Friday, June 20, 2014
The importance of building language skills in Early Childhood
As a Mom to two boys 11 and 6 and as a Pre-Kindergarten teacher I have seen first hand the successes and failures that children experience based on their early childhood experiences with language. My oldest son was diagnosed at 4 with receptive and expressive language disorders, he spent over a year 3x per week in language therapy to build his language skills. Receptive language disorder is the inability to keep words that you have heard and expressive language disorder is the inability to retrieve and say those words. You can see where we had a big problem on our hands. Not only could Conner not retain words but he also could not find them in his brain to say them. If you think of the brain like a filing cabinet it is as if his words were filed in the wrong drawer and were lost when needed. There was no specific language in our home, objects were described as "things" and this often lead to frustration for Conner when he could not describe what he was trying to say. His lack of language skills made it difficult for him to learn how to read and he struggled in all areas of school. We had to expose him to as much specific language as possible through therapy, reading, and naming every object we used throughout the day. There was an intentional attempt to expose him to as much language as possible every day. I am happy to say that because of all of the intentional work we put into Conner's language development he is now a successful student with excellent grades who loves learning. These types of disorders and a general lack of language development especially for our ELL students is missed so often in children. We as educators see the frustration, lack of progress and dislike of reading and school. This translates into my classroom as a deliberate strategy to make sure that each child obtains and expresses specific language. This means that words like "thing" and "that" are not allowed and children must use their words and not hand gestures or pointing to tell me what they need or want. My Pre-Kindergarten department has adopted the Handwriting Without Tears Language and Literacy Curriculum as well as their Word Time Curriculum. I absolutely love the word skills, knowledge and vocabulary that is built through both of these curriculums. Through reading and conversation young children need to be exposed to as many words as possible, this also means that they need to understand what these words mean to help them make connections in the brain. The more interested they are in learning new vocabulary the higher success they will show in reading, math and socialization. Children need to be given the tools to communicate from the time they are infants and the exposure to new language should not diminish as they grow older. Being read to, reading on their own and literature rich environments create many opportunities for children to obtain and use new language. Rhymes, riddles, fingerplays and poems are also excellent and engaging ways to build language skills. Matching, categorizing, sorting and naming common objects as well as new objects can also stimulate language development and vocabulary skills. Making your home or classroom literacy rich is essential to grow life long learners. Having exposure to books several times a day, labeling common objects and toy bins and writing words as you use them will all pay off with a strong language base. I intentionally expose my children to language in my classroom everyday through our word of the day calendar, our picture word wall, reading storybooks, going through the Daily 5, listening skills worksheets and encouraging each child to use specific words through conversation. This also means our children need to be "unplugged" from all of the "silent" electronic devices we let them play with. This is why Baby Einstein ended up impacting children's speech and language so detrimentally, because there was no language! The pictures and music were captivating but if you don't know what the object being shown is called what else would you call it besides "thing" or use your finger to point to it. As children grow older with a lack of language skills they are unable to write proficiently and translate math problems from words to numbers. This can severely impact school success and can certainly be responsible for failing grades and an overall lack of progression in learning. So, as teacher to teacher or as teacher to parent I would strongly advise you to make an intentional effort to expose your children to an abundance of language everyday, the impact on their development will show throughout their entire lives. From birth all the way through their schooling language aquisition is the most important skill they will need for success.