A language rich environment is critical in early childhood development. Research confirms that children who are exposed to lot of talking using a wide variety of vocabulary develop better expressive and receptive language skills than those who are raised without such environments. These language skills later translate into more success with reading, writing, and verbal communication. Language rich environments are essential for newborns as well as elementary aged children. There are many ways to create a language rich environment very simply within your home.
- Talk about what you are doing as you complete tasks around your home. Although it may feel like you are talking to yourself, your child is hearing new vocabulary, listening to emotion behind the words, and learning that our actions can be described and talked about.
- Limit the “baby talk” or simple language when speaking directly to your child. Comfort is often found in using sing song voices and simple words as we snuggle and talk to babies. The love and emotion behind these experiences is positive and important. However, it is equally important to talk to children with respect and real life language.
- Use a rich vocabulary. In addition to limiting baby talk, be sure to expose children to a wide variety of descriptive language and vocabulary. When asked, “How are you feeling?” the go-to response is usually, “Good.” Tell your child how you are feeling using more descriptive and varied responses. Try using words like elated, grumpy, fantastic, angry, exhausted, etc. Be honest, too.
- Ask children questions. Even if the children are too young to verbally respond, ask them lots of questions. If they are too young to reply with words, provide answers for them using varied vocabulary to describe their mood, what you are going to do, etc. If they are old enough to respond, be an active listener and encourage them to describe more. This can be done by repeating their response, adding to it with a synonym, or simply waiting for them to continue talking.
- Turn off the TV. Although we trick ourselves into thinking that TV and recorded media is another way to increase a language rich environment, it is quite the opposite. These experiences are one sided. The children have no real interaction with the language. Caregivers and parents listen to a newborn’s coos and respond to them with more language related to the child’s noises. Television and recorded media actually discourage a child from responding verbally (with words or sounds) because there is no one listening and the children quickly realize the screen has moved on so they need to quiet down. Authentic communication is key to language development.
- Just sing! Singing songs, real or made up, is another wonderful way to foster a language rich environment for young children. It also incorporates rhyming, emotion, and new vocabulary into daily routine.
- Take out the batteries. While playing with children, encourage them to create the noise for the truck, the song for successfully completing a task, or the voice behind the toy. These are lost opportunities for more language development when toys create all of the imaginative aspects of play for the children. It will also create a less redundant play time while allowing for more creativity and imagination.
- Read, read, and read some more! Reading books to newborns, toddlers, and young children is so important. The benefits go far beyond the wonderful bonding time it provides for children and caregivers. When you read to children, they hear new vocabulary and expressive language. They learn patterns, rhymes, and how to follow a story. Children begin to understand that our language, and their own, can be written down and it is important. Reading and memorizing text is also helpful. There is no amount of too much reading in early childhood development!
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