages—that includes adults—generally find that music helps them focus more clearly on the task at hand and puts them in a better mood for learning.”
My adult kids laugh about the cheesy songs that we listened to, but they can still remember the skeletal system, the Scandinavian countries, the books of the Bible, the states and capitals, the U.S. presidents (in order!)—and so much more!
As we talked about in our February newsletter, some children develop more slowly and need more time to master language skills and become fluent readers. Of course, there will be some children who just do not progress as expected, despite all your best efforts. These students may have poor phonemic awareness, dyslexia, or other issues which may start to become apparent around 3rd grade.
If you think your child is solid in phonics and you have explored some of the pre-reading helps discussed here, it may be time to have your child assessed. You will find lots of testing information in the Toddlers to Tweens and Struggling Learners sections of our website. Let’s Go Learn offers reading assessments as well. Please feel free to contact our Toddlers to Tweens and Struggling Learner consultants; we are always here to assist our members!
Desiring to equip and encourage,